night falls 
in time, disappears 

day sniggers 
Its smug sun 
stuck out like a foot 

For the past while, I haven’t been sleeping, at least, not properly, so my doctor ordered a sleep study. “How do I prepare?” “Practice,” she said. When the time came, I went to the sleep lab and was ushered into what looked like a government office except with no windows and a bed that seemed intimidatingly functional. A young woman spent 40 minutes sticking things to my body—wires to my head, my potentially restless legs, two bands across my chest for my heart and lungs, a pulsometer to my index finger. The last time I had a sleep study, I woke in the night and so began to read on my phone. The attendant rushed in, turned on the lights and exclaimed, “This is a sleep lab, now SLEEP!” 

    Did I sleep well this time? As Steven Wright says, “No, I made a few mistakes.” If sleep were a story, there’d have been holes in the plot. Wormholes where I crossed into awakeness. Each time I awoke, I reached for my phone and read about Baruch Spinoza. Take that, awakeness. I’ll end you. 

    But instead, lying there under the thin institutional blankets, I ended up not going back to sleep (at least not for a while) but instead intrigued by what ol’ Barry wrote, thought, oh to be made cozy as if in a metaphysical onesie by Spinoza’s notion that everything is because it is, that nature or God are the same thing as the universe, that the universe is a property of God or nature. As it says in the Stanford article on Spinoza, “Outside of Nature, there is nothing, and everything that exists is a part of Nature.” Inside, its too dark to read. God is a dog living in a doghouse the size of itself. 

    I never believed in God per se, but I can “believe” in the universe because—expanding and made of inscrutable properties as it is—it exists. It means everything to me because it is everything. I sweep my lordly hand in a literarily all-encompassing gesture over not only our universe but all of them—multiverses then, now, and even the ghost of future universes, Gods (or nature) bless them every one. That everything.

    Before I settled in for the night, I spent some time with a book I’ve been reading about infinity—it’s taking forever to finish—and, naturally enough, it talks about transfinities, the infinities beyond infinity. I love that one type of infinity is aleph-null, a seductively Kabbalistic Borgesian science-fiction-y term. ( It refers to infinite cardinality as opposed to just counting forever, which is ∞) And that you can multiply infinity by infinity. Aleph null by aleph null, and, like multiplying 1 x 1, you get what you started with. What happens if, when you’re sleeping, you dream you are sleeping? This feels like another kind of infinity, another kind of sleep.

    Sleep and infinity are related. Because you can never get enough of either? It’s more that they both have the sense of venturing into a limitless place. What is the shape of the place that is sleep? It’s edgeless, borderless, with no ground or sky. The composer Schoenberg imagined writing music that was like heaven—in this music, up, down, backwards and forwards would be the same because heaven had no direction and was thus entirely symmetrical. An angel has no upsidedown no matter how drunk it gets. I don’t remember if Schoenberg spoke about time, but music that is symmetrical implicitly plays with time. If it is the same backwards and forwards, it doesn’t operate in Newtonian time.   

Knock knock. 
Who’s there? 
Time traveller. 
Time traveller who?  
Knock Knock. 

Obviously, sleep doesn’t operate in regular time either. When we sleep we slip out of time and into everything. Or at least, the possibility of everything. When it’s dark, there could be anything in the room. Maybe you’re not even in a room. Maybe you’re everywhere. Of course the infinite bedchamber fills with one’s finite worries: the ego, like a leash pulling back a yapping dog running from yard to sidewalk, often snaps you back. The daily troubles, the nightly anxieties. Yeah, we can go skipping through the magnetic fields of the infinite once we’ve danced through the broken glass of psyche’s parking lot. Did I just say that? Yes, I did. I must be dreaming if I think I can get away with such purple prose. But while we’re here, thinking of the colour of sleep, of the psyche, of night, I’m reminded of Christopher Dewdney’s remarkable phrase, “stars drip out of the cutaneous erectile velvet blue bandshell night.” 

Before we continue, a word about digression and association. It seems apropos to sleep (the original Rorschach test), borderless irrational night, ten-dimensional dream, time as an infinitely-sided crystal made of pure possibility and quantum entanglement. Almost anything can relate to sleep. The endless monkey bars of darkness. The chocolate bar wrapper of night. Ten emus lined up, shaggy, and ready to brush against your closed eyes.

Night is a bruise in day, where light gathers beneath the surface like blood, light having burst from its vessels. (And back to concepts of God: the Kabbalists speak of “the shattering of the vessels” which contained divine light. Sparks, like glitter, got everywhere. It’s humanity’s job to repair the world—tikkun olam—by collecting all this divine light.) Sleeping can feel like that—our task is to gather the dark sparks of sleep to heal the day, ourselves, the world. It’s a time to line up emus. 

