Methought I read a blog cry, “Sleep no more!”


Hello and good day!  It’s Thursday again, as you no doubt know, and time for me to write another weekly blog entry.

I’ve had a rather intense exacerbation of my chronic insomnia over the last several days, so I’m worried that my writing might be incoherent and disjointed.  Of course, it’s possible that my writing is always that way, and I simply haven’t noticed.  How would I know for sure?  Still, I might be mistaken, but when I reread my writing, it doesn’t seem terribly incoherent to me.  Until and unless I receive specific feedback from others, there’s no way to fact-check the matter except through my general agreement with other readers about the quality of other writers.

Such are the vagaries of epistemology.

Insomnia has been a longstanding problem for me, certainly ever since I’ve been an “adult.”  One part of that problem is that, unlike what seems to be the case for most people, sleep is not in an especially pleasant experience for me.  If anything, it’s rather dysphoric.  I don’t tend to remember any dreams—which is disappointing, given legends of such writers as Coleridge, who are reputed to have been led to some of their greatest works by slumberous visions.

For me, sleep is at best a bland phenomenon; I have trouble getting to sleep and I have trouble staying asleep.  I don’t resist sleep knowingly, and I certainly don’t fear it in the sense that inspired the apocryphal Edgar Allen Poe quip, “Sleep, those little slices of death, how I loathe them!”  Though Poe never wrote those words, as far as I know, he does seem to have been afraid of and resistant to sleep as a harbinger or precursor of death; he clearly feared premature burial (that dread features prominently in more than one of his stories).

This is not the nature of my problem.  I have no intellectual fear of death at all, though it’s hard to eliminate the purely biological drive to keep living.  I simply find sleep, if not actively unpleasant, somewhere between uninteresting and dreary.  The only time I’ve ever experienced real pleasure both at anticipating sleep and at experiencing it was when I was taking Paxil to treat depression.  That was certainly remarkable, but the medicine had more than enough detriment to counter that one benefit*, and it never did a very good job on my depression.

There’s little doubt that my chronic insomnia and my dysthymia/depression are related, and that the tendency for sleep to be thoroughly anhedonic to me is part and parcel of my dysthymia, though it long predates the latter problem.  I don’t remember any time in my life when sleep held real allure for me.  This tendency has been useful in many situations; I’ve never had trouble being an early riser, and when on call—either in hospital during residency, or from home later on in my practice—I never had much trouble quickly coming awake and being able to focus on whatever problem might need my attention.  And, of course, indifference to sleep was a very useful trait when my children were babies, allowing my then-wife to rest through the night far more often than many new mothers can.

Feeding and rocking my infant children in the silence of the night, now…that was a truly hedonic experience par excellence.

Nevertheless, like every organism with a nervous system, I do require sleep, though the nature of that need is far from fully understood by science.  When I go without enough of it, for long enough, it wears me out, and I know that it affects my cognitive functions, as well as my moods (though there’s a real chicken and egg problem involved in this latter issue).  So, I try—sometimes only halfheartedly, I’ll admit—to avoid succumbing to my insomnia.  But it can be hard just to lay in bed doing nothing and waiting to see if sleep arrives…or if it returns, as the case may be, when I awaken far too early in the morning.  I don’t tend to feel anxious or particularly stressed at such times, because again, I don’t particularly enjoy sleep, but I sometimes get angry at myself, knowing that I’m going to regret my sleeplessness later.

Oh well.  Whataya gonna do?

I’ll tell you what I’m going to do:  keep chugging along, I suppose.  The editing of Unanimity continues to go well, despite a few computer issues; I’m still enjoying the story and the characters.  And, of course, my footnote reminded me that I have a substantially begun novella waiting in the wings, which I may even complete someday.  And, however much I tend to begin my blog posts with no clear idea where I’m going in any given week, it’s still a rewarding process.  If nothing else, I amuse myself, and that’s got to be worth something.

Hopefully, at least occasionally, some of you enjoy it, too.


*When coming off it, I did have two experiences of sleep paralysis, which I’ve not experienced before or since, but which were astoundingly vivid and thoroughly terrifying.  The first centered on the comparatively benign illusion of a lion resting on my body and holding me in place, and the second—far worse—involved an indescribable, extradimensional monstrosity pinning me to my bed.  I’m somewhat proud to say that, on that second occasion, rather than try to scream or anything of the sort, I was able with great effort to force my head into motion—or to imagine that I did—and I bit the effing thing.  This woke me up fully at last.  I immediately recognized the well-described phenomenon for what it was, but that didn’t prevent me from feeling truly frightened for several long minutes afterward.  A version of that second experience has appeared in a current work in progress, the novella tentatively titled Safety Valve.  So, I guess I have used “dream” experiences to inspire my writing upon occasion.

