Charles Simic writes: “Sleeplessness is like metaphysics.” Treat the following narrative as an illustration of his claim.

Mira Levitan

It’s 3:45, ante meridiem, and I can’t sleep. Clearly, the nightcap I took earlier failed in its purpose. It is at this time every night — my “critical deadline” — that my hopes for tranquil repose vanish, and I am left with nothing but desperate inclinations. I suffer from chronic insomnia. Welcome to my world, friend. From here on out, my alter-ego, Insomnus, will be your guide.

[Exit Shiny, Happy Neal]

3:57. The only company I have in this womb-like basement room is a beautiful stuffed tiger named Shira. I pet her fondly, trying to direct my thoughts toward a more positive frame of mind. All I want to do right now is fall into REM so I can conjure subconscious psychedelic bliss.

4:04. There are a lot of students on speed at this very moment. When did sweet Lady Sleep lose her appeal? I’m being robbed of the finest sensation one can ever know, and there are actually kids out there who are snorting drugs in order to ward her gentle touch off. Where is the reverence?

4:11. My mental environment has been polluted by excess. Is it this culture that has forced me into this position with its stimulant-driven quest for efficiency and profit? (Irrelevant side note: I believe coffee to be Lucifer’s own brew — mass-marketed soul poison.) Upon hearing of my condition, ignoramuses cry, “Wow, you must get a lot of work done at night!” This is a major faux pas in the eyes of an insomniac. It’s like saying “Wow, you must never get cold!” to a man who is on fire.

4:18. I am beginning to feel very lonely. The insomniac perfectly embodies the spirit of the existential being. I see myself as detached from everything outside my sanctum; the external world has simply ceased to exist. My newly constructed “world” is a cluttered 16-by-16 bedchamber. I punch a wall so as to keep myself from losing it (whatever “it” may be). A tiny speck of blood and a dent mark the point of impact. I must shake this creeping malaise. Think happy thoughts …

4:20. My thoughts take a detour, leading me to the inane. I think silly things like “smoke rings are really neat” and “orange is such a pretty color.” At least I concern myself with aesthetics when I’m in this state.

4:46. I try listening to some Brian Eno. His ambient sonatas provide some solace during this trying time. I am, however, no closer to the dreamscapes that he expresses in his art.

5:10. I have been trying to read an essay entitled “The Paradoxes of Time Travel.” It’s mind-bending stuff, but I know I’m already screwed, so I continue. I’m attempting to comprehend the mystery of the fourth dimension. You think my efforts are in vain. But I’ve already figured it out! I’ll tell you the secret if you promise not to tell anyone … Promise? Okay: (sotto voce) If you want to alter the flow of time, don’t ever sleep. It’s that simple. One may actually manipulate reality in this way. Or, one may just become a babbling nitwit.

5:39. This night is a window on purgatory; I can see Heaven in the distance, but I’ve still got a decent stretch of Hell before me. I want my Nana. Nausea hits. I hear the gurgle of acid rushing into my now empty stomach. The sensations that I am experiencing are most unsavory. I ride the ordeal out, all the while praying that I don’t sustain any permanent damage from the corrosion.

6:15. I’m still jittery from that delightful bout of acid reflux, or whatever the deuce it was. There’s quite a respectable pile of expired Luckies in the ashtray — evidence of jangled nerves and oppressive waves of ennui.

6:33. I bide the time indulging my OCD with bizarre mind games. My specialty is numerology; I count random things and assign meanings to the numbers. It’s all rather intricate. I just need to stay focused on something other than the misery of my present situation of sleeplessness.

6:54. My, I’m in a state! I think my body has sensed that my non-existent circadian rhythm (which is, in layperson’s terms, the sleep cycle) is coming to an end. It’s a false instinct since my eyelids have only been closed for milliseconds at a time. So yeah, my central nervous system feels like it’s just been defecated upon by an elephant. My heart’s racing, I’m experiencing auditory hallucinations. This has all the elements of a psychotropic adventure, barring all the fun, of course.

7:02. My mind is totally fractured. Ouch.

7:14. The sun’s comforting rays have finally penetrated my bunker. Calm has been restored, and I am on my way to recovering from that horrendously bad trip. Still, I can’t seem to get rid of the residue the intense sensory hammering that I’ve taken in the last seven hours. Will I ever, I wonder.

[Enter Sick, Weary Neal]

Crazy eh? Insomnia is not the droll experience that some think; it is not romantic in any way, and it has proved largely detrimental to my mental faculties. I am privy to some pretty extraordinary brain events; this much is true. Yet, in my estimation, sleeplessness is the most debilitating condition I have ever experienced. Help. Just let me sleep.

— Neal is really exhausted, but he’ll still pick up your e-mails at npais@umich.edu.




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