31 Days of Halloween: A Night’s Work for Clive Barker

Clive Barker and the Sleepless Nights

I must confess, sitting in this hotel room in Minnesota, three sheets to the wind four Miller Lites ago, as I try to decide my next location, that some nights, this is the only way I can find sleep. If I had a wife, or kids, or anyone to depend on me, then I might not so readily choose this self-destructive option. Yes, I’m not blind. I know what a problem this can be. But the alternative is exhausting.

Insomnia sounds too much like a disease. Like something to be pitied. Like we are infirmed. I am not infirmed. In fact, I am the opposite. I can’t sleep because my mind won’t stop. When I’m physically exhausted and I lay down and try to close my eyes, sleep doesn’t come. I take Melatonin and it doesn’t help. I don’t want to take anything stronger. I don’t want to get dependent. So there. That’s the irony. I don’t want to be dependent on pharmaceuticals, so I drink myself to sleep. My author – biographer, whatever the hell you want to call him – at least has a reprieve. He suffers from a similar affliction, but when his wife is home at nights, his mind calms and he finds solace. Not always, and not if she’s away. He chooses to suffer through the insomnia on those occasions rather than drink. He chooses to write till his eyes can’t stay open rather than find an alternative.

I write too. I’m not as prolific as he is, but I know the demon chaser that sits on our chests and keeps us from rest. Ideas like roaches scatter across the brain, like petulant children always needy, always wanting when all we want is to relax, always ready to aggravate when we’re not in the mood.

I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night to open my laptop and jot down one idea or another. I’ve found sleep elusive until I’ve written a paragraph or finished an article. I know my biographer has as well. I know he’s been roused from a sound sleep to finish some story or a chapter of a novel and his wife has stood in the doorway, asking him what’s wrong, and he a loquacious, literate man, unable to verbalize the desire to sit at the keyboard to … no, “desire” isn’t the right word, because it insinuates a willfulness to act or to choose. It is a hunger. A thirst. We are vampires feasting on ideas. We are coke addicts and drunks needing that fix that only comes when the thought is completed, and it is only completed when it is realized on the page.

I buy alcohol to satiate that thirst, to stave my mind so that it will close and I will sleep, and on some nights, nights like tonight, I have underestimated how much alcohol it might take to shut me down. Now I exist in that fugue state where I am unable to finish the written word because I am just that inebriated and I am unable to sleep because my mind has not been sufficiently numbed.

So I try to read. I pick up the horror anthology – the only book I brought with me – and reread Clive Barker’s short story, “A Night’s Work.” A piece of flash fiction that best describes the author, that best rationalizes our periods of insomnia. We are afraid, after all, that sleep has not eluded us but enslaved us, and the dream that could spawn the next best seller ensnares us and in doing so keeps us from writing it and so keeps us from capturing it.

That is what it is, I realize. A tug of war between the creator and created. We are Frankenstein and his monster, both struggling for control. Either I stay awake and control by writing you down, or you force me to stay asleep and forget you and control me. And I won’t be controlled. I’ll rise and I’ll capture you yet. You bastard. I’ll capture you yet.


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