In One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, there’s an isolated village that, at one point, suffers something called the insomnia plague. It’s a minor and brief part of a long and amazing book, but it stuck with me.
The insomnia plague made people stop sleeping. They were in no particular distress, but as it continued, they began to lose their memories. At first, it wasn’t too bad. They began to put little notes on objects to remind themselves what the object is called. Then it became necessary to have more detailed instructions: This is the cow. She must be milked every day so that she will produce milk, which can then be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk.
I loved the matter-of-fact quality of these notes (and the mental image of a cow with a letter stuck to its forehead.) In my life, the spiritual equivalent of this plague happens frequently. I can be in remission from it, but I am never cured–and I need those notes to myself.
I will tell you a secret: I re-read my writing often. Not for the purpose of narcissistic pleasure, although that can creep in for a piece I’m fond of. My pieces are messages between the different versions of myself, and I use them as such. How often I re-read them is diagnostic, and they way I feel when reading them is diagnostic too.
Do I feel ashamed, seeing that I was doing better then than now? Do I feel compassionate, inspired, amused? Do I feel sheepish because an old piece seems trite or silly to me? No matter what I feel about it, it’s important for me to be open to the messages I’ve written.
If I were to take my pieces and dissect them, or boil them down to basic themes as if I were a literature student, I could deconstruct them into “This is the cow” kind of messages.
This is hope. You believe in it. There is a part of you that never loses it.
This is despair. You are familiar with it. You can endure it.
This is addiction. It is your enemy. These are your weapons against it.
This is beauty. You know how to find it in the unlikeliest places. It will feed you.
These are words. They sustain you.
Sometimes, this is enough for me; reading my own pieces and the pieces of others. It’s enough to create a background hum of awareness and of hope. Lately, I’ve been feeling as if I need more; I need another version of myself to walk me though the day. When coming out of a severe dip, I feel as if I am encountering everything as a beginner. I need that longer Post-It note on the cow.
That sound is your morning alarm. When you hear that sound, get out of bed and go to the bathroom, then get dressed.
This is the refrigerator. Most of the things in it are not suitable for you to eat, so do not eat them. The things you need to eat are over there.
These are your vitamins. Swallowing them improves your health.
Improving your health is a good idea because you will live longer.
Living longer is a good idea for reasons that exist. I will explain later.
This is the dog. Petting her makes you feel good, so do it.
These are your poetry books. Open one up and read something out of it.
That sound is music. Push the button with the + on it until the music is louder.
This is a pen. You write with it.
That stuff is paper. You write on it.
Hold the pen in your hand and stroke the tip against the paper.