Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Midnight Disease

I awoke at 4 am and couldn't get back to sleep. I was worrying about my mother. We put her in a nursing home last week. No option, really. She has Alzheimer's and had to be in a lock-down facility. She kept trying to leave the house she'd lived in for 40 years to go to her childhood home in Manayunk (a Philadelphia neighborhood). She thinks her mother is still alive, waiting for her there.

Fifty years ago, HER mother was doing the exact same thing. Except that, back then, nursing homes didn't have keypad door locks or put monitoring bracelets on the patients. My grandmother escaped and made it to the bus stop several times.

So I couldn't get back to sleep. No matter. In Michael Chabon's book Wonder Boys, the narrator calls insomnia "The Midnight Disease" and claims it often afflicts writers. My rule for insomnia is this: if I can't get back to sleep in a half-hour, get up and write.

At 5:30 am I hear a neighbor leave for work. It reminds me of my own early-morning jobs, some twenty years ago. I remember working construction, showing up at the contractor's office at 6 am, being on the jobsite by 7 am. I was a plumbing apprentice. I had permanent bruises on both shoulders from carrying 22 foot lengths of pipe. Come to think of it, that's when my problems with my knees started.

It's 7 am now. Soon the school buses would make their rounds. How many times have I been on deadline, writing all night, only noticing the time when I hear the school buses in the morning? Too many to count.

The muse rarely inspires me late at night. My midnight writing is quotidian, workmanlike. Nothing brilliant. Just grinding out page after page. But that's what much of the writer's life is about. If deadlines permit, you can insert brilliance in the rewrite. It beats the hell out of writer's block.

Alzheimer's is also a midnight disease. I'm sure my mother awakens at night in the nursing home, not knowing where she is. But she was already doing that in at home, not recognizing her husband of 56 years. So she's no worse off. And now, perhaps, my father can get a full night's sleep. But it will take him time to get used to sleeping alone.

No comments:

Post a Comment