Insomnia

Several weeks pass, during which I do my utmost to get at the Rumantschness of it all. This involves me using a long planned trip to Switzerland to traipse up into the Rumantsch-speaking part of the mountains and listen to their glorious choirs singing in small but packed churches, talking to native Rumantsch speakers (in Swiss German) about Rumantsch as a language, about their roughly half dozen dialects or ‘idioms’ (some of which don’t even understand each other), about Rumantsch culture (there is really not so much of a Rumantsch tradition as there are small local traditions that fall under the Rumantsch umbrella, but much as Swiss German, which has many more dialects, some of which also find it difficult to understand each other, many people identify much more with their regional dialect than with the language overall.) The Rumantsch dialects take their names from the valleys where they are spoken, or from the nicknames their speakers were given by their neighbouring valley dwellers, and to me they sound like poetry, like characters in a mystical story about great heroes, fabulous creatures, and the eternal melancholy of the mountains: Sursilvan, Vallader, Putèr: the people who live above the forest, the people from the valley, the porridge eaters; Surmiran, Jauer, Tuatschin…

Everything about the life of the people I thus encounter is so different from my life, everything about their history so remote from my history, that I might as well have landed myself in a different world, on a different planet, but I am fascinated, intrigued. Humbled, fairly, too, to think what harshness, what overpowering awe they have, over generations, had, and learnt, to contend with, from these alps, from this seclusion, from this climate: they can be extreme.

I don’t speak to or otherwise communicate with Edgar for much of this time, seeing as he is generally busy, at least as busy as I am; and going by the convenient adage that ‘no news is good news,’ I assume him to be well; and I feel content, immersed in my new ‘project.’ It isn’t so much a project as the pursuit of a trail that I happened upon (was really pointed towards, by Edgar), following it now out of sheer curiosity and that ever persistent Lure of the Alien. That which is different. The other, the new. It is not new to any of these people that I meet with and ask for accounts of their families’ histories, and they look at me with a mixture of indulgence and bemusement, but I mind it not. They are wondrous to me, even exotic. They are not exotic to themselves. Enriched with audio recordings, video clips, and a raft of pictures of possible locations and all manner of Rumantsch paraphernalia, I return to London to start drafting my treatment, and I forget, for another several weeks, completely Edgar’s condition.

At the same time, I fall back into my own nocturnal pattern, staying up usually until three, four in the morning, or until my eyelids droop and I fall asleep, either having made it to bed around then, or occasionally also on the sofa, having watched Newsnight and intended to hang about quite a bit longer, or—this is quite rare—actually hunched over my laptop and realising I really have to get some sleep now. The worry about worrying about Edgar thus dispersed, I also don’t worry about insomnia, and so, quite naturally, my own brief flirtation with what to me had always seemed at worst a relatively minor inconvenience appears to have ended. I remind myself that to people with insomnia it is anything but a minor inconvenience, and I wonder have I been selfish, so I decide to check on Edgar:

‘How are you doing?’

‘I’m doing fine, thanks, and you? Making progress?

‘Of sorts. I should have a first draft in a couple of months or so.’

‘I look forward to reading it.’

‘What are you reading right now?’

‘I’ve been reading Chaucer and rereading Pico della Mirandola.’

‘Amazing.’

‘They are.’

‘You should read Shakespeare’s sonnets.’

‘I have.’

‘You could read them again. – Are you sleeping?’

‘Not much. Are you?’

‘Back to normal.’

‘Were you not sleeping normally before?’

‘I’d been worried.’

‘About what?’

‘You, mostly.’

‘Aw. That’s sweet, but unnecessary.’

‘I know.’

‘And why did you stop worrying?’

‘I got absorbed in the Rumantsch thing.’

‘That’s good.’

‘I know.’

‘Are you getting at the Rumantschness of it all.’

‘I think so: I’ve been talking to dozens of people, including the descendants of the man who wrote the story about the brothers. They’ve been helpful.’

‘Do they mind you plundering their family annals?’

‘No, they seem a bit puzzled by my fascination with them. But they’re forthcoming, of sorts.’

‘That’s good.’

‘I know.’

I’m about to hang up, when it strikes me:

‘Have you ever considered doing some research into why it is that people cannot sleep?’

‘Not really, no.’

‘Perhaps you should.’

‘Why?’

‘Well, perhaps if you understood the reasons why people have insomnia, then you could mitigate against suffering from it yourself.’

‘I don’t suffer that much, I’m taking melatonin.’

‘Melatonin?’

‘The sleep hormone.’

‘You’re taking hormones.’

‘Temporarily.’

‘I hope temporarily. – You shouldn’t be taking them regularly over the long term.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because they might do damage. Most drugs do.’

‘It’s not a drug, it’s a hormone.’

