Leaving Belfast, Part 2: I am Jack’s Cold Sweat
A couple nights ago, I couldn’t sleep so I sat in my living room with my computer on my lap, searching on-line for a bed. Insomnia was a constant throughout my childhood. My parents were political activists and I absorbed their conversations about nuclear war, the abuses of the Reagan administration, the threat of toxic rain, or whatever issue was currently on the front burner of their ire and converted these themes into persistent nightmares. Later on in life, I learned to channel these dreams into my waking interests and, for the most part, my dreamscape became far more banal and my sleep far less arrested. But lately, something has gone terribly wrong.
My dreams are terminally boring. I wake up in the middle of the night with the dreadful realization that my REM wanderings consisted of me scouring the classifieds for houses in my price range. Instead of seeking inspiration for a more imaginative sleep state, instead of reading poetry or teaching myself how to make mosaics or finally tackling the Portuguese language in the wee hours of the morning, I trawl through the dredges of the internet for free home furnishings that would no longer be available when I would actually need them. I engage in pointless acts of futility in the hopes that I will bore myself back into dreary dreams. It doesn’t work.
The narrator of the film Fight Club had a similar existence to mine until he blew up his apartment. He described his condition as becoming “slave to the Ikea nesting instinct.” I have become a slave to the “free stuff” section of Craig’s list. It has become an obsession to search for the components of projects I will never engage in. “Someone has free tree stumps in Cary, you must uproot.” Hadn’t I always wanted to make stools out of the rotted stumps of North Carolina piedmont pine? “Free magazines in North Raleigh, Better Homes and Gardens, People, and US Weekly. First come, first serve.” That would work perfectly for that decoupage project of the coffee table that I do not yet own. And so the search continues.
Possession accrual, real or imaginary, can be an attempt to tether ourselves to a present that is far too rapidly becoming subsumed into the past. The present moment can be a terrifying thing. If I pay too close of attention to the moment at hand, I can actually feel my life slipping away. And so I engage in the persistent project of distraction, engaging in an extensive exploration of the imagined topography of my future all to avoid the reality of what is right before me, which is now.
Falling asleep is our daily act of cutting the cord to the present. We dream of tomorrow and wake up in today. If drifting off to sleep is a forced act of faith, then insomnia is the victory of fear over necessity. It is also an untenable state. Eventually, I have to stop the housing search, give up on the pursuit of free dirt to be found somewhere in the Triangle area, and submit myself to the sweet and scary abyss of the unknown. Late last night, I read Christopher Lydon’s farewell to the listeners and readers of Radio Open Source. He quoted the end of Emerson’s essay, “Circles”:“Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energizing spirit. No love can be bound by oath or covenant to secure it against a higher love. No truth so sublime but it may be trivial to-morrow in the light of new thoughts. People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.” Then I took a Tylenol PM and fell asleep.