Back in about 1997, I had a pizza delivery / kitchen help job for a bar & grill & grease trap in Sparks, Nevada. I would spend all night delivering pizzas and hamburgers to ex-cons and trailer trash and then come home to this converted crackhouse I lived in. Very few people living here took the time or had the money to take care of some of the things that go along with running a house: paying bills, cleaning, etc., so I would have to take care of those during the day, grab a few hours of sleep, and then go right back to work.

The more I think about it, that bar was a haven for insomniacs. One cook was forced to work a twenty hour shift when the others quit. That was rough. I spent most of the night taking fake deliveries around town and picking up... medication for the poor guy.

So after all this running around at nights and then running around at days, it became a normal occurance for me to stay up for thirty or so hours just to get everything done. One time I looked at my watch, did the math, and realized I had been up for forty-nine hours and hadn't even noticed.

It was time to quit that job, as much as I loved it, and move on.

Fast forward to now. That period in my life had a definite impact on my sleep schedule: my body normally pushes my bedtime up by an hour a week, I only take caffiene if I want to rehash the past, and even when I sleep it still takes me a few hours to acknowledge the world exists. This is all normal insomnia stuff. One day this summer I decided to keep a journal when I was sick of being nocturnal and forced myself to stay up for an extended period of time. This was mainly to keep myself occupied throughout the day, but I'm quite pleased with the results.


  • Part of this is reprinted in the node Moxie. Sorry for the recursion.
  • When I needed science, I typically made it up for the purposes of style. That's really naughty. Sorry.
  • As with most things I write that are either for my own use or sent to a small circle of e-mail addresses, most of the journal is in lowercase. I know this annoys some people, but it's easier on my eyes than normal sentences and much quicker for me to type (a boon when your brain is racing, a bane when it's slogging through the molasses of sleep-deprived conscious thought). This isn't really an apology, more of a warning.

Well, all right. Without further ado, my chronicle of sleeplessness, formatted and edited for E2, begins:

4.30am: one hour before my normal bedtime. make first cup of earl grey tea. take with it two st. john's wort capsules. i just finished reading 'fight club', so i set aside patrick mccabe's 'mondo desperado' for later and start watching the seventh tape of 'cowboy bebop.' i also have the last forty minutes of 'metroland' (1997, uk, starring christian bale) to watch, but i fear it will induce rather than prevent sleep, so i keep it on the back burner.

4.56am: first half of the tape is done. i'm preparing my second cup of tea and the sun is rising over the river. it's probably already warm outside.

5.43am: time goes by so quickly when all you want to do is close your eyes. i've started reading 'mondo desperado'. the music i listen to is raucous enough to make my foot tap, but familiar and nonintrusive enough to not distract from the book. i don't see distinct objects. i can't look across the room and see the phone. i see the phone, the wall, the picture hanging by it, the CHURCH sign on the floor. i see everything. i am breathing through my third eye and indirectly stabalising my effective karma field. i am the yin, the yan, the alpha, the omega, the razzle, the dazzle. i am spoonbender; hear me roar.

6.15am: sustaining oneself through a day of insomnia is a tricky stick. after a meal, bloodflow is diverted from the brain to the task of digesting. this is why we rest after meals. tryptophane in turkey induces euphoria and slumber. this is why there is a post-thanksgiving meal haze. in the past years, i've taken a nap between dinner and dessert. however, if there is not enough nutrition to sustain a body, the human mechanism overrides hunger and goes into power-saving mode: sleep. what we have now is a delicate balance of starvation and nutrition. one option is multivitamins, but i'm going to risk a trip to jake's no frills grill because it's been ages and they're no longer open late nights. they close at three in the afternoon. that's when i usually wake up. first, however, i need to go shopping.

8.51am: i imagine a conversation with a waitress who no longer works at jake's. "you look like shit," she says as i walk in the door, never lifting her eyes from the steaming pots of coffee. "anastasia," i say (anastasia being the vision of loveliness who has sadly gone to better things), "thank you. it is with your constant belittling that i can take the toils of the rest of the world." and she laughs and i ask why jake's isn't open late anymore and she calls me an idiot and tells me school is out, no late night students and i say, "but my early sunday morning huevos rancheros eucharist is the only thing that keeps me sane. how can i accept the glory of christ our saviour in eggs and salsa and sour cream and chili if jake's isn't open?"

"you could make it yourself or come in when the sun is up."