‘Well quite: it might unbalance your hormone household.’

‘It might?’

‘I’m no expert.’

‘Neither am I.’

‘You could read up on it: you’re an expert on most things.’

‘I have recently become an expert at Go.

‘Go?’

‘Yes, the game.’

‘That’s quite difficult to get expert at, isn’t it.’

‘It is. Oh and Peruvian llamas. They’re really quite whack. Did you know people use llamas to guard other animals, like sheep, for example?’

‘I did not.’

‘It’s fascinating: though it’s best to use a female llama or one single gelded male, apparently. If you use two or several gelded males they tend to hang out with each other and ignore their charges.’

‘Haha, that makes sense.’

‘And I know an awful lot about bamboo too, just in case you wondered.’

I hadn’t really wondered about anything near as specific as that, but I’m glad to hear that Edgar’s palette of expertise keeps growing, randomly, it appears.

Another two months or so go by quickly, and I hammer away at my treatment of the two mercenary brothers until I have got it in some sort of shape that I feel surprisingly happy with, and I give it another couple of days and read it through once or twice more and tweak it, and I reckon that’s it, that’s my Draft One Point Two (you never send out a Draft One Point One, to anybody; most people would advise never to send out a Draft One at all), and I pick up the phone and call Edgar. He doesn’t answer, it goes to voicemail. He must be in the shower, I reckon, or be talking to someone in China, or cooking (though he’s not a late eater, and it’s just gone midnight here, so it will be just gone one in the morning there), or working out a problem that interests him; he’ll call me back shortly, I reckon.

He doesn’t. I wonder what might have happened to him, but before I can really worry—and having rather resolved not to worry about Edgar again, because it’s so patently unnecessary—I go back to work and do some more fiddling, until I doze off and briefly wake up again and decide it’s time to go to bed; and I go to bed and fall asleep. Edgar calls me at ten in the morning, bright and breezy:

‘Edgar! How are you?’

‘Magnificent. How are you?

‘I’m well. You had me worried last night.’

‘Why?’

‘I thought you had fallen asleep or something.’

It’s my feeble attempt at a joke. It fails:

‘I had.’

‘You had?’

‘Yes! Thanks to you!’

‘You’re welcome. What happened?’

‘Well I thought I should probably wean myself off the melatonin and allow my body to produce it itself in the required quantities at the appropriate times…’

‘Quite.’

‘…and so I stopped taking it.’

‘And that solved your insomnia.’

‘Of course not. It made it worse.’

‘Oh dear.’

‘Then I thought maybe you’re right, maybe I need to become an expert on this, so I can treat myself more effectively in the long term.’

‘Oh amazing: you’re now an expert on insomnia!’

‘I am nothing of the sort.’

‘Ah.’

‘I started doing some research, at a basic, you know, Wikipedia level, and it sets out really quite interesting.’

‘I imagine.’

‘But then you realise that there are million possible reasons and as many possible interventions, and so there’s zero scientific consensus except some pretty obvious observations about common sense behaviours and unending lists of things that may or may not be the case; and before I knew it I got so bored reading about it, I fell asleep.’

‘Result.’

‘Well yes. And the best thing about it: it’s repeatable. Like you with your Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It works every time, it’s amazing. In fact, it works better now and faster, than it did three weeks ago, when I first discovered it: I now practically just have to google ‘insomnia’ and I start to feel drowsy, it’s almost pavlovian.’

‘Congratulations.’

‘Thanks! – So, what’s new?’

‘Oh: the treatment.’

‘Ah yes?’

‘I think I’ve cracked it.’

‘You have?’

‘Well I think I’m close: I’ve got a draft.’

‘Cool. Send it over.’

‘I will.’

And I do. And I’m wondering what he’ll make of it, what will come of it, what to do with it, where to send it next, who to pitch it to, how to proceed, with what chance of success, if any; what’s ‘success’ in this context, anyway; perhaps I went about it all the wrong way, this may have to be much more dramatic. Or funnier. Or tighter, I tend to lose myself in tangents, sometimes, but I didn’t really in this case; maybe it needs to be looser; perhaps it needs to be more broadly relevant; more culturally representative, more authentic, surely; surely that: way more authentic, wittier, warmer, dryer and softer. Sharper, more humane—is it really the brothers’ story that matters? Could it not much more be the mother’s?—more diverse, more character-driven, with a more female perspective, more up-to-date, more historically accurate, and altogether much more Rumantsch.

And so yes, here I am, lying awake through the night, wondering about the Rumantschness of it all, with a picture in my mind of a posse of guardian llamas, chilling in the grass, chewing the cud, an air of sophistication about their nonchalance, and the flock or the herd or the peep they’re supposed to look after just nowhere to be seen…


< Insomnia

 

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