by Adam Gnade

Last night we sat up late talking about sleep anxiety. We were in Muncie en route to New York City for the first date of the book-tour, a three-week run across the Midwest and up through the East Coast–readings in house-parties and motel rooms and vegan diners, farm shows, last-minute booking and a full cut and run from the old system.

Our host sat in her easy chair and lit a cigarette and told us she needed to smoke before bed to calm her nerves. I guess it’s a whatever works thing–drink wine, smoke a cigarette, read until the book hits your face.

Some people fall asleep easy but a lot of us lie in bed running through cycles of fatalism, disaster scenarios, work stress. It’s like the X song goes, “I must not think bad thoughts.” But sometimes you do, and sometimes you can’t push them away. Then you obsess and you don’t sleep at all. Or you lie in bed and stew and feel psychotic until you pass out an hour before your alarm goes off.

What I’ve found is you can build a safe place and block out the darkness. And my shit gets DARK. I try to stay away from unwanted thoughts but the more I try to think of other things the worse my thoughts get until I’m sure the world is over and everything I see is a slasher flick starring the people I love the best.

Here’s how I get past it: As soon as you lie down you come up with a setting. Say, an island off the map, a blip on the screen, the kind of place no one will ever find you. Then you start with the structure. In your mind you build the walls–stonewalls, high and thick and topped with the battlements of a castle. You imagine the brick-work and the creation of the gate. Then you go inside. Pull up the drawbridge and bar it tight. Establish a water source. (A stream that runs through it? A well?)
Dylan Garrett Smith A House For Agatha framed

A House for Agatha by Dylan Garret Smith

Next you map out the crop rows. Plant quinoa for protein. An herb garden with cilantro and rosemary and sage. Tomato plants. Summer squash. Lots of greens. Kale. A mushroom log beneath the trees. Fruit trees? Avocado trees? A peach orchard? A winery? Anything goes.

Then you build your house. A cabin or a cottage tucked back in the sunny tangle of weeds and honeysuckle vine. Nothing fancy. One bedroom, sturdy walls, a simple front-room with a good chair and big windows and bookcases. (Inventory the books … what makes you feel safe? Who do you read to keep in contact with who you are? There are no phones here. No TV. No Internet and no electricity. Live simple. Have simple tastes.) Cooking happens outside in the garden–a fire-pit, or a wood-burning stove in the front-room. Put a rough-cut Adirondack chair on the porch you made with your own hands. A cord of wood if your island has winters. The important part is that it’s safe–a self-sufficient, contained, quiet place where no one can get to you.

Or you bring people in once it’s done; people you love and trust. Sometimes I imagine a small community of my favorite people. Sometimes I’m alone. What matters is you make it secure and benevolent and you leave all the shitty elements outside–and an ocean away. The end of all worries. A disconnect from unwanted deadlines and mean bastards and all forms of negative responsibility.

You build your safe space and pretty soon you’re out. Most of the time I don’t make it past planting my crops before I’m asleep. On bad days I build the fucker five or six times. Of course it’s healthy (and essential) to confront and come to terms with your dark thoughts but there’s a time for that. Do it in the daytime. Don’t keep yourself up and spiral off into a shitty next day. (Life is hard enough without being ill-equipped to handle the minor battles of the day.)

Don’t let the dark stuff in your head eat you up–because it will. It’ll fester and you’ll re-think everything good you’ve ever done and you’ll lose perspective. Get some rest and face it when you’re awake and ready. Don’t get taken. Don’t let dark thoughts take you. Build yourself an island. Build yourself a castle.