Can’t Sleep, April 7th, 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, all photos © 2007-2008 by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.
I stayed up writing until 4am last night. I recognize the state of mind as one of my creative zones. It’s also a lonesome place where I live in the heart of darkness and pulpy gray brain matter. Thoughts, feeling, and ruminations move in and out of cerebral spaces. But the body takes a back seat. I feel sleep deprived.
According to a Blogcritics Magazine HBO link, Wide Awake: Portrait of an Insomniac, I’m not the only one. Chronic sleep deprivation affects more than 100 million Americans.
Wide Awake is the latest from documentary film maker and lifelong insomniac, Alan Berliner. In the film that had its premier at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, Berliner himself is the case study. There is a great interview on his process around creativity and sleep deprivation as a way of life at Wide Awake – Interview with Alan Berliner.
The creative insomniac zone is a familiar place to me. I spent a lot of time there when I was in art school, up all hours of the day and night, processing, mapping, printing, developing photographs on night watch in the darkroom. Neighborhoods surrounding the South Minneapolis campus would be sound asleep. But inside the heart of art world – students would be buzzing with creativity.
Berliner talks in the interview about how, for good or for bad, creative structure developed around his sleep deprivation:
Eventually it occurred to me that there was no point in lying awake in bed, tossing and turning every night, so I started delaying the time I went to bed until later and later. By the time I reached my late 20s and early 30s, I sometimes found myself going to sleep after the sun had risen in the early morning. I had become a true “night owl.” That way of life became an important part of developing a sense of myself as an artist and filmmaker, because I discovered that I do my best work at night. In fact, all my films have been made at night, when almost everyone else I know is sleeping.
He also discusses another jolting realization of a timeless unreality sapping us of sleep – computers:
You can go back to Edison’s invention of the lightbulb, which completely changed our relationship to time. By blurring our distinction between day and night, it opened up the night as a time for work and for play. A full night’s sleep has now become just one of many options. Now take that lightbulb and shrink it down to the size of a pixel, multiply it by whatever factor it takes to fill your computer screen, and now you have another far-reaching revolution in cultural sleep patterns. That computer can take you anywhere, anyplace, anytime, day or night. It’s a portal to timelessness. And whether we live in cities or in rural areas, it’s keeping us awake and away from our beds more than ever.
I don’t get a chance to dwell in sleeplessness for long. My life’s very different than it was when I was staying up all night completing art installations, or knee-deep in papermaking studio water, filled with cattails. And I have found that I love to sleep and feel rested.
But when I get into the writing and creative zone (like I was this weekend) nothing deters me. I get so much accomplished. Then suffer on the backend. I have to say, I prefer more balance. But sometimes it’s heaven to be able to visit that dreamless place with the gods of the sleepless.
Are you among the sleep deprived and sleepless creatives? Maybe Berliner’s documentary is the film that will wake you up.
But there’s a special Insomniac Premiere on Tuesday, May 22nd at 1:30am.
Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007