Welcome to my monthly advice column. Previously: Advice on art paralysis with guest columnist Beth Pickens. Note: I’m taking next Monday (Memorial Day) off, returning to your inboxes June 7.
Dear Subtle Maneuvers,
Reading your books, it seems evident that many creatives suffer from insomnia, as have I for many years. I do CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy] for it, which is effective but no quick fix. The dilemma, I find, is how to keep this ongoing issue in perspective, for sometimes sleepless nights provoke great insight, other times just a headache. I am curious how others deal with it, both physically and psychologically. —Lois in Boston
Sorry to hear about your sleepless nights! At least you’re in excellent company—as you say, so many writers and artists through the ages have suffered from insomnia, and not a few of them have said that they’ve been able to put that time to good use. My favorite quote on this subject comes from the novelist Marilynne Robinson, who told The Paris Review:
I have benevolent insomnia. I wake up, and my mind is preternaturally clear. The world is quiet. I can read or write. It seems like stolen time. It seems like I have a twenty-eight-hour day.
That sounds . . . kind of wonderful? The psychologist B. F. Skinner was a similar case. He wrote in a 1963 journal entry: