Page Two: Duck Amuck

Cultural touchstones for the gray spaces

Page Two
Ambushed again, despite my best intentions and earnest determination, I am right where I wish I weren't: In the middle of the night, I'm not really awake but more definitely not asleep.

My life sometimes seems to be more a long, restless, incoherent, and terribly inconsistent sleep than anything else. Rather than sleep serving as a pause between times of being awake, it has been the dominant organic entity of my life, scarred by the inconsistent intrusions of my being awake.

Sometimes I can sleep for days and bless those times. Stacked right against them are weeks when sleep is fitful, leaving me more tired when I wake than when I went to sleep.

My life dominated by sleep – but sleep erratic at best – is so convoluted and nonsensical that I feel like Daffy Duck in the classic cartoon "Duck Amuck." Daffy dashes out onscreen, ready to perform, but the artist keeps changing the backgrounds, Daffy's costumes, and Daffy's very form. Not just the fourth wall, separating audience from film, is violated, destroyed, and mocked but so are the fifth and the sixth, if they exist, as well. It turns out that Bugs Bunny is animating the cartoon just to torture Daffy.

The world is no longer concrete; I am no longer real; I am a character being manipulated through dream after dream after dream. Only many of them happen while I'm awake.

One of the more recent, profoundly annoying sleep patterns has me feeling exhausted, falling into a deep sleep very quickly and happily, only to wake an hour or so later too refreshed to sleep but too tired to do anything else.

Sleep for me is not easy. Often it is not pleasant. I talk in my sleep as my body twitches, tics, and jerks in a sorry imitation of Tourette's syndrome, with restless legs syndrome complementing a severe case of apnea, the physical and psychological combining in a cacophony out of Metal Machine Music. This allows for neither sleep nor focus.

Waking from this jumble, while wishing only to get back into that state, can take a black-and-white world to only black.

Sometimes, however, it is the best of times – a mad tumbling rush of ideas, images, fragments, and fantasies, a state not quite awake but with all the regular mundane daily fog and vagueness cleared away.

My love for film came about one day as I was crossing a bedroom in my grandmother's house in Lakewood, N.J., heading out back to play in the woods next door; glancing at the TV set, I encountered Lost Horizon for the first time. My memory has me watching the first 10 or 15 minutes frozen, my leg in the air. Since then, I have always favored most the moments of so being overwhelmed by something that I lose myself.

In the past, this kind of explosive punctuation occurred daily, sometimes hourly, mostly because I was young, full of hope, with my experiences and knowledge so limited. Now these moments are extremely rare, but when they do occur, it is most often in the gray between sleep and wakefulness. Sometimes, I think these moments are the triumph and reward for living.

Not to complain; I love the work I get to do and the people with whom I get to do it. My life is rich in family and friends. There are ever new creative challenges, while at the same time, I'm not ashamed to look back at the long journey I've taken to get to where I am now.

But in life it is so easy to lose the "I of I" in daily details. Forgetting yourself, or at least who you thought you were, you find activity without reflection consumes each day. Time rushes by so rapidly one seems to age without breathing, tasting, or looking. Much of the time there is so much going on that it is almost too much. This is the only way I'd have it, but still it is like being stuck in a constant, muddy downpour in which everything is blurred and one is always uncomfortable.

Sometimes, unable to sleep, lost in the trying but well aware of the futility, I sometimes find myself smiling in the ways I used to smile. Incoherence can lead to clarity.

As I am addicted to both story and narrative tone, if I read the wrong book (or comic book) or watch the wrong movie right before I fall asleep, I usually find myself plunged into a nightmare world of odd resolutions and surreal situations. If I fall asleep reading a detective novel before its end, for example, my dreams are a haunted and haunting series of resolutions. If watching a science-fiction movie, I get trapped in the sheen and gleam, with reality removed and my past painted as cruel murals on the walls. A Western is different. I keep Will Eisner's Spirit close; it often serves as a taste of sorbet that cleans away the flavor of the tangled wreckage of a life lived in odd ways and ever-shifting speeds until wreckage is the only clear road left. Eisner, of course, can twist one into the strangest places but is still one of the more reliable bromides.

This morning I went to sleep at about 1am, but a little after 2, I found myself awake. Energized in a way of limited energy, I danced. I felt clear and unattached, as this moment in this place was my mind, without any other past, present, or future attached to it.

I read, I listened, and I watched.

Dover Publications appears to be in the middle of republishing all six of Lynd Ward's woodcut novels from the 1930s. I only recently found a copy of Wild Pilgrimage, I think the third of their reprints so far. Reading it, an image to a page, is to enter its world of good vs. evil, of temptation attacking both creativity and love, of the constant insincere courting of integrity and vision by Philistine dreams of desire satisfied and greed achieved. It evokes many of the same feelings as watching F.W. Murnau's Sunrise: not the world of my world, not even the world of my dreams, but a deep immersion into the crystal dreams and nightmares of others. Gothic horror, Old Testament hell and brimstone, hellish tortures decorated by one's life failures are dark, but dark is not necessarily torture, haunting not always damning. Nightmares that really scare are often resting on steel supports sunk deep into the cement of one's reality.

One summer, we visited friends who lived about an hour north of Montreal for a week. The place was heavenly: Deeply wooded and drenched in green, it smelled and tasted fresh. There was a small lake. The place having been in the family for generations, it was known that this body of water had never had a boat with a motor on it and had escaped most pollutants. Swimming in it, I felt clean and cleansed in ways that I had long stopped feeling.

History, memory, relationships, personal inadequacies, one's own mistakes both stupid and venal are not lightly shed as the years pass into decades passing. They are the deepest tattoos marking and separating us.

Innocence is too easily lost and never regained. Responsibility, love, knowledge, and maturity cause us to grow into ourselves – but in that process, easy, simple, and sweet are lost.

This morning I could not sleep. I listened to Neil Young and Marvin Gaye; I read Lynd Ward and Jack Cole's Plastic Man.

Finally, I read two chapters of Mikhail Bulgakov's masterpiece, The Master and Margarita. I found myself welcoming the devil to Moscow, but the devil was a cat, and Moscow was clean and angular and not yet completely polluted by growth. It all flowed together: the devil, a cat, a cat smoking a cigar, Moscow. And then I was asleep.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

sleep, Duck Amuck, Lynd Ward, Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and the Margarita

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