They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time blogs many parts

Well, you wouldn’t think it would catch me by surprise—it’s something that happens every month, after all, in an entirely predictable fashion—but I didn’t realize until this morning that today was the second Thursday of October and is thus the “official” day for me to write an episode of “My heroes have always been villains.”  Obviously, since I wasn’t thinking about it, I haven’t given a second’s thought to what villain I should discuss today.  Rather than pick a random baddie from my memory’s hat and produce an off-the-cuff essay on him or her, I’ll push that project back until next week or next month.  I apologize if anyone out there was looking forward to a new episode today.  Then again, if there are such people, I haven’t heard from them; I’d be quite gratified if you’d make yourself or yourselves known.  I can exculpate myself a bit for my oversight by admitting that I’ve been rather worn down, tired, and slightly ill, this week (see my IoZ entry here for a brief discussion of the nature and effects of my troubles with insomnia), so I’m behind my mental curve.

Even as I wrote that last sentence, I realized that I’ve often made comment in these, my public venues, about being under the weather.  Now, I don’t think that I’m too whiny and hypochondriacal, as a general rule, but I certainly don’t seem to operate at my physical optimum much of the time.  It’s a problem that I need to keep in mind, going forward.

I will say this, in tangential reference to the above issue:  I’m glad that I decided to put my audio productions on indefinite hiatus.  It’s a melancholy gladness, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, because I really do like those audio productions, and if you’re interested you’re welcome to partake of the ones I’ve made, either here, or on my YouTube channel.  But making them requires a lot of mental energy and physical time.  Since putting the audios on pause, I’ve gotten more writing done on Unanimity, and I’ve worked steadily on my two other short stories during the the hours I would have spent recording and editing the audio, leading to an increased total output of about five pages a day versus only three on average (or roughly 2500 words versus 1500) before.  This is a serious improvement.

It would be nice to be able to do all this full-time, instead of in the interstices between actions of daily necessity required to put food on the table, so to speak.  Then I could write just as much and still make my audio files, which would be a lot of fun.  I hope someday to reach that state, but I obviously haven’t done it yet.

Unanimity goes well, though, and is honestly approaching its climax and resolution (I swear!  No, really!).  I still expect—if I work on it as steadily as I ought—its first draft to be finished before the end of the year, and probably well before that long novel is ready to be published, I’ll release one or both of the short stories I’m working on, Penal Colony and In the Shade.

It’s amazing how something can take so many hours, so much effort, and yet yield a product that can be consumed within the course of, say, a few days for a novel, or at most an hour or two for a short story.  It would be nice if I could give the readers of my work as much lasting entertainment as I get durable engagement from producing them, but I guess that’s the nature of all creative arts.  Even a small, independent film is created through untold hours of effort by astonishing numbers of people, to be then enjoyed within the space of two hours.  A great painting or sculpture can take perhaps less total work, but is then enjoyed in mere tiny, minutes-long chunks by even the most passionate enthusiasts of the arts.

I wonder how many people would have to read my books to make the “man-hours” of reading surpass the man-hours of production; it’s a hurdle I’d love to cross with all my stories.  I don’t know if anyone’s done the math on such a question—I assume that the numbers would be different for different people and different works—but if they have, I’d love to know about it.  I’m sure that Stephen King, for instance, passed that milestone decades ago.  He probably passed it with Carrie, and I doubt that he’s ever caught up in the time since, despite the staggering pace at which he writes.  To match such an outcome is a high bar for anyone to set, but as I’ve long said, only those who attempt the impossible can achieve the unbelievable.

And now, I think that will just about do it for today.  I’ll say, tentatively at least, that I’m going to put off the next episode of “My heroes have always been villains” until November, unless I receive any complaints or protests from those who don’t want to wait.

I’ll close with an exhortation—probably preaching to the converted, but there it is—that you all be cautious of falling prey too much, too often, to the easy distractions of videos and memes and other short-attention forms of entertainment.  Keep reading.  Read “real” books, read e-books (they’re just two forms of the same thing), read fiction and nonfiction, read articles and blogs, read poems, read plays, but do keep reading.  Written language is the lifeblood of civilization, and stories are the default mode of human thought (or so it seems).  To read, and to write, are affirmations of and contributions to the health and longevity of the human project and are well worth anyone’s time.

