When I sit down to write, as I have for the past few weeks nearly each morning, and open my laptop, open my browser, open Blogger, open my Art Regard blog (what’s that? Oh, yes, I’ve others, though one is in full Carbonite mode and another, dedicated to my art studio build, is simply neglected), and finally click on “New Post”, what I see before me is the equivalent, in this digital age, of the blank page.
Nearly always, it only takes mere moments to start writing something. Most days, I have no preconceived idea what to write about. Take today, for example. As I sat and stared at the blank page yet again just moments ago, I had nothing. So, I began to write, “When I sit down to write, as I have…”
By the time I got to the beginning of the second paragraph, it was beginning to dawn on me, what to write about. Just prior to sitting down to write, I was again marveling at my ability, during such seasons as the one I’m in to wake early – something like 1:45 am this morning – sans an alarm, and, fully rested after only four and a half hours of sleep, pad quietly downstairs and begin another very long, very full day.
It’s not insomnia. I have never, ever had a problem going to sleep at night, or staying asleep, even when Nan has to kick me for snoring, when I am. It’s just that I seem to have two very distinct modes of operation, not unlike the “open” and “closed” modes that John Cleese talks about, but not an exact overlay. For about, oh, 3/4’s of the time, I needs me my full eight or nine hours of sleep each night, and a marching band passing through my bedroom wouldn’t wake me.
Whoa. I just had a scary thought. What if a marching band does pass through my bedroom each night? How would I know? I suppose Nan would tell me. After all, why would she keep that info from me? Probably she thinks it’s funny, is why. Maybe she and the band members yuck it up, watching me snore as the tuba player blasts a note right into my ear. That’s not nice of her. Not nice of any of them. I try to protect my ears.
Anyway, point is, most of the time, I exhibit a “healthy sleeping pattern” – healthy in duration and quality, I maintain, until some medical doctor tells me otherwi-
(Wouldn’t it be funny if those were the last words I ever wrote? If Nan found me slumped over the keyboard when she came downstairs in a few hours’ time? No, she’ll soon tell me when I read this aloud to her, while I stop from time to time to tweak a phrase here or correct my grammar there, no it wouldn’t. But we know each other pretty well, which is what happens when you’ve been married for nearly thirty years, and these days, when I awaken early, unlike way back when she wasn’t as understanding of my super early waking pattern, she sleeps right through it.)
Other times, like these nights, my sleeping pattern is just as healthy, I maintain, albeit drastically shortened. If I get tired at any point of the day, and if I’m able, I’ll nap, but many days, I’ve no real need.
Getting back to the supposed point of this post, the past four paragraphs were a kind of preamble to the thought I had while writing the first line of the third paragraph. It was just a glimmer of an idea. As I was passing through the hall on my way to the kitchen this morning, where I pressed the Breville espresso maker’s on button and heard its correspondingly deep, waking rumble, I recalled the way I would go to sleep many nights as a boy.
When I was young, I would often go to sleep fearful of having a nightmare, though I rarely did. Anyway, and don’t ask me to analyze why what I’m about to share helped, but what I would do, lying in bed with my eyes closed, is imagine a Physeter macrocephalous, a.k.a. the cachalot, a.k.a. the (giggle) sperm whale, taking a deep breath at the surface of the ocean, turning tail, and diving. Diving straight down. Diving deep, deep, deep down to contend with, and always to defeat, the giant squid. You’d think that some scary, multi-legged, suction cupped, toothed, googlily-eyed monster lurking in complete darkness would be about the last thing a kid fearful of nightmares would want to think about, but what can I say? Same thing I say these days, when people question my abbreviated sleeping pattern. Works for me. When it stops working, as it always does, sooner or later, I’m fine with going back to my full eight hours.
(I’m just not fine with the marching band. Why wouldn’t the kids tell me? What about our neighbors? I’m sure they’re all in on the joke. Am I living in some kind of Truman Show? Are all of you out there in on this? Not nice, people.)
After finishing the last paragraph, I re-read the one just proceeding it. When I got to “sperm whale”, I had the word Sperm capitalized. I wondered if it needed to be, so I looked it up on Wikipedia. Nope, doesn’t need to be. But while there, I copied and pasted the words “Physeter macrocephalous or cachalot”, inserting them before the whale’s more common name – the one that causes adolescents to snigger.
While writing the paragraph above, I got to, “When I got to” and thought I’d go back to the Wikipedia entry. It’s quite thorough, and I learned a few things about the whale, as I scrolled down, down, down, to finally find what I, and the sperm whale, was looking for: the deep dive. The giant squid. Here’s what I found:
Sorry – just checking to see how often the “Save” button automatically flashes. I’m not sure how it works. If I stop typing for a while, it doesn’t flash; nothing new to save. If I type more rapidly, it flashes more rapidly. In the slslsls section above, it flashed about three times, saving every precious word.
