I can’t sleep at night. And I can’t wake up in the morning. It has been a lifelong problem — though I never particularly viewed it as such, as a problem, until the last few years. Society always has. Sleeping in is simply not something that’s approved of, by almost everyone. Especially if you sleep in really late, as in noon or 1:00pm. People get really angry with you. You’re not being productive. You’re not being a participating member of society. You’re lazy, you’re a bum, you’re a parasite. Get a job. Get your life sorted out. Get yourself together.
But, wait a minute, who are you to dictate my life? How is it, exactly, that you know best? The world is full of people like you. From the moment we’re born we have other people’s hands and intentions all over us. We’re pushed, pulled, swayed, influenced, indoctrinated and inculcated with everything but our own honest feelings about things. Society knows what’s best. It’s been around far longer than we have, and it’ll be around long after we die. There are more important things at play than our tiny little needs and feelings. Wake up, shut up, eat this, learn this, dress this way and think in this manner. You can say this but you definitely can’t say this. You can care about these things, but you’re better off forgetting about these things. And don’t even notice these things— they don’t exist at all. And, oh yeah, if you separate yourself from the herd, even at the earliest of ages, you’ll pay. Believe me, you’ll pay.
So then tell me, what about this society is worth taking part in? The surrender I find in sleep is unparalleled. It always has been. It’s freedom. Freedom from a world that is so obviously, glaringly dysfunctional. From the time I could see it clearly, I never wanted anything to do with it. Part of me still doesn’t. Right from those first few years in school, I could sense it. I knew something was up. Any kid with half a brain gets the idea pretty quickly. When it finally dawned on me, years later, that school was, for the most part, preparation for a work-place that was much the same — a work place from which you were not set free until you were nearly dead, and that was, in actuality, the great industrial hamster wheel that was responsible for the continuing destruction of the planet — the horror was so acute that it shunted me straight into all manner of ‘deviance’. I didn’t want anything to do with this circus. Everyone, the ring-masters, the barkers and all of the trained animals could go right on playing without me. All I ever wanted, was to be left alone.
Doesn’t work like that, however. If you don’t figure your shit out, the world’s gonna do it for you, and fast, literally. You’ll be flipping burgers and collecting food stamps before you know it. Or you’ll be on the street, or in jail. And don’t expect any compassion from your fellow man, either. You get what you deserve, bum. This is how the world works. Get used to it. Everyone else has.
So, given this outlook, I’ve always been understandably unenthused about hopping out of bed with a big grin on my face everyday, ready to take on that world. I just couldn’t harden myself enough to do it. Participation in the circus required too thick a skin, and I couldn’t toughen myself up enough. Emotions have no place in the world of man. Vulnerability, being allowed to make mistakes, openly expressing yourself— none of these work here. They’re petals crushed beneath the boots of brutes. You buck-up or get stepped on, that’s just how it is, and the last thing I wanted was to allow the world to corrupt the only thing I had left, what few but precious treasures I still held inside. There was no way they were getting those things, so I made the only choice I could: I withdrew.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but it was pretty early on, and I’m positive my addiction to staying up late developed in conjunction with it. Day belongs to the world, to the doers. Night belongs to the self, to the thinkers and the feelers. The world owns you during the day — there’s nothing you can do about it — you go to school, to work, run errands, deal with responsibilities, the whole lot. But the night, when all of that is over, when the bread has been broken and the world is winding down, is the time that you breathe a sigh of relief and think to yourself, okay, what do I want to do now? Of all the things in the world, what catches my fancy? What can I do with these last few hours, now that they don’t belong to anyone but me? So you follow your interests, your whims, whatever they may be, and feel the passion that is so missing from the world finally beginning to unfold once again. Whether you’re seven years old and under the covers with a flashlight and a comic, or twenty-five with a glass of whisky and a guitar, this is your time. Finally.
