I aspire to a life of early to bed and early to rise. When I do rise early, I find my cellphone blinking with weixin alerts — throughout the night, friends have been pinging bursts of characters at each other, usually concluding with some clear indication that they are going to sleep. Weixin goes quiet until someone asks, “Who else has insomnia?”
According to Wikipedia, there are there kinds of insomnia — transient, acute, and chronic, which are defined in temporal terms. Transient insomnia lasts less than a week, acute lasts longer than a week but less than a month; chronic insomnia stretches beyond the limits of monthly endurance — “maybe I’ll go to work in a bit,” another blurts, “who wants to sleep anyway?”
I have read literary insomniacs most of my life and enjoyed the hardboiled insomnia of noir films — will there ever be a morning? But I have understood Emily Dickinson’s lament as metaphor for a more general human condition, rather than an explicit 3:24 a.m. call for help. Even Sylvia Plath seems — on printed page — to have come to a tentative understanding with sleeplessness:
She married the prince
and all went well
except for the fear —
the fear of sleep.
was an insomniac…
She could not nap
or lie in sleep
without the court chemist
mixing her some knock-out drops
and never in the prince’s presence.
Nevertheless, weixin insomnia haunts me because I am unsure of the etiquette surrounding these direct glimpses into someone else’s pain. Do I acknowledge the call when I wake up? Do I ask how they’ve been sleeping next time we meet? Or do I just ignore the messages, as if I never saw them, and let the sarcasm and loneliness linger?