"it wouldn't be the same, and you know that."

but, alas, anastasia only worked nights (to the extent of my knowledge), and it's not a sure fire guarantee that the conversation would've taken place at all. it, more likely, would've been a series of half-awake grunts, but the heart and the meaning would've all been there.

so after jake's (huevos rancheros, one glass orange juice, one cup earl grey) i head over to the haymarket (one pot earl grey with a packet of ginkgo biloba road crack i found in the armrest compartment of my car) and i sit in awe watching morning people. i never see these bizarre creatures. did they watch themselves put on that pink shirt and those neon pants? do they really carry on this sunny disposition through the rest of the day? are these the type of people that drive Lexus Suburban Commandos and Super Chevy Blazer Extra Value Deluxes? i peer at them casually over my book from my seat in the corner. they think every john grisham novel is different and better than the preceding. they read martha stewart's living for practical advice. they don't know the difference between reptiles and samurai (reptiles: have pretty scales, run real fast, like to bite, some have tails; samurai: like their water hot, very brave, eat raw fish, fight a lot). they don't justify the presence of status symbols in their lives with clever cynicism (i drive a volkswagon passe. i have high speed cable internet porn access. i live at the riverside luxury masoleums.) their lives are so monumentally different from mine. i am vermin, i am pestilence, i am alien to their world, i am intruding on this shop that is usually a fine place for a sulk but is currently a place where the elite meet to have their cheeks peaked. on my way out, i see a woman in a tie-dye pink shirt and peach sweats and i want to grab her by the earlobes, drag her to a mirror and say, "look! look at yourself! when you were my age, did you ever think that this is who you would be?"

i get to the store late because wal-mart wasn't open the first go around (horror of horrors: wal-mart closes) and i decided that letting ice cream from the supermarket melt in my car would be bad. on my way back into northampton, i am stuck behind a dump truck with a sign on back that reads "INDUSTRIAL RELOCATION SERVICES: A DIVISION OF OIL DISPOSAL, INC." oh, joy! a truck full of oil and it's right in front of me! is it full? i sure hope so! alas, no time to find out, because we're back at home. time for more tea! more reading! adventure and thrills for all involved!

at this point, i'd also like to officially strike my note concerning insomnia and the perception of time. when all you want to do is close your eyes but you can't due to self-imposed schedule restrictions, the waiting (which is all you can do, seeing as how there's a point when operating anything larger than an abacus is an endangerment to yourself and those around you) is damn near criminal. get up at 3pm one day and say to yourself, "i won't go to sleep until, oh, 9pm tomorrow night." there is a point when you look at a clock and say, "i've been up for 18 hours. that's not so bad. i've made it this far." it's two seconds past that point when your brain finally comes rushing through the swinging double doors with a big sheet of computations in one hand and a pot of coffee in the other when you realise, "oh, hey. i've still got 12 hours to go."

projects become necessary. in three hours i will read a hundred pages in my book. i will take two hours to completely clean this room. i will set aside four hours out of today to plot the assassination of george w. bush. it will take me an hour and a half to balance and rotate my chi.

9.21am: it took me half-an-hour to write that. maybe i was wrong about that whole time thing.

10.26am: arts and crafts. through the innovative magic of a complicated process i have dubbed "sharpie-o-rama", i can finally realise my month-long dream of owning a shirt that says "arm the homeless."

confuse yourself. step outside your apartment and stare at the sun for five minutes, then shut yourself in a dark bathroom with only your gastrointestinal discharges to keep you company. wave a magic marker under your nose, then bite into a lemon. never let your senses know what you're going to throw at them next. tell yourself the world is a wonderful place filled with roses and magic and purpose and for everyone there exists a stellar and singular perfect love and then read sartre. watch old monty python episodes while listening to the smiths.

and above all else, keep making tea. aside from the shaking and your unfocused eyes, no one will ever suspect how long you've been forcing yourself awake.

11.49am: here we are, ladies and gentlemen. the beginnings of the critical hours. i fall asleep now, and i wake up in the middle of the night -- not my intended goal. i'm now way past my second wind. all i have to count on is the third, the fourth, the fifth winds. i can take a cold shower. i can douse myself in gasoline. i can do everything but anything productive. we are at the point where staying awake much longer is akin to touching the third rail of reality. images blend and swirl at random. we feel our hearts palpitating. we are more in tune with every quirk, every twitch, and every fidget our body is making. right now i have locked my feet and am circling my ankles. sleep is failure. staying awake is unhealthy. sink or slumber.

i've stopped boiling tea until the constant need to urinate has passed. all the conventional tricks to staying awake are moot. my hearing is passing through tunnels, under bridges, over mountains. i am conscious by sheer force of will alone.

