Transpacific Laments for Starry Skies

Private Beach

Always looking for the right patch of sky.

I was always a terrible sleeper.

Anxious and constantly thinking by nature, my childhood mind was a churning furnace of thought and story and all the many possible futures. I remember lying awake and thinking of any number of things – of possible futures, of stories I wanted to tell, of places I wanted to go. I was socially awkward for many years, so I remember sometimes lying away, my scalp sagging into my tiny pillow, planning out possible conversations I might have with peers the following day. Turning my brain off was never something I could fathom, never mind attempt. A mind, in my experience, was a tire fire, an oil slick, a great uncontained thunderstorm. Turning off my constant thinking would mean, almost certainly, that I had simply expired sometime in the night. Sleep usually overtook me only when I became so exhausted with thinking that a fuse shorted somewhere in my brain and the systems took a break.

Childhood insomnia meant I spent a lot of time staring out my childhood window into the night sky. Being unable to sleep anyway, I hated the idea of blinds or curtains, of casting myself in a caul of black, of throwing my eyes into darkness and giving myself nothing to ponder on. I always asked for the blinds to be up, for the curtains to be drawn, for the windows to be slid open to let the night in.

I needed night sounds and night skies. The sound of city buses has always been the perfect white noise to me, a loud parking brake the closest analogue I’ve ever had to soft rain or the aquatic songs of blue whales. A choir of crickets and the soft pat-pat of the few walking the roads late at night, looking up at the same dark skies.

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My Biannual Dalliance with Substance Abuse

I’ll have ten packets please. Oh, and maybe some for tomorrow, too.

We had heard that Valium flowed like water through the streets of Bangkok. That every pharmacy was giving them away, that children on the street tossed them like pebbles, that they were ground up and used as seasoning salt in most dishes. They were considered mild anaesthetics and treatments for abrasions and sore throats and were served as garnishes at tea parties. One could get them over the counter, as well as in most reputable supermarkets, and also tumbling out of the pockets of clumsy, unwary people who took no care of their large stores of Valium.

We were staring down the barrel of some serious long-haul travel. There were Indian trains and buses and cars looming in our future—much as we had heard legends of Thai Valium availability, we were also privy to numerous stories about the nature of travel in the subcontinent. Long delays, cramped conditions, thin shaky metallic beds hovering over scores of unattended owls—all the horrors of Hades soon to be unleashed on our trembling, waking forms. We wanted nothing more than the sweet bliss of a murky, fogged-up sleep, the hazy slumber of a questionably legal controlled substance to lull us into dreamland.

Ty and I were both dainty sleepers, easily woken and constantly on the brink of truly zen REM, a gilded cloud always floating just beyond reach. Faith by contrast was a champion napper, capable of dozing through anything short of a category five hurricane or her kidneys being forcibly removed through her nostrils, and we envied her ability to escape the most unpleasant aspects of long-term travel. Nearly seconds after laying her head upon whatever iron slab or spiky, fibrous surface we had purchased for ourselves aboard a hurtling, ramshackle conveyance, she would be off to sleepyville. Ty and I would stew the hours away, wakefulness slowly beginning to converge with insanity, as we hungered for the sweet release of unconsciousness.

How then could we lull ourselves into the kind of necessary calm to allow us slumber? The answer, of course, was drugs.

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This is Your Brain, This is Your Brain on Jet Lag

All aboard the insomnia-express!

I can’t sleep on planes. This statement goes without exception but for one time when I was about 7 and on a Red-Eye back from Florida with my parents, and at the time I was still staunchly pulling a “But I’m not tired! Someone proffer me an extra seat cushion! Raise my buttocks higher that I might see the in-flight movie, as ne’er my eyes will flutter into slumber!” For years this wasn’t an issue, because I didn’t fly anywhere. Then I started to like travel. Then I moved to another continent. Then I realized: being awake for 20+ uninterrupted hours, when many of those hours involve being crammed into an ill-shaped seat in a giant claustrophobic magic tube thousands of feet in the air really, really sucks.

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