The only problem with this is that it’s very addictive. Over time your disdain for the outside world can grow and your love of the inner world can become obsessive and dysfunctional. During periods that you’re not working you quickly slip into “keeping the hours of a vampire bat”, as Hunter S. Thompson was once described as doing, right up until the end of his life. And a strong love for the things of the night — drugs & alcohol, to be particular — develop in conjunction as well. Yes, all of these things can lead to the creation of some great art, but it doesn’t do anything for your ability to champion that art in a healthy manner at all. And if there’s one thing good art needs more than any other, it’s championing. Believe me, there’s a ton of mind-blowing work out there that you, or anyone else, will never see because it lacks the proper agency to get it in front of your eyes.
And that’s the irony here, isn’t it? The instinct to preserve and nurture the intrinsic sensitivity of the artist from a world that would strip it clean can often lead to the inability of that art to properly flower and find its place in that world. At its tamest, the artist is hospiced into a quiet, desperate life of censored expression, and at its most extreme, it breaks open into madness, addiction & death — and no matter how ‘genius’ any resulting work may be, the loss of the human life that produced it is a tragedy. Balance, as always, is integral to healthy success in any endeavour.
And that’s what this whole blog is about, really. Bringing a changing balance into the picture. Personally, I am still searching for what this means, and how it applies to my own life. I know that my internal withdrawal from the world, so many years ago, left me severely lacking in certain real-world abilities and skills, and also embedded a darkly cynical outlook that badly crippled both my will and my confidence in many ways. Yet I retained my inner sense of play. The creative drive is still so strong that I have to scramble to keep up with it at times.
So what happens now is a matter of choice. Of choosing to bring some balance back into the picture. I am at a point now where I can see clearly that, as true as everything in the beginning of this article is, it is also coloured by a personal perspective that I now have the ability to change. The world is the way it is. You can either let it infect you with negativity, turning you into a disaffected artist who is generally miserable to be around, or you can thank it for what it’s given you — the preservation of the internal, creative spark — and be a positive force in bringing the gifts of that spark to the world.
Yet here I am, writing this at 2am with a glass of whiskey next to me. I am pretty sure I am not going to feel too enthused about waking up tomorrow. This is the strange cognitive dissonance I’m experiencing these days. The love of the night hasn’t left me. The general feeling of dissatisfaction with the waking world is still there more often than not. So am I in denial of myself by trying to change these things? There’s an old line from the Kenneth Branagh film Dead Again, stated by Robin William’s character, that says something along the lines of You’re either a smoker or you’re not. Figure out which one you are and BE that. A backwards kind of logic, to be sure, but one that I can see. Kind of.
I have this continuing image of a future version of myself, waking up at the crack of dawn everyday, meditating, doing yoga and going for a run — all things that I have done in the past (apart from waking up at the crack of dawn, unless it was for school or work), and still do sporadically — but I wonder if this is not just another form of deception, and that my destiny might be one a little more bukowski-esque, ending up with me sitting in a small dirty room somewhere, drinking and smoking and shitting out poetry, equal parts curmudgeon and bluebird. God knows I’ve enjoyed those periods in the past.
Whatever it is, it has to come from the heart, and the only way to get there is through the mind, through working with the mind. I am long done applying external salves. There’s no exercise regimen, no diet, program or book that’s going to do it. The root causes must be addressed, and they start with what’s going on inside. That’s what the development of vision is all about — getting to a transpersonal space and letting reality dictate, instead of a mind that is severely tainted by the past and the culture that created it. Then the necessary external changes will begin to take place, whatever they may be.
I have a suspicion that some genuine enthusiasm for the day, the world as it is, and the people that inhabit it are in there somewhere. And I’m also sure that a heart that wants to open to that world, work with it and play with it a little — instead of just itself, and those closest to it — is waiting to be unlocked as well. Then again, maybe a deeper love of the night and the things therein are waiting to show up instead. I suppose I’ll just have to sleep on it.