Dec 13, 2009 | Sisters, OR
Dec 13, 2009

Sometimes only sleep can quiet the chatter in my mind.

My head is frequently filled with a cacophony of sound bites, madly repeating things I wrote and said, or things that were written or said to me, or things I read or heard on screen or in the street. They replay themselves like a recorded chorus of schizophrenics, each member struggling for attention but quickly surrendering to his noisier neighbor. They weigh down my mind, distracting me from the moment. These voices are treacherous, incessantly repeating plans, promises, ideas, judgments, advice, reminders, comparisons, opinions, and hungers. But when I wake from sleep, blinking slowly, very still and still very foggy, lying there in the total silence of the forest and looking out at the trees, my head is quiet. The voices haven't realized I am awake, so they are off prowling elsewhere, tormenting some other mind.

After a long day working, or during a mid-day walk to take a break from my computer, these voices are especially rampant. I sometimes think that my mind is a big factory, and to get it going fully, in order to participate in this world socially or to program computers in earnest, I need to start up all of these different machines in my head, and gradually, one by one, they start vibrating. When the factory is running at full operating capacity, all of its machines collaborate to create one mighty machine of the mind, and at this point there is the sensation of being "in the zone", which makes you feel invincible.

But then later, when it is time to go home or venture outside, this factory cannot instantly shut down. It keeps on rumbling, each machine trying to fulfill its kinetic potential, which was initiated just hours before. At this point the focused factorial output turns to crazy chatter and I feel like a madman, held hostage by its inanity.

I return to my cabin, wanting to read any of the dozen books that sit on my table — books I know contain great wisdom for me, could nourish me, oil my machinery and maybe even give me more control over it. But I step into the dark cabin, shake the snow from my boots, hang my coat, carry some logs to the stove, and crouch down to light a fire. When it's lit, I collapse into the chair with a big sigh, rub my eyes with my hands and groan, and then start staring into the fire, cataloguing my thoughts or just allowing them to wander.

I rarely get around to reading the books because my mind is too tired, and because the speed of information transferral of a book seems so sluggish compared to the high-speed mental acrobatics I had been conducting all day at my computer. Reading a book at this point feels like staring at a wall, and I usually opt instead to stare into the dancing fire, seeing what I can see in the flames, whose unpredictably beautiful forms and movements seem better suited to the shape and speed of thought. To the fire, there is only the moment, and the potential of where to dance off to next.

Maybe in the future inventors will find a way for us to control fire with thought. Then we can replace essays and novels with fires, imprinting our ideas in flame and using the paper instead only as kindling. Then we can send our fires through the wooden world and into the hearths of other people's minds, where they will entrance and entertain as only fires can.