The Bedtime Epiphany
[Sunset in Evora, January 2011]
Nightly, it manifests.
The hour informs me that the day must conclude, my body tires, my mind sets on the preparations for sleep. All the little operations required are carried out. Check the locks, turn out the lights. I arrive at bedside.
As I settle into the same posture to which my body conformed at its genesis, while still in the womb, a strange spell overtakes me.
The promise of ideas, of tomorrow’s work, buzzes to life in my head, as I endeavor to sail off into the world of dream. The satisfying fatigue of my body is welcomed by a now humming mental prescience of things to be written that I somehow did not write in all the hours I was awake.
How did I accomplish so little today? This is the pest that appears and nags my somnolent being back away from the abyss on which I had been teetering.
Some nights, though I fight it viciously, it is so overwhelmingly powerful that it picks me up from my fetal position and deposits me seated on the edge of the bed, then maneuvers my hand over to the nightstand to grasp the smart phone that charges there, and forces me to record some notes concerning the urgent shards of ideas that have come into my head in the minutes just before unconsciousness.
But is it so? Have I really not done the work that day if I resist the daimon that insists I wake and capture those ephemeral impressions that are haunting my impending sleep?
Perhaps it was required, all the sitting and staring, the delays and the distractions, all the things I did today instead of writing words and sentences and paragraphs, all the other things that are seemingly unconnected, and that yet are the work itself?
What do I know of how the work is done? Certainly, I know of the moments when my hands become possessed of a life all their own and rapidly peck away at the keyboard, and words appear on the screen, and my mood grows cheerful, and I am happy beyond happiness to be doing what I am presently doing, because something that one could reasonably call ‘the work’ is apparently happening.
I know precious little though about what sparks those occasions, fleeting as they are, and far outweighed in quantity by the anxious periods of half-despairingly flipping through piles of papers and books in search of something completely unknown, pouring myself tea and coffee in an endless stream, hoping for a surge of energy that I know was already depleted hours ago.
What is the science of the creation of that mental space in which one does the writing?
The work is a mystery. No one knows what it is, how to define or teach it, how to ensure that it will happen in a particular place at a given time.
Sometimes, too often, when you think you are doing it, feverishly slogging away, fingers dancing, soul ablaze, you produce nothing that will survive the following day’s furious revising.
Other times, when you think you are not doing it, when you are distracted by the crack near the kitchen window and wonder whether it will need to be repaired soon, and then start looking for the handyman’s number just in case, and stumble upon some other scribbling from another day instead, a note that should not have been where you found it but there it was, and you make an unanticipated mental connection between that cryptic note and something that you understand to be profound, perhaps that is when the most important work is being done.
Perhaps tomorrow’s work, which I cannot yet perceive, has its germ in the moments I spend in the dark, under a blanket, my arms wrapped around my upper body, my hands warming at my shoulders, as the glow of sleep settles down on me as a dust gently moved by the evening wind.