Do you remember those nights? Rolled up into your blanket, your nightlight already placed in the socket, the weight of a parent on the side of the mattress. Stories of monsters and men, fairies and sorcerers. Nightly recurring stage productions with star actors– our parents deserving of Oscar nominations. I count myself lucky to recognize such scenes– drifting off after the creak of the door closing behind the narrator of a good bedtime story. But as we pass childhood, there are no more parents to tuck us in, no more crumpled books opened, no more bedtime stories sending us off into a sleep filled with children’s dreams. What has replaced the nightly fiction which entertained us back then?
While some of us fall asleep the second we close our eyes, I often find myself lost in my own type of bedtime stories. But this time they consist of that which stories are made of: thoughts. More specifically, the bedtime stories have been replaced by bedtime thoughts: Flashes which color the insides of your eyelids, the mind transforming into a pinball machine– the flippers pushing balls of thought around until they finally drain into the exit for the night and your body sinks off into sleep.
The struggle of a weary brain can be felt throughout the whole body, yet the mind itself somehow feels awake. While we may not feel like it, our brains are struggling to focus and make sense out of things. Its filter is ajar, and thoughts spill out uncontrollably in a rapid flow. It’s hard to truly control these murky waters, and even harder to swim up against the stream, towards the banks. So what do we do with such late night reflections? Do we store them to be recycled for the next evening? Or do we simply let them drive us insane overnight?
Essentially, our hyper activated brain activity is a result of our excessive thought energy. So perhaps there is something to be gained from these thoughts when we re-channel its energy flow into a different more positive output. For me, stories are often the answer. Turning reality into fiction is one way to deal with questions of reality.
For this reason, I want to invite you along on a brief journey into the transformation of such thoughts into stories. Unlike stories filled with castles, princes and princesses, these reflections are about you and me and our worldly experiences. But that is not to say they cannot be stories anymore. Like your parents did when you were a child– I will tell you some stories.
I once stumbled upon a fruit basket. In it, I found a round shape. While presumably a fruit, its peel could no longer be seen. Instead a whirl of tiny moving bodies inhabited the shape. I recognized it then. It was a rotten apple–shriveled, dried up, forgotten and forsaken by all but ants. Each ant took a bite, some more than others. They sank in their teeth relentlessly, notwithstanding that the apple was already a mere speck of what it once was. Hungry ants on a fruit that had lost its nutrients. Yet the ants dig deeper, eat more, and occupy what is left of the fruit. Fruit, food. Riches: earth.
I have always hated puzzles, truly detested them. These singular pieces, fabricated to fit into a greater whole. Jagged pieces, sculpted by time, tens of hands feeling the shape of them. There always seem to be missing pieces too, lurking beneath floorboards or under sofas. The hunt begins, crawling the floor on all fours. When we find a piece, we want it to fit. We take a plunge, we punch it in. When it doesn’t fit, we make it fit. We have learned that everything can be transformed into something which fits. So we bend it, squeeze it, shape it, break it. It must fit. When we place it in the puzzle we take some steps back to take the picture in. It’s a distorted picture now, a monster sprouted from a misfitting piece. It just doesn’t blend in with the other colors properly. It belongs to some forgotten puzzle. We have shaped it but will discard it. We walk over to the corner of the room and throw it in the bin. Useless.
When I was a child, my father showed me a termite nest. Attached to the tree, it looked like a big clump of dirt, but really, it was a city. Roads had been built, highways on which the termites traveled, carrying food for their larvas. Homes existed inside this clump of dirt, a colony lived here. Who was to say that these creatures had no thoughts? Their thoughts would be vastly different, yet in their way they were each their own individual. I asked my father if they could see us observing them. He told me that this was unlikely and that to them, humanity would probably not even exist. He took his termiticide kit and drilled small holes in the tree. They were an infection to the tree, my father said, they would kill the tree if he didn’t do this. He sprayed the termiticide in as if filling up a tank, unleashing a natural disaster– killing them. We do not know of creatures bigger and more intelligent than humanity, but who is to say there are none? Are we not too, an infection in need of riddance?
When I was little I was afraid of the dark. I would sleep with my face covered by the duvet– even if that meant I could barely breathe. Now I stare into the darkness looking for shapes I desperately want to see– listen carefully for the slightest sound. An indication that someone’s there. In the darkness we are unable to see, yet we see this darkness hanging in the atmosphere, our senses recognize its density. So we see what we do not see. I scan the room again. My eyes flutter before closing, bringing more darkness. Perhaps that is where I will see the faces of those lost to eternal darkness. When we miss someone, we welcome the darkness like an old friend. Because somewhere, hiding in its depths, are more things we cannot see. And if we focus really hard, we start to see.
They say they matter, but are also made of matter. That’s all they really are– matter, particles floating through space. Space is their home, the place their planet exists. But space is also what they desperately wish to have. Unoccupied areas, free expanse, space to steal, to stick a flag in and mark as ‘mine’. Space is thus a nothingness, something they wish to fill with something. They need to own to understand, to feel, to see, to hold. Space which cannot be occupied, the real nothingness, is a threat. The cosmos exists in space and was born from nothing. So nothing is something. There is a thin line between everything and nothing. But it remains nothing when they cannot grasp it.
The storybooks our parents read fairy tales from when we were children usually had happy endings. Unfortunately our thoughts are not always happy, and when caged into our minds too long they can drive us insane. Late night thoughts should not take away your sleep and make you miserable. So instead of pushing them away to some other corner of our brain, only for them to return each night, I propose to let them spill out on paper. Re-channel your hyperactive brain energy into words– create stories, a whole storybook of late night thoughts. Maybe by doing so we can work towards a happy ending for the thoughts that pester us late at night.
Art: Clare Elsaesser