For most of my adult life I have been blessed with insomnia. I say, “blessed” because without it I would not be able to do what I do and maintain a somewhat healthy lifestyle. I realize that for most people a form of insomnia, no matter how brief, can cause major disruptions to one’s life. For me it was has been a blessing in that I can spend the wee hours of the night working on whatever it is I’m working on that I would not have been able to get done during the day. I have never had a problem going to sleep, but I routinely wake up around 2 in the morning, unable to fall back to sleep. So, after tossing and turning I go up to my library to work on something. Sometimes this is reading, prepping for the next day’s class, or answering emails, but most of the time it’s writing. Most of the things I’ve written have been started or completed between the hours of 2 and 4 in the morning.
Over the years it took me to write a doctoral dissertation I worked as a bartender, often as late as four in the morning. Although those late nights at the bar did not allow me to work on my dissertation, those nocturnal sessions, as I’ve come to think of them, did afford me the opportunity to wander down the paths of life I would not have otherwise discovered. More of my dissertation was conceived over these nocturnal sessions than when seated at my desk during the day. One learns a lot about people during the wee small hours. I believe it’s that experience with people very late at night that helped me to come to understanding texts in a different way. Late night conversations over a drink (and after a certain time I would also drink, and more than I should have) often opened up new insight into the human condition. These sessions also taught me something invaluable: how to listen.
For three consecutive summers as an undergraduate I worked in a lumberyard building roof trusses. This was the hardest work I have ever done. The hours were long and included weekends. The money was good, but the exhaustion that came at the end of the day allowed me to fall asleep and stay asleep with no problem. It was also healthy for me to do such physically demanding work. Spending most of the year in a classroom with my head in a book is good for the mind but not ideal for the body. Working in the lumberyard afforded me the chance to do hard work. I liked the fact that I carried a hammer and that my hands were cut up and bruised. It felt like I was doing real work and at the end of a project there was a great sense of accomplishment. During those three summers I spent very little time reading or writing; there simply was not enough time or energy for such activities to be done. Yet, I remember being very happy during those summers with the smell of wood and the incessant hammering in my ears.
I recently made full professor at my university. One would think that I could at last take a break and breathe. However, I find myself more anxious about what I have yet to complete than ever. The late night sessions in front of my computer continue, but I’m not complaining. I have come to rely upon the quiet solitude in a house full of people that only wee hours can supply. I’m tired at these times and I seem to go through my work in a half-conscious like state. This may explain the incomplete feel of my own writing, but I would not have it any other way. My writing could be better. My teaching could be better. But then, if better, it would not be mine. I’m not sleepless every night of the week, but often enough to realize that I can still depend upon those late night sessions to practice a different kind of dreaming.