So I am convinced.  I may, perhaps, be biased.


Methought I read a blog cry, “Sleep no more!”

It’s Thursday again, and we’re in the middle of the first week of Autumn (in the Northern hemisphere).  For the next six months, the nights will be longer than the days.  As someone who tends to write about the darker side of possibility, I don’t think that’s so terrible…or it’s terrible in all the best ways.

My writing has been steady but rather slow this week, mainly because I’m struggling badly with insomnia.  I’m not referring here to the Stephen King book by that name (though coincidentally I’m in the middle of rereading it at this very time), but to the chronic, and occasionally incapacitating, sleep disorder.  Over the previous two nights (before last night) I slept for a rough total of three hours; this is, obviously, not adequate, and it has a noticeable impact on my ability to concentrate and to think clearly.

Nevertheless, the writing continues.  Hopefully, when I go back to rewrite and edit, I won’t be dismayed by how horrible my work product from these past few days is; I don’t honestly expect it to stand out as either better or worse than average.  As I’ve said previously, the way I feel when writing something is poorly correlated with how good the writing turns out to be.  Sometimes when I feel lofty and inspired and superhumanly gifted, I produce nothing but great, steaming piles of oozy excrement.  The converse is also occasionally true.  It’s unpredictable.  Thus, we will always need to edit and rewrite.

Today, for the first time in quite a while, I’m riding the train in to work, due to certain vehicles being in the shop and matters of that sort.  It’s nothing to worry about, just routine maintenance, despite an event I obliquely mention below.

It’s curiously nostalgic to be taking the train, and not entirely unpleasant, though it’s far less efficient—time-wise, anyway—than driving.   I’ve been inspired to write at least one story (Prometheus and Chiron) while waiting for a train, and I see many interesting people when using mass transit.  Little of note happens on the Interstate, especially when one rides a vehicle that is fundamentally solo.  One can have occasional exciting, even life-threatening moments on the road, such as one I had three days ago, but they don’t make very good stories.  Not to me, anyway.  I suppose I could throw some details of such an occurrence into the midst of an action scene to add to the realism, drawing from my personal experience of feeling my right leg squeezed against the passenger door of some idiot’s car, which is changing lanes without the driver looking, but it happens quickly and—thanks to the fact that I don’t tend to rattle easily—is rapidly over, with no harm done.

I’m having a peculiarly good time working on three stories at once, as I mentioned in my previous post.  Of course, my primary work right now is still Unanimity, which is grudgingly proceeding toward its conclusion, but I’m enjoying both the writing of my new short story and the rewriting of the older, uncompleted story, In the Shade.  I remember when I wrote it originally, and more or less why I stopped—I just lost steam, I wasn’t inspired by what was happening, and I had other projects awaiting my attention, to which I turned (with good results, I think).  But rewriting it now, I have to say that I’m pleased with what I made then.  I think it could turn out to be quite good, even if it is just a gonzo horror story.  We shall see.

Skipping to a non-sequitur:  I must say, I’ve so far been consistently disappointed by the lack of response and feedback to the “My heroes have always been villains” episodes.  From my point of view—admittedly biased—I would think people would find such posts particularly interesting.  I wonder if my title for the series throws people off, making them wonder just what kind of horrible person I am, but it’s honestly just an ironic play on the title of an old Willie Nelson song, “My heroes have always been cowboys.”  I don’t actually idolize villains, in the sense of wanting to be like them, though they tend to have character traits that, in the right place, in the right amount, would be quite admirable.  That’s just the nature of the tragic character with the tragic flaw:  Much of what makes a villain a villain would, in proper measure and in the proper circumstances, make them admirable and even heroic.

Likewise, many attributes we admire in our heroes, real and imaginary, can be terrible drawbacks in the wrong circumstances or in different proportions.  Harry Potter, for instance, is one of the most admirable, inspiring, and pure-hearted heroes in modern literature.  Nevertheless, Professor Snape does occasionally have a point when he decries Harry’s reckless disregard for rules and his difficulty controlling his emotions (though I think he’s completely wrong when he calls Harry arrogant).

Oh, well.  I’ll continue to write those episodes roughly once a month, even if they find no readers other than myself, at least until I work my way through most of my most prominently beloved malefactors.  Hopefully there’s someone else out there who enjoys them, but since I think a writer must write primarily for him or herself, and only secondarily for the outer audience, it will only be a moderately devastating heartbreak if there isn’t.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’ll continue to write my weekly postings in both of my blogs, and more importantly, I’ll keep writing my fiction.