Jacqueline Maley on reinterpreting the nightmare of insomnia

To an insomniac, a sleeping pill is that – it’s a relief in pressed powder, bitter when it washes down your throat, and then gentle when it radiates, loosing your limbs and stopping the relentless penetration of the brain into the body.

But – oh, terrible, but! For the die-hard non-sleeper whose consciousness is focused on self-sabotage, the pill quickly wears off. After a while there are only a few hours. My pragmatism meets my conservatism – if I get involved in something and endure the shame of addiction, let it be a substance that is worth it to me!

I am talking to my stepmother about my problem. “I have a girlfriend,” she tells me, “who has not more than three hours straight for 30 years.”

“Since your children were born?” I ask.

“Since the birth of her children,” she confirms with a serious nod. “She used to fight it,” she continues. “Now she thinks of ‘me time’. Nobody can disturb them. At this hour she can actually do what she wants. “

A fascinating new version. What if I refused sleep since it refused me and did something useful with those hours?

And so I’m making progress through my pandemic nights I’m stealing from the bedroom, checking American Twitter. I watch the world outside my windows and sometimes I go. On the streets, especially during lockdown, there is a compact among night walkers. We watch the world and respect each other’s privacy.

But mostly I read novel after novel after novel and any loneliness I feel becomes irrelevant. My sleep improves and it is like my mind is taking a long bath after a dusty trip. I am starting to have dreams that are alive and fun. I will not reveal their content: Other people’s dreams are boring, and besides, I was never convinced that dreams make sense – but are they just the waste that the consciousness excretes when it fills up again overnight? The remains of a day of shooting?

That’s how I became a dream person. I’ve started to see my dreams as friendly ways knocking on my door and delivering a timely message … but sometimes I miss my insomnia.

I remember a “Dream Interpretation Book” I had as a teenager. To dream of an acacia was ; To dream of a rabbit meant happiness. Sure, I thought, and what does it mean to dream about Keanu Reeves?

Two things change my mind. First I read Monkey Grip again, where Helen Garner describes the dreams of her protagonist Nora. If Garner thinks something is worth paying attention to, attention to it. Then I talk to my friend Ben, who likes Carl Jung. Ben says Jung believed dreams were “pure nature” and revealed the stripped-down truth.

That’s how I became a dream person. I have started to see my dreams as friendly ways knocking on my door and delivering a timely message. Sometimes I wake up from one pierced by his insight. I have to let go of this and that, I guess. It’s that simple. Or: Why not wear the green dress to the wedding? You can dress it up with your Marc Jacobs heels.


But sometimes I miss my insomnia.

Here are things you see in the waking night: chunks of misty moon, the rise and fall of your daughter’s chest, her retro nose in profile; the undeniable fact that she’s still sucking her thumb. A stranger’s cat coming home in soft shoes, the weather rocking the trees, and the silence of a garden so lively that it feels more like a presence when no one else is around.

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