A few days back, in the post entitled Stay In Bounds, I wrote the following: “I flipped a hand over and looked at the palm again. The circular patterns the forstner bits had made were interesting. They kind of reminded me of those illustrations of how whales use sonar – the multiple )))))) marks had a kind of rhythmic quality to them.“
(Part of me wants to continue to explain what I just did to find that quote, as this is turning into quite the process-centric post, but suffice to say Blogger has
– sorry –
It’s 3:21 and I want to announce that I just heard one of my evidently deeply sleeping sons, in his room just yards away, yell out some sort of mumbled nonsense, and then burp loudly. Wish you could’ve heard it. Makes me wonder if, in his dream world, he himself was contending with a giant squid, then resurfacing to exhale?
Or was he, in his dream saying, “I’m not going to participate in any more of your marching band schemes, mom! It’s not funny what you’re doing to dad!”
It’s a mystery.)
It’s a big mystery. It hasn’t occurred to me until just moments ago that there might be any sort of connection between a sperm whale’s ringed scars and the patterns I somehow find so compelling. I’m sure I didn’t know about the scars when I was a kid, anyway. Absolutely sure I’d never heard of forstner bits.
Ok, so you get the point. This is what I do. It’s typically how my blog posts get written, at least in their first iterations. Sometime later – perhaps years later, in some cases, I’ll pick some post out of hibernation and read it. If it strikes me as worthy of the effort, I’ll copy and paste it onto a new blank page and edit it down, returning the original, more raw, more rambling post to its sleep, somewhere out there in the ether.
I’ve had thoughts of writing a post that contains both a post’s first run and its edited one, for comparison. Sometimes, all I take from the original post is just a paragraph or two – the rest of it, like most of this post, is dross; quite unnecessary.
Or maybe not. Not sure what I’d remove from what I’ve written today, with the possible exception of the marching band. I really hate that marching band, Nan.
And it’s very often how my more personal, hand-centric artwork gets created as well. I only need to start gluing one reclaimed redwood board to another and I’m off – off on another journey to who knows where? There’s rarely any pre-determined end point – I almost never do sketches. Along the way, I’m thinking about this subject or that. Deep thoughts, sometimes. Other times, not so much.
But what eventually manifests, both in the physical work and in the work’s title, is often something I’ve seemingly dredged up from deep, deep down. Down, perhaps in part, from whatever is truly happening within me as I’m sleeping each night. The visuals I’m seeing, though it’s quite rare that I recall a dream.
I also can’t recall the last time I had a nightmare. Maybe the last one was when I was a kid. The closest thing I’ve had to a nightmare as an adult (that I can recall the following morning) is a recurring dream involving some sort of WW3 scenario. I won’t go into it now. But you probably wouldn’t classify that as a nightmare. Perhaps just a foreshadowing. A premonition. Hope not.
But I wonder if, times like this, when I’m waking early, in part, that’s made possible by an extraordinarily deep sleep. That what it lacks in duration it makes up for in depth. I should have my brain hooked up to some machine, but I’m afraid I’d short it out or something.
You really should, Andy, I can hear some of you concur. You really should. Preferably in a mental health facility, where you’ll be safe.
Well yeah, safe from a marching band, hopefully.
I’ll end this meta post by again trying to explain just a bit more of the mystery of how it all comes together. Since reading the sperm whale’s less humorous name, and one I’d never heard before, “cachalot”, I’ve had in mind to title this piece “Catchalot.”
I haven’t quite figured out why. Oh, I have some ideas, and typically, here’s where I’d simply start to explain the connection between my sleep and my writing process and whatever is currently happening during my “day job” and the marching band and my mumbling, burping, sleeping son and sperm whales and contending with something mysterious and inaccessible and why any of you, even more mysteriously, are still reading this. Believe me, I could, if I put my mind to it, take the word cachalot and, as it were, circle this entire post and tie it up with a nice bow. It would hearken back to the post’s opening lines, or if it didn’t, I’d rewrite the opening lines so that it would. I’d perhaps start the post with the words,
When I sit down to write, as I have for the past few weeks nearly each morning, and open my laptop, open my browser, open Blogger, open my Art Regard blog (yes, I’ve others, though one is in full Carbonite mode and another is simply neglected), and finally click on “New Post”, what I see before me is equivalent, in this digital age, of the blank page.
But no, it’s not blank. It’s more like an unutterable groan of a prayer. One so deep you aren’t even sure what you are expressing. It’s not blank. It’s full. Full of potential. It’s like the moment God said, “Let there be light.” Then, boom. Everything. Everything chock full of meaning. Full of beauty. So much beauty, it’s like a vast ocean teeming with life. All I’m hoping to do, each morning, is to catch just a bit of it.
Not just a morsel, though. No – I want to catch a lot.
Or some such. First draft’s always a bit off. Thanks for indulging me.
It’s 4:07 am and I don’t know if I’ll try to go back to bed for a while or not. I’m just slightly tired. Today, an inspector will be coming to check my new studio’s stem wall. If it passes muster, around 4 pm, a skid steer and a couple of tampers will be delivered, and we’ll begin backfilling dirt into the trench on either side of the foundation. I’ll participate to whatever degree I’m able. It’s physical, demanding work, moving concrete and dirt. So yeah, when I think about how rested I’ll need to be, I think I will lie down here in a few. Perhaps I’ll even imagine a sperm whale diving down deep into the ocean.
Just catch a few Z’s. No need to… anyone?? Anyone???