I write best when I’m asleep.
Well, not really–but sort of.
There is something particularly fertile about the thoughts that float between the waking life and the sleeping, that swim in the twilight of consciousness. I have known for years now that I am most creative and most open when my self is out of the way, in a state where only mind and imagination exist, independent of any self, any ego, any personal effort. Even when I feel fully awake and aware, when I have found what is known as “flow,” it seems I am merely a conduit for my creation, not its personal author.
In this way, praying and writing are not unlike. I write best from my proverbial closet, my mind closed to all the minutiae of daily existence, and open to everything–anything–else.
I had two experience with this phenomenon this week alone. The first was mid-week. Nacho woke me up for a quick potty break around 2:30 in the morning. For whatever reason, as I pulled the fleece sheets back over my shoulders and settled into bed again, a concrete thought, born no doubt of some unconscious musings still lingering in my mind, so recently asleep, presented itself to me in isolation: “We think our plans are set in stone.” And after that, another thought, and another–until it became clear to me that I was writing a poem, a poem about planning–and its futility (perhaps or perhaps not inspired by what it’s like to be a teacher right now. Read: near daily unexpected and inconvenient if not debilitating technology glitches, students with quarantine dates that continually change, the absolute necessity for patience and flexibility).
I stayed awake for maybe 30 minutes, reciting the stanzas over and over again in my head to cement them there for when I could write them down. (On my to-do list: a bedside writing station). Plagued by a slight fear of losing them (as often happens) before fully awake, I awoke several times between 3:00 and 5:15, each time reciting–and slightly revising–the poem in my head. As I finished breakfast a little before 6:00, after I had fed the Littles and let them out to potty, I finally wrote it down in my journal:
The Insanity of Humanity "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." --Not Albert Einstein We think our plans are set in stone, this life, this time--all our own, entitled to our every plan-- Oh! the arrogance of man! Until catastrophe takes shape, putting us back in our place, reminding us we're not as great as destiny or cruel fate. So we retreat to lick our wounds, gather comfort from the gloom, then emerge renewed, refreshed, having learned we don't know best. But then we lament what might've been, and the cycle starts again.
The second experience was early this morning, long before sunrise.
I am currently working on revisions of a manuscript for a novel I submitted to a small press under the working title The Experiment. Among the many revisions suggested to me was to come up with a better–a more apt–title (fair enough, as the working title applied to the very earliest conception of the piece, but really isn’t very relevant to its current form). I received this feedback in August, and have been struggling to divine the perfect title ever since. Over the course of the last couple days, several have materialized out of my half-awake mind, four of them in succession this morning. I now have a list of fifteen potential titles. Maybe I’ll use one; maybe the perfect one has yet to arrive. Either way, I have begun to have fun–and usually (as in when I am awake), titling a work proves a struggle for me. (And let’s not even get into the (albeit beautiful and fulfilling) struggle that is revising an entire manuscript!) Here are the now fifteen working titles:
- Feel the Chill of Each Yearly Encounter (thematic; allusion; partial quote from Tess of the d’Urbervilles)
- The Chill of Each Yearly Encounter (thematic; allusion; partial quote from Tess of the d’Urbervilles)
- Everything Precious is Scarce (thematic; pulled from a conversation in the manuscript)
- I Have Measured Out My Life with Coffee Spoons (a motif; a line from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” referenced throughout the manuscript)
- This One Thing I Know (thematic)
- One Thing I Know to be True (thematic)
- One Thing I Know For Sure (thematic)
- One Thing Certain in an Uncertain World (thematic; also a phrase that pops up here and there in the manuscript)
- Every Plan is a Tiny Prayer to Father Time (thematic; lyric from Death Cab for Cutie‘s “What Sarah Said”)
- An Hourglass Glued to the Table (thematic; partial lyric from Anna Nalick‘s “Breathe (2 AM)”)
- T-Minus (thematic; plot-inspired; suggested to me by one of my readers)
- In So Many Sunsets (thematic)
- All the Water in the River (thematic; symbolic; related to the symbolic motif of the James River in the manuscript)
- Time is But a Stream I Go A-Fishing In (thematic; symbolic; a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden)
- The Water in the River Flows Only One Way (thematic; symbolic; related to the symbolic motif of the James River in the manuscript)
And now, perhaps because I am fully awake, I am having trouble writing a conclusion for this post. Maybe I should try later tonight–from the quiet confines of my bedroom and the soft desk that is my pillow; after all, I write best when I’m asleep.
© Amanda Sue Creasey