I said that sleep seems borderless. Outside of a dog, sleep is man’s best friend. Inside of sleep, it’s too dark to see the borders. Is a joke that doesn’t quite land and let’s not get diverted by how dogs and night and sleep are related, or even, how dogs, the underworld, death, darkness and sleep are connected, though one of them is infinitely more slobbery than the others. The sleep state can spill—like the sloshing of an overfull psychological bathtub—into day. I’m not just talking about the daily need to be defibrillated by coffee, but rather the sense of processes begun in the night, the continued chthonic churning. The boundariness of the mind. You spent the night “sinking, sinking sleeper,” as “the dark pines of your mind dip deeper” to quote Gwendolyn Macewan. And now that you’ve woken, you’re aware the elemental world is there below the surface, the underwater trees which are reflected in the aboveground forest. Some days deep into the day, I feel this presence, expanding and informing my range of reference beyond the stumpiness of my usual diurnal concerns.  

I have some small intimation of possibility, of the vastness of well, everything. The interconnectedness of it all. I can’t possibly imagine infinity or even a measly light year but I can imagine imagining them. I can conceive of conceiving of them. I know that the universe is vast beyond reckoning. As Douglas Adams says, it’s “big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.” 

I know that I shouldn’t make the mistake of imagining that the limits of my imagination are the bounds of the existence. I mean, twenty-two dimensions? Who could imagine that? Physicists got there through math. They proved it was so and so they had to get their heads around the concept. At least to imagine imagining it. I think this happens with artists, too. The work leads them to burn “for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,” (as Ginsberg writes.) But what is the actual world and what is our projection of it? Unless the whole thing is a simulation and we’re being simulated. As the old parable goes: 

Chuang Tzu was a philosopher in ancient China who went to sleep one night and dreamt that he was God. “Wow, I’m the kind of philosopher who’d be great to date—I think of everything!” he thought to himself in his dream. When he woke, he didn’t know if he was God dreaming he was Chuang Tzu or Chuang Tzu dreaming he was God. Then he went onto an ancient Chinese dating app, and discovered that he actually was Chuang Tzu. “At least God doesn’t think He’s Chuang Tzu,” many of the prospective dates said.  

But I wonder if you were Chuang Tzu dreaming you were Chuang Tzu and then woke up, would you know if you were the awake Chuang Tzu dreaming you were Chuang Tzu, or the sleeping Chuang Tzu dreaming of the awake one? Guess you’d have to pee to find out for sure.  But truly, I don’t always know if I’m me dreaming I’m me, or at least the dream version of me, or if I’m actually entirely different—some other me dreaming that I'm me. Maybe I’m the other me that I’ve been bamboozled into believing because capitalism. Or at least, culture. Except that I wake up through the night (“Did you sleep well?” “Only while I was sleeping.”) and find myself there in my onesie, not Chuang Tzu, not a butterfly, not even Groucho Marx, but hypnogogic me in a dark room, lying in my bed, my body the boundary between night and me. Between sleep and me. Between me and everything else. 

Do you know the old Sufi fable about a yokel who goes to the big city? Afraid that he’ll forget who he is, he ties a string to his toe so he’ll always know. When night falls, he goes to sleep in an alley. A wag plays a trick on him and switches the string onto his own toe. Upon waking and seeng the string tied around the other’s toe, the yokel exclaims, “If you are me, who then, in God’s name am I?”

I immediately have the impulse to imagine the story from the POV of the string. Tied around one toe or another, the string is string. The sleeping string. The string awake.

 “Whoa,” the string say, echoing my thoughts, “I have consciousness and language. Also, an intuition of other parts of self. Mind/body is a kind of Gordian knot. A Möbius strip. Also, I’m kinda worn out.” 

“Aren’t you just a piece of string?”

“I’m a frayed knot.”

What I’m saying is quite obvious, a bit like one of those poems that say, “Wow! Daffodils. They sure are one of the things that we encounter in life,” or, “OMG, an escalator! It’s like the stairs are climbing you,” or even, “I feel like I’m cheating on this sleep study because the guy in the room next door is snoring loudly enough for both of us.”

It’s a variety of noticing, of celebration. Of valuing. 

What did I learn from the sleep study? Don’t sleep beside a guy who snores. Also, don’t sleep on my back. I stop breathing 100 times an hour if I do. 

    Also, night is the other day. Sleep in all its wake-dappled uncertainty uses my brain as a telescope dish to collect everything it can—communication from the edges of things, the fossil glow, light from the deep past. It gives part of me me access to myself when I’m not watching—except when I am. All those things I wished when blowing out candles, those thoughts I had on new year’s days. Those undertows that pulled me out to the deep where there were sharks, mermaids, dolphins or my daddy. It gives me new possibilities. Sleep like a butterfly, wake like an ancient Chinese philosopher. 

    Like Penelope, sleep weaves everything together and then unweaves it. 

    The sleep doctor was clear. Like Theodore Roethke, I wake to sleep and take my waking slow. But I also sleep to wake, often repeatedly. Midway through night’s journey, the straightforward path is lost. And so? I’ve decided that it means I get to be aware of sleep many times a night. Of finding myself. Of drifting into consciousness. Of drifting out of it. I’m trying to learn what I can. Sleep isn’t just so we can charge our phones and ourselves.

    We say “deep sleep” and “wide awake.” As if sleep meant being buried and awake was an open door. But really sleep, even when interrupted, is also wide. A wide open space, though often dark. Wide as sky or deep ocean. As a yawn. As dark itself. Wide asleep.