Thursday, October 20, 2011

The unsuccessful sleep dance method of writing

I want very much for my writing to be funny. To have a dark humor that edges on satire and prods the world’s ego into being more loving while laughing at itself. I want to write like Anne Lamott but when I try, not only does my writing start to sound incredibly melodramatic and whiny, like I imagine her very own shitty first drafts must sound, but worst of all, inauthentic. It’s just not me. My own voice tends to be much more serious with the occasional a glimmer of hope or simple beauty. In those moments, I have to be careful not to over work and strip the life out of it, or to egg it on too desperately like an over-extended and plagiarized Mary Oliver poem. All in all, it is challenging for me to sound like me and sift though the layers to hear my own voice, a voice which I barely recognize as my own and which I always greet skeptically. It’s like I know my voice is the not so cool girl at the party that hovers like a pelican over the dessert table without anything interesting to say. I don’t want to try to engage her in any kind of laborious small talk because she is clearly a handful. Instead, I try to fraternize with the cool kids and then steal their lines but do not manage to have the same comedic timing to sound uproarious or shocking. Instead, the stolen lines lumber out of my mouth second hand like a white elephant gift passed around the circle too many times.

The truth is, I always do my best writing at night. This is infuriating because I am forced into this dance where I flop around like a dead fish, finally get comfortable, drift into sleep, and then a line or image comes to my mind I have to get up, find a pen and my journal and scribble it down in my most illegible handwriting. But often these are the ideas with traction. For some reason, when I try to sit down and write in the morning, all I produce are lists and the most dull reflections of work or eating too much food, or needing an oil change for which I will never schedule an appointment. On the other hand, my late night mind produces sentences that flow together, carry some weight and interest and so I have to write them down while feeling peevish because I am tired and want to sleep like a normal person, and write like a more normal person during more normal hours. The reality is that all my good ideas come on occasions that are incredibly inconvenient to writing: the middle of the night, while showering, or driving. I have, however, halfway succeeded at writing down a drippy poem from the bathtub, and lesson plans on napkins between stoplights.

The only way I can make sense of this phenomenon is that my subconscious feels free as I drift toward dream world and my adult ego is too tired to fight my creative self back into her box. It is the time when my control freak, list-making, hyper-vigilant self has her guard down and is vulnerable and my writer self launches into surprise attack mode. Just tonight, I was talking with my roommate Adam, telling him about surviving day three of a monster head cold. I took a hot shower, purchased soup, Kleenex, and chocolate, picked up a mountain of DVDs from the library, went to an acupuncture appointment, and got quarters for laundry. This is a significant feat for someone as under the weather as I currently am. I explained my “back to full health in one day plan” while steaming my face with a bowl of hot water and towel over my head, breathing in eucalyptus oils and commenting on their anti-microbial properties. Suddenly, Adam blurted out that I was the most “fucking proactive person he has ever met” and we both broke out into laughter. It is true and kind of crazy. I made sure to mention that this quality has not always charmed my previous lovers.

So this is all I can figure. When I am wildly tired, my mind goes to a place that my proactive adult self will not permit it to go to during the day. This is the reason behind my restless sleep-writing dance that results in getting all twisted up in sheets, dark circles under my eyes, and a pissy attitude the next morning. One unfortunate thing about this process is that I am high maintenance about sleep. I am not one of those people who can get five or six hours of sleep and be fine. I am notably not fine. I become a deeply unpleasant person, sassy and grumpy, prone to emotional breakdown, and binge eating. It is the equivalent of my traveling while sick self, or hangover self, or being around little untrained children for too long self. My nerves wear thin and Jesus begins to look amused, but no longer applauds my behavior.

As you may begin to figure, I do not recommend my system for establishing a writing practice. This sleep-writing dance, as I will here after call it, simply does not work in my best interest, or perhaps more accurately, in the best interest of those around me.