Baby when you gotta sleep
Lay your head down low
Don’t let the world
Lay heavy on your soul
’cause when you gotta sleep
You gotta sleep
Cool waves wash over me
Cool water running free
Lay your sweet hand on me
’cause I love you
–Spiritualized, ‘Cool Waves’
Someone told me today that my writing was very stream of conscious. Which puzzled me for a second because I don’t think of my writing that way. But it’s a quality I’ve always aspired to as a writer so I suppose that I took it as a compliment.
It’s something my friend Papa Christo is particularly good at and I’ve always envied his ability to do it; here’s a section of his Orkut profile:
Salt. Dry toast. Cardboard. Legumes. Chinos. Grapefruit. Hemostats. Batteries. The sun. Chard. Quilting. Churros. The british. Rumplestiltskin. Flat soda. Pipe cleaners. Bottle brushes. SOS pads. String. Thumbtacks. A good steak. Lederhosen. Sheep. Anterior cruciate ligaments. Parasols. Pair a socks. Parrots. Pickled beets. Musicals. Ferrets. (Well, one particular ferret!). The zoo. Eastern philosophy. Lobster porn. Hot pots. Mead. Legos. Pine sap. Night. Headlights. Tar. Poster paint. Crazy glue. Marinara sauce. Magicians. Poi. Crunchberries. Turtle wax. Prescription painkillers. The number 8. Sad clowns. Mashed potatoes. True love. Shaft. Politics. Surfing. Mayonnaise. Hello Kitty. Firemen. Monkeys. Valet parking. Binder paper. O-rings. Popov Vodka. Popping off. Rubber. Wood. Metal. Glass. Cheese. Somersaults. Summer school. Doris Day. The principals on which our great nation was founded. Cow tipping. Cold pizza. Warm spit. M&M’s. Professional landscaping. Pudding pops. Gum. KISS.
Which we winged one night, fueled by tequila and playing some weird word association football game.
I love this stuff. And I can do it best when I’m in a state of altered consciousness, but there’s my dilemma. My motor skills go to fuck when I’m loaded. I want to be Bukowski or Hunter S Thompson or Hemmingway or Coleridge or all those beat guys, all liquored up or high on ether or mescaline or LSD or laudanum or morphine.
Only I can’t actually write when I’m like that. My hands lose all their coordination and I can’t work a keyboard. It’s a pity, I’d love to be able to describe an intense hallucination as it happened.
Actually though some of my very best hallucinations have been induced not by anything chemical, but by lack of sleep.
There was a time in my early twenties when I was still partying pretty much every night, and then working amazing hours. I worked for Seagate Technology in Scott’s Valley, CA, my first real job in high tech. I was a test technician, one of the senior guys (which meant I actually showed up and got work done, so they put me in charge of the crew when the manager wasn’t around). So when the quarter was ending, I’d work twelve to fourteen hour shifts five to seven days a week, and then if we were still behind, they’d have me switch off and work graveyard a few days and then back to days, usually switching the same day so I’d work the clock around.
I thought I was making a shitload of money. At the time, none of my friends were making as much. Now, fry cooks at In n’ Out burger make more, but whattaya gonna do.
So these weeks – when I’d only have seen home to sleep and hadn’t seen anyone at all who I didn’t work with in days – I’d start to hallucinate.
Now most of it was garden variety. Someone in the crew who’d gone on break and I’d see ‘em standing there between machines. A coat tossed on a chair would look like a cat or something. Regular hallucinations.
But the more my brain got fried, and longer the sleeplessness went on, the more intense and vivid the hallucinations would get.
We worked with racks of test consoles that tested disk drives. At the end of each row of machines was a desk that held a terminal, a printer, and a garbage can next to the desk. When test runs finished, the printer would spew forth test results and we’d tear ‘em off and match ‘em to the drives we were unloading from the racks.
So when we were busy, the trash cans would overflow with bits of paper from the printers. There’d always be a shadowy space between the over-flowing can and the desk and the test racks.
Over time, this shadowy space would become a small, leering demon. I could see it when I walked by, out of the corner of my eye. It would lurk.
It wasn’t there when I looked straight at the space of course. And I knew exactly what it was. It was an exhausted brain playing tricks.
But it didn’t go away. It would keep lurking.
I used to tell people about it because it worried them. They’d worry I was losing my mind.
Late in the quarter, when we were on near 24 hour shifts, I’d see it more. Sometimes it would even be there early. And then it started reaching out as I walked by. It’s beady eyes glinting and it’s teeth sort of shiny. It got so I missed it when I didn’t see it.
It got so it stayed there when I looked at it, once in a while.
My co-workers either thought I was making it all up or that I was nearly off the deep end. I guess some of them may have also thought I was on drugs, which was not true, but easily could have been.
Then my friend Keith – or “Ki-eth” as we called him because there was a typo in his name badge – he saw the thing.
Now, I have some experience in the hallucination department. Let’s say I have rather a lot of it. But Keith; well, Keith was the kind of guy who though it was quite a lark to have more than one beer. Keith had married his high-school sweetheart and had some large number if kids, each as geeky as the next. Keith is the guy who was confused when we were watching a female co-worker and I said I wanted to “lick her ’til she screams”. He had never done drugs, not hung out with people who did drugs. This whole idea was alien to him.
So Keith saw the demon. I think it was the most excited I’d ever seen him.
“It was right there! Right there man! It was grinning at me and it reached out, just like you said!”
Maybe it was just my descriptive powers. Or maybe there’s something living there in Scott’s Valley we don’t know about. Or maybe it was the old collective hallucination vibe.
Lack of sleep does funny things to the head though. It makes us stupid; fucks with judgement, perspective. It makes us imagine things that didn’t happen, worry over things that don’t matter, stress over things that are not a problem. I’ve seen people work themselves into a state of near panic and near collapse over nothing in this state. Eventually it can reach a delusional and almost psychotic state.
Funny, that. Like any drug, it can have a buzz, but too much is bad for you and a lot too much can take away your sanity, health and well-being.
I don’t miss lack of sleep on that scale. I must admit I miss those hallucinations though.