Edit: I wrote the below last summer, the June after I’d sustained a concussion on May 8, 2019. I have a lot of new thoughts, but so much of this still rings true that I want it here as a record. The title references something that I planned to write about the structure of the sonnet, and how that particular piece of information architecture has been passed along for centuries, but clearly I never got around to making that point, and now I don’t remember what it was.
I know that I’m not going to sleep tonight, so I will stop trying. Or if I sleep it’ll come after I have given up all hope, usually around 6 a.m.
It started a few days ago when the first four notes of “Ode to Joy” came to mind, for no reason that I can name. (Not the not sleeping. That has been going on for weeks. The magic to do so has left me.) I was walking in the sun and those four simple quarter notes struck me as I had first learned them at the piano outside of Chicago when I was six, transposed to C major for small clumsy hands, E E F G, and then the major descending pentatonic scale, G F E D and the triumph of arriving finally at C, the dominant note, the note that the theme will end on after it has made its journey above and below.
I remembered learning it for the first time, and I remembered when I was a little older and I used the computer to compose variations on it that I never played for anyone, but I can remember them still. And I remembered that one of the first books on tape that I played over and over again to try to make the magic of sleep happen, starting all the way back to six or five or earlier, was “Beethoven Lives Upstairs,” in which the fictional child narrator shares a true moment of the first performance of the 9th symphony. Beethoven by then was fully deaf, and at the end of the symphony, he did not turn to face the audience, and he did not hear the thunderous applause. A mezzo-soprano (since he was the first composer to write a symphony that included human voices), touched his arm to turn him around and see the effect he had.
Beethoven found the simple quarter-note pattern of E E F G without ever hearing them, and two centuries later I can hear the same notes in my head and place that pattern of vibration precisely. There is something miraculous about this – the ability of his brain to join those notes together in a string that is now as familiar as a heartbeat, the transmission of music across centuries, my brain’s ability to find those same notes and remember fingering without having to hear a sound. I walked home in the wonder of it.
I don’t know if it is the headache that I have all the time now, that sits at the back of my head like the reptillian brain and hugs my temples tightly, even more so when I think of it. I don’t know if it is that the concussion just shook loose the frail magic that I had that let sleep happen. I don’t know if it is the drumbeat pressure of how many people I am failing by being like this, by working fewer hours, by falling behind, by not saving a world that will have condemned itself to death in a decade if the everything that must change doesn’t. I am lonely but I am relieved that I do not have someone living with me that I would also fail. I was given anti-depressants to try to rework the magic of sleep, and they haven’t. I don’t know if it’s because of them or because of stopping them that I feel on the verge of hiccuping a sob all the time now, that the complete pathos and beauty of the slightest human kindness undoes me, or witnessing any of the small, trivial, crucial, doomed acts of creation that people do leaves me wanting to scream into a pillow, or fold my knees into my ribcage, or wish that my tattoos would come alive and burn with pain again, while I cry and cry and cry beyond my ability to breathe.
I have asked for help from a god that I feel utterly inadequate to even define what I mean by that word, except that this feeling is so far beyond the capacity of any force that I know to relieve, and yet I still need to ask for help from something. And perhaps to feel this way is rational, given everything.
“What accommodations is your place of employment making for you in your return to work post-injury?” L&I well-meaning wants to ask me, but I don’t know what accommodations are even possible for a brain that is too broken to sleep, only curl up on the floor and sob. The needs of the people that I work with were there before I smacked my head against concrete (a part of me treacherously still asks, did you mean to do it? did you want this to happen?) and were already deferred and accruing interest, the needs of the people I volunteer with and the communities I want to support were already there and the shortfall between what I wanted to give and what was needed was already there, and growing… so maybe nothing changed with my brain being shaken, except the ability to turn those needs whispering in my ear into white noise. Now I feel all of them, and I feel hollow and useless and so deeply inadequate to meet all of them, and to choose some instead of others feels like another act of harm, one harm on top of a pile of so many more than I can count.
I am tired of every choice I make being one that in some way or another causes harm.
I am writing this to tell you that I am trying.