Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Blessing of Insomnia

I love to sleep. Falling asleep is the best. Staying asleep . . . even better. Waking up in the middle of the night is not one of my favorite experiences. But it happens.
So last night I got up and looked through a New Yorker I hadn't had time to read. And I found the best article - "Late Bloomers" by Malcolm Gladwell. (Just his last name should have tipped me off that I'd be happy to read it.)
It's all about how some artists and writers show genius early on in their lives, and others build their craft over many years, producing their best work beginning in their forties or fifties and extending from there.
The well known examples of Picasso (early genius) and Cezanne (late bloomer) are interesting. But so are two writers - Ben Fountain, whose first critical success came 18 years after he quit his job as a lawyer to write - and Jonathan Foer, who had a best selling novel he wrote while in college.
The article goes on to explore how the late bloomers managed to stick with it. Without exception, they had "patrons" or supporters who believed in them and encouraged them to continue their work, even when it did not appear to be producing fabulous results.
(Fountain's "patron" was his lawyer wife, and the article talks about how they made this decision to have him stay home, raise the kids and write together. That was cool.) I just have to quote the penultimate paragraph of the piece:
Late bloomers' stories are invariably love stories, and this may be why we have such difficulty with them. We'd like to think that mundane matters like loyalty, steadfastness, and the willingness to keep writing checks to support what looks like failure have nothing to do with something as rarefied as genius. But sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it's just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.
That insight, to me, is worth waking up for and waking up to.
So I start out the day at four in the morning, saying, "Thank you, One-Who-Never-Sleeps, for the occasional blessing of insomnia."

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