12.33pm: i've discovered a one liter bottle of moxie brand soda in my refrigerator. this may be my only salvation. moxie is the most aptly named soda in the history of advertising. if all sodas followed moxie's example, sprite would be made of ground up pixies and all of the world's nobility would be on the run from the makers of rc cola. in boy scouts there is a fine period of humiliation where a naive youngster who has not yet learned to distrust his fellow man is made to drink a noxious mixture dubbed "indian bravery serum." if he doesn't make a face, he is a true indian brave and the spirit of the warrior is strong within him and darth vader is his father and so forth. moxie could very well be the bottled, carbonized indian bravery serum. moxie has been known to cause the growth of chest hair on all the laboratory rats that went bald from having their blood replaced with saccharine (according to webster's revised unabridged dictionary, a white or yellowish crystalline substance, C6H4.(SO2.CO).NH, produced artificially by the oxidation of a sulphamic derivative of toluene is called sulphinide. it is the sweetest substance known, having over two hundred times the sweetening power of sugar, and is known in commerce under the name of saccharine. it has acid properties and forms salts (which are inaccurately called saccharinates). it has also been known to cause cancer in laboratory rats. everything causes cancer. life is the number one cause of death.). moxie is the active ingredient in propecia. moxie knows where you live. moxie was makin' love to your old lady while you were out makin' love. moxie is the little death that brings total oblivion. moxie is the way. moxie is the light. moxie contains sodium benzoate. moxie has eyes in the back of its head. moxie is in the eyes of the beholder. moxie has been around since 1884 and don't take no guff from no one. moxie doesn't expect you to talk; moxie expects you to die.

moxie is also highly caffienated.

i think i might be saved.

bottoms up. down the hatch. hallelujah.

2.04pm: it's like a syringe full of adrenalin stabbed right through my chest and into my heart. i finally have the freedom to emerge from my zombie state, but for a limited time. five, ten minutes at the most per sip. i've found a powerpuff girls tape. this will keep me occupied for another two hours or so. after that, it's anybody's guess.

for some reason, i remember the last time i did this, i missed the total lunar eclipse. picked a hell of a time to stop sleeping back then. at least today there's no obscure astral phenomenon happening.

at least, not that i know of.


3.12pm: after nodding off for two blissful minutes, the ginseng i took recently apparently kicks in. i'm awake but not aware. anything i read now will be forgotten in a matter of minutes. i hear tracers.

i see dead people.

5.27pm: we're on the downhill slope. if i've made it this far, i can go all the way. win one for the gipper.

there's a character in a book i once read who was a scientist. he thought sleep was a disease. it was his life's ambition to erradicate the need for sleep from the human mind. his theory was that if we spend a third of our lives asleep, we could be more productive as a species if we gained that thirty-three percent back. his ultimate goal was an race of sleep deprived humans. this is why we have the term "mad scientist."

i heard once that if you stay awake for more than two weeks, you'll never be able to fall asleep again. another character in the same book was a movie reviewer who hadn't slept for more than a decade. the scientist wanted to know his secret. "don't go to sleep," was the extent of it, i think.

three and a half more hours. two and a half if i wimp out. don't go to sleep.

7.16pm: and i thought i'd never have the opportunity to watch all those dvd director commentaries. this is like being sent to my room as a kid. it wasn't really a punishment, because that's where all my toys were, but there's still that antsy feeling of desperation, the knowledge that i'm here against my will and that at some nitpicky level is wrong. i should be outside playing frisbee or something. i should be enjoying the swiftly passing eaves of summer.

i should be sleeping. or i should be awake.

7.53pm: here we are. the eleventh hour, or its current contextual equivalent. i'm reheating some leftover pizza (gotta divert that bloodflow, remember? good, you've been paying attention), getting a glass of water (caffiene is a laxative, and therefore prevents the large intestine from doing its job: absorbing hydrogen hydroxide, commonly known as dihydrogen monoxide, into the system. i've had a lot of caffiene) with a valerian extract chaser (the last thing i want is to get another spirited bout of energy after i've been asleep for an hour or so).

i have lost my perception of time. i will not have gained it back when i wake up. i will think my sleeping was a daydream. me? awake in the morning? that's a good one, but you won't fool me that easy. i must've just stayed up again. what? no, of course i don't remember staying up. that'll be two nights in a row that i'll have been awake. you know, after a week, it's impossible to fall back asleep. if you combine pop rocks with orange juice, you get nitroglycerine. that's right. with enough pop rocks you could blow up just about anything.

8.43pm: the first time i stayed up and saw the sun from the other side around was in high school and when morning washed over me, it was one of the best feelings in the world. i had beaten the night. beaten it. i guess to some extent those feelings of triumph are still there, but what was once undiscovered territory has become bland. i've bought the commemorative 'i stayed up all night' mug. all i have now after a night (and day) like this is relief.

i want to say something very profound and enduring here. like an apology or some life altering revelation. but there is nothing. just the prospect of random eye movement.

this has been a guided tour through my sleep adjustment process. thank you for having kept your arms and ears inside the node at all times. the colours are swirling now, and hot damn you look sexy in those boxers.

now, if you'll excuse me, i need to go see a man about a big



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