The Midnight Disease

I’m currently reading Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys, a (so far) excellent book that was the basis for a movie starring Spiderman, Iron Man, and The American President. As a writer, I find the book rather interesting, since it’s all about writers and our various intricacies, phobias, and struggles. The narrator, for example, has been struggling with a manuscript for years and is lost in a meandering plot that he doesn’t know what to do with, while one of his students meanwhile struggles with depression and feelings of inadequacy in his own writing. Also, Robert Downey Jr. dates a transvestite.

Of particular interest in the novel is what the narrator calls “The Midnight Disease”:

“The midnight disease is a kind of emotional insomnia; at ever conscious moment its victim—even if he or she writes at dawn, or in the middle of the afternoon—feels like a person lying in a sweltering bedroom, with the window thrown open, looking up at a sky filled with stars and airplanes, listening to the narrative of a rattling blind, an ambulance, a fly trapped in a Coke bottle, while all around him the neighbours soundly sleep.”

― Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys

It was interesting to read about this “disease” (which the writer mentions multiple times throughout the book when he notices the symptoms in others) considering my own current issues. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m afflicted with this disease, but I do show signs of some similar issues. Yesterday, for example, I spent a good part of the day in a bit of a daze (a symptom of my diagnosed episodic depression), struggling with feelings of inadequacy and the desire to write. I went to bed sometime around 3:00 in the morning, only to be forced back out of bed by a scene in my mind that wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down. I ended up being up another hour and a half after that, just trying to get the images out of my mind.

There’s this strange focus, or perhaps lack of focus that comes with being obsessed with a piece of writing. It’s hard to get it out of your mind, and you become so focused on it that you can’t concentrate on anything else. Sometimes it makes it hard to get other work done, or to find time to socialize or take care of your errands or other “important” things in your life. You look everywhere and see a possible scene to be described. You listen to the rain, thinking about what words you would use to describe the particular pattern of drizzle and downpour it shifts between every few minutes. You feel an ache in your back and you search for the descriptive prose to describe that certain spot over your right shoulder blade that tightens as if being pierced by an iron spike. Everything becomes a potential thing to be described, absorbed, and written about.

And then once it’s all written, you sit there and wonder, will they really see it the way I want them to?

I’m looking forward to finishing this WIP in the next few weeks. After it’s done, I’ll either start being able to sleep again, or else I’ll dive into the next book. I think we both know which of those it’ll be.

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6 thoughts on “The Midnight Disease”

  1. This piece really hits the nail on the head. I have a feeling the term “Midnight Disease” is going to squirm its way into my regular lexicon.

    You mentioned random contemplative dazes as a symptom of depression. I’m right there with you on that. I struggle with identify the destructive daydreams from the productive ones (sometimes they come conjoined). I let the bad stuff over stay its welcome, because I think there might be something in those thoughts worth mining, putting you use somewhere else.

    1. I don’t think I’ve ever given conscious thought to the difference between the productive vs unproductive daydreams. Usually, when I’m sitting and staring, my thoughts are becoming so unfocused I don’t have either good or bad. I’m just kind of “there” until I snap out of it.

      1. I’ve been trying to channel my daydreams. Dwelling on the past is rarely productive. Repair the Star Wars prequels or Matrix sequels in my imagination, is rarely productive. Fortunately, a good story premise has a way of tuning you into the right thoughts

  2. I’ve not read “Wonder Boys” nor seen the movie, but it keeps popping up in conversation lately, so I guess I’d better hop to it!

    As for the midnight disease… Y’know, I do get bouts of something along those lines.

    Have you heard of #IWSG? It’s the Insecure Writers Support Group, started by Alex J. Cavanaugh and on the 1st Wednesday of each month, writers let their niggling worries out of the bag. This would be a great IWSG post! It’s a very interesting and supportive group of people. I may even link to this post for my next IWSG post.

    ~Tui, popping by from #MondayBlogs

    1. Insecure Writers Support Group sounds exactly like something I should be involved with. I’m VERY insecure. But then, so is, well, EVERY writer I’ve ever met!

      I’ll have to check them out.

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