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I was unable to sleep tonight. Twice. On the first try, I got up from the futon and read Mythology. On the second try, I began to read The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, thinking it could bore me to sleep. Then I remembered something: the vague suggestion that most non-fiction causes one to think about the future. Fiction, especially imaginative fiction, helps to keep the attention in the present, and best helps sleep. So they say, probably from hearsay about one study that no one cared to replicate or disconfirm. Probably from some personal development success-flailing narcissist

I picked up Soul Mountain, given to me around three and a half years ago by some friends moving out of their New York apartment. I remembered trying to read the thing the first few months after I'd gotten it, and finding myself nearly dozing off. It seemed like I could put it to good use now.

But I found it surprisingly easy to read. Gao Xingjian's descriptions are minimal, but immersive, like stepping outside the back door on a breezy summer night. The host of crickets. The moon high overhead. Soft swishing of the trees, barely visible. The scene is mostly darkness, but there's more there in front of you than in the party inside. Sooner or later someone will ask you what's wrong and what you you could be looking at, everyone misses you, come inside. They won't understand and that's just how things are. To them no, but to you the immensity is worth pondering.

As I read I found myself wondering if I've lost my way. The thought came and I wasn't sure what it meant. I don't know right now, either. As worded, it implies that I had a way to follow to begin with. I keep thinking there is one, and I think that is my second biggest mistake.

Still, there is a yearning. As I read about the still-nameless main characters trying to find their way, scene by scene, in the mountains of China, I remember the times I walked by myself a few years back. I used to reminisce about them frequently. I still can't convey what 3AM on the empty streets below 65th street meant to me. Dozens of times, sometimes alone, sometimes with my dear friend, talking about the past, and the present and imaginary things. There are things you really can't do in the daytime with people and anxieties around. They are always tugging on your sleeve to come back inside.

I've been inside for a long while. I've become an indoor person; any other way seems to compromise all my careful designs. When there's really nowhere to go, you stop walking anywhere. You sit and your hamstrings shorten, and soon enough you can't touch your toes. On the other side, I am proud of what I am able to pull together at times. Things are lively and fun. I highlight the times I'm upset, anxious, or ashamed, but many times I'm just happy. Fat and sloppy and lazy, but just happy.

But in my dreams, when I remember them, I'm always walking places. I walk down the street, talk to people in an unknown town just coming out of a church service. I stop the car and get on foot to cross ruins. I've been given a job in a new town, and my first job is to deliver something to a shed deep in the forest. I do all of these things--that's me in the dreams. Sometimes that's more me than the person I see in the mirror these days.

These two people seem far apart, somehow. For many years the only way to merge them was an unattainable ideal, something of a mythical version of myself. Geometrically infeasible. I wonder if there is a compromise, though, buried somewhere in the swaying boughs in the shadow of moon.

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