I’m a longtime card-carrying insomniac. I’m often awake several hours of a night. We don’t have a clock in our room, and I never look at the time on my phone. But there are little signs that I wait for. David puts his watch in the sock drawer so it won’t keep us awake, but it still beeps the hours, and I know it. Across the street the man wakes at 4:30 to see his friend off to work. He shovels her car out of the snow or rakes the leaves away. I don’t know them but that feels like love. Next door to him the house where the blinds are never open shows a glow around the closed blinds every morning at 5 a.m. The five a.m. lights I call them. The smoker comes out with a cushion to sit on a small bench and smoke at various times of the night. But she’s not a reliable time-keeper; she doesn’t keep to a schedule. The light from her window is blue, like television lights, but it doesn’t flicker. I wonder about that every night. Our attached neighbor wakes at 6 and walks quietly but with purpose back and forth in her apartment. When I can’t hear her for days or weeks on end, I worry about her and imagine where she might be. I like to watch the sunrise, or the echo of the sunrise because the window faces North. I like to watch the birds convene and reconvene in the dawn winter light or fly over, in sparse flocks, and gather for a moment in the trees and then move on. David’s alarm goes off at 6:19. Sometimes I’ll get some sleep after that for an hour or so, and have strong, strange dreams. I’m aware that I’m lucky to be able to sleep after other people have headed to work. I know that. But I was thinking that if you’re a person on the radio or television early in the morning, your voice might just be the strange garbled echo keeping somebody’s neighbor awake after another sleepless night.
Over the years I’ve become accustomed to being awake during the night. I know it’s a rookie mistake to panic about not sleeping, but it happens sometimes, still. The middle-of-the-night brain is not easily persuaded by calm and rational arguments. Like every other insomniac, I’ve developed some methods to cope. I never get out of bed to read or watch TV or any other very awake thing. I try to think about things I’m writing, things I care about. I lie and watch the light change.
But one method I’m fond of lately is my insomniac’s alphabet. This is not so much a crush as a catalog of crushes. This is an alphabetical list of things that I love. Things I love so much they become ‘Claire-y.’ This is the exercise of assigning each letter of the alphabet to something that I love more than I love most things. My boys said it would be more sleepy to compile an alphabet of things you don’t care about, and I have tried that. I’ve also done fruit & veg, the names of players on my favorite football team…you can come up with any topic you like.
But the pleasure in compiling an alphabet of things you love is that you’re thinking about things you love, rather than things that worry you. You might be awake, but more power to you, because you’re thinking about things that make you happy!
One thing I thought that would be lovely, if this became a trend, is that you could tell someone you had a crush on them by saying, “You’re the ‘D’ in my insomnia alphabet.”
Here’s my current insomnia alphabet:
A is apples. Mundane, I know, but I really really love apples. I eat an apple every day, and have since at least half my life. Of all the things I’m anxious about doing without, apples is probably top of my list, or near to it.
B is for Barcelona football club. Madly in love. Midlife crisis. Might write about this at another time.
C is for Clio
D is for David
E is for empathy.
F is for flying foxes eating bananas
G is for generosity of spirit. Not material generosity. I’ll probably talk about this someday too.
H is for honesty or humor, love both, they go hand in hand (see the H -es there?)
I is for Isaac
J is for early Jim Jarmusch films
K is for Kurisawa
L is for lemons. Taste, smell, idea, memories of houses that smell like lemons
M Malcolm, obvs
N is really hard for me. I’m still working on this one!
O otters. I know everyone loves otters but not as long or passionately as I have loved otters.
P puppies. What? WHAT?
Q Quince. Have a quince bush in the back yard. Love everything, EVERYTHING about quince bushes and fruit and membrillo
R raspberry jam
S Steenbeck, my old canine love
T is for longtime crush Tintin
U is for the idea of unreliable narrators
V is for viola de gamba music.
W is for wine. Every day forever!
X Is for just the love of having a truly bizarre and seemingly useless letter in the alphabet
Y is for … pending
Z is for … pending.
What’s your Insomnia alphabet look like?