Maybe once a month or sometimes in a streak of more frequent occasions, I have what one writer called a “white night,” one in which I cannot sleep. The connectome of chords in my brain can’t find the proper fingering so that it goes over and over the same sequence of notes, trying to strike the right progression in my brain melody. But the Y of IO choices keeps taking the wrong choice, the one that leads back in a circle to where I was before.
This afternoon I was cleaning out the back building so now in my head I still pick up the same mildewed box, the same splintered slat, the same oddball glass jar and put them in the same contractor’s trash bag that refused to stand up enough to keep its mouth open. Pretty soon I realize I’m knotted mentally, my calf is twisted in a cramp, and I HAVE been asleep but only crammed down a sock that has no exit at the toe.
The cat complains that I’m moving around too much and the cat in the other room hits the floor with a thump, coming to stand beside the bed to suggest opening a cat food can. So I do that, walking through the cooled rooms, checking the quiet town outside the windows, seeing nothing out of the ordinary.
The church next door has turned out its lights -- sometimes the last one out leaves them on, maybe because they think someone else is behind them. The baby on the other side of the house has not woken that household. Under the sulphur street lights in front the yellow leaves move only a little. I see no cats moving outside in the backyard. The cats inside have curled back into sleep. They go in and out of sleep so easily.
I think about an article describing the brains of fruit flies and a book about the genomes of viruses and by then I’m into the computer and finding a sequence of photos of nocturnal animals, many of them little side branches of the primate line with huge eyes and tiny dexterous hands. They sleep in daylight, hidden.
Maybe the electric mattress pad was turned up too high. Now my body is cooling and my brain is slowing from its spinning. Maybe there was some decision deep in the far-below consciousness that was left open or, like a prion, misfolded like a lazy hostess dealing with napkins for family instead of a party. Or was there a plot line in a movie, that movie that was nothing but three people moving across a swelling and spilling knitted landscape where sheep and goats had woven roughly parallel shelves along the hillsides. Isn’t narrative simply travel along a line of thought? But no crisis, no resolution.
I come to the terrifying accounts of ebola, the children dead, rigid on cement floors, and am paralyzed for minutes. Then I go to a video of a boys’ dance troupe, synchronized in their baggy shorts and worn-out flip-flops, elbows and heels flying, so full of life and energy. It does not quite compensate, but it helps.
Somewhere a town dog is barking with energy, not just making noise but telling us something about the night. Maybe a coyote passing through. It’s too late for the bar swampers to be coming home from the other towns. (There are no longer saloons in this village.) It’s too early for the newspaper distributor to be traveling the blocks, emitting bursts of noise from her car radio when she stops to walk to front door tubes. It’s unlikely that any wandering individual human is out there. (In the cities there are always figures in the shadows.) The cat in the window sits up to take a good look but sees nothing and goes down on her elbows, her ears back with annoyance.
Maybe enough of a stream has gone through me by now to wash away whatever was hooking me back to wakefulness. Maybe I can sleep. I won’t remember any of this in the morning when the diesel pickups come roaring to life in the dark and maybe I’ll go back to sleep until it’s daylight and the heavy machinery scraping the streets has begun to peep as it backs up to take another run at grading.
Night is supposed to be healing, but it’s sorting. Discard this. Lay this aside. Shove this into that contractor’s plastic bag. Forget most of it.
When I wake it’s thirty-one degrees and snow is burdening everything. It's a white morning. The world is changed. Elk and mulies are moving to the lower altitudes, leaving trails that make them easy to track. Those who can will beg off work today and go to get the winter meat. The pup next door has a bigger bladder now and not so much need to go outside so there is no sharp demand to be let back in.
This is what kept me awake -- the pressure change. It may have brought the kittens the feral cat was carrying. Out on the highway the plow is rumbling but there’s no peeping of machinery in town.
The movie was “The Loneliest Planet.” (On Netflix) Very simple: a red-headed young woman with a child vibe because of her big two-front-teeth and her joyful openness to experience, is with a clever young man whom she intends to marry. With a local guide, they go on a back-packing transect of “Georgia”, the country. It is a banal narrative: walking, camping, sitting by campfires, crossing streams, meeting hostile strangers, reconfiguring intimacy. It has a transcendent effect IF you are open to it. One’s consciousness becomes recalibrated to subtlety, tiny hints, the demands of going on and going on.
Why would boys dancing reassure me after the news of ebola? They are demonstrations of vitality, energy, invention. Males dancing in small groups don’t seem choreographed -- more like street dancing. The young adults, as well as the boys, move in ways rarely seen except in specialty documentaries like “Inspirations,” (on Netflix) showing the work of Louise LeCavalier and Edouard Lock, almost like extreme Apache dancing. Lock is eloquent even when not dancing. https://vimeo.com/42270237
Young men dance outside in public places. Their moves are often the moves of combat: creeping up, being shot, carrying comrades, moving after being wounded, welcoming buddies, intimacy, conflict. No particular costumes except tank tops and jeans or even cargo pants. Yet when I looked at YouTube most of what gets publicized is sex-related dance, esp. nudity -- not that I have anything against nudity but it’s not the point here. I could not find what I’ve seen on either Google or YouTube. I’m getting the vids second- and third- hand from other people. Maybe they’re European, or some are obviously African. They are more like ethnic dance. I know some are in Paris. I don’t capture video. It’s something to watch for, something that slips into a mind that can’t quite sleep. Something that’s happening deep in the brain, far below words or even images. If I begin to move around in my sleep too much, the cats move to the other room.