One night, without sleep

by Mitchell_Porter2 min read16th Aug 20188 comments

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Poetry
Personal Blog

In memory of all those who fell and were not saved

(I normally have little regard for trigger warnings,

but on this occasion, imagine that my words are prefaced with every trigger warning ever)

A body, on a battlefield, maimed and bleeding;

terrible pain, staring at the sky,

left to die.

An experience that must have happened a million times in human history,

an experience that must be happening somewhere right now.

My situation is better - perhaps. I lie, not on a battlefield, but in a sickbed.

I just have some kind of flu;

and an eye haunted by a migraine that comes, and goes, and threatens to come again;

and I am not sleeping.

Also, I can write.

The smartphone battery was almost dead, I thought I was resigned to simply lying awake for long hours, without the catharsis of expression;

but enough time passed that I stirred, reached for the laptop, hauled it onto the bed, plugged in the phone.

.

The monotony of describing mundane acts

has removed me from the experiences that impelled me to write.

Those experiences said: no one should have to endure anything like this;

life should not be created.

But it was not just sensation that tortured me.

It was the defeat of my will, not just now, but many times.

It was all the lost opportunities to create in my own life,

the pointless obstruction, and being left to rust,

that denied everyone the benefits of what I might have made,

that negated my rare attempt to actually fix, and transform this malign existence.

.

The sun is still far from rising, but my mind has stirred to something like wakefulness.

Possible words now queue for attention and selection,

the hubbub of daylight communication,

rather than crystallizing in the dark,

a single phrase that repeats and repeats and repeats that it not be forgotten.

And I have remembered another thought:

that I am so tired of this. Of having to endure pain, whole days lost to waiting for pain to fade,

in order to keep carting my burdens uphill, alone.

Once, I was optimistic,

fruit of a happy childhood perhaps,

and I think I still carry the error implanted,

the expectation that everything works out for the best,

that in the end one will be noticed and saved.

There was a time, a long time, when I thought I would do the saving;

I thought I knew perspectives that would cheer everyone up,

and recipes that would materially change the world for the better.

After enough years had passed, I added the thought:

this world as it is, needs transformation;

there is no groundswell to even try to make it better,

instead I find myself on a solitary march years in duration;

therefore, no one should create life.

That was 1996.

.

But both my defiant pursuit of a way to redeem existence,

and my sad insight that it is not now an existence in which life should be created,

remained hidden, buried. My life, and the world, twisted and turned, and I never produced a great work;

just fragments, actions, statements that echoed briefly in a handful of other lives.

.

Now I lose the momentum of this testimony too,

which began with a memoriam for all those lost who never return.

The sun will come, the illness subside, the migraine fade (though it returns weekly);

and during the long night I fashioned new tactics for escaping the circumstances that weigh on me,

that interfere with my imperatives, this time so much so that the effort to preserve my mind

left my body weak and sick with misery.

My experience tells me, a hundred times over:

shout for help, say you and all your possibilities are going to waste,

and no one will come for you.

So one is left to survive, on the charity of family and the cunning to make a little money,

left to attempt to do as much as possible on one's own,

and then, occasionally, make another big appeal for help.

But time grows short; the machines have advanced;

it could mean hope more concrete than ever;

but I want to do more than just cultivate private hope,

I want to attempt with all my strength, to do the specific things that I see to be done.

And this is why the illness of bodily defeat is so bitter;

one's struggle, conducted alone, but in the hope of one day dragging treasures into daylight,

is felled by the weakness of one's own physical vehicle.

And now grief sears through me, though it seems that I will live to fight another day;

and a voiceless cry forces itself out (but I keep it silent, for the others who try to sleep, wrapped in their own lives, in rooms nearby),

and my cheeks are wet with tears.

Whether it is the thought of all those who were not saved,

or just the thought of myself and those others I have known who, though they lived, were not saved;

and there was a flash of fierceness too, some ancient killer instinct,

sensing opportunity to finally vanquish a foe.

.

There is only anticlimax left. Words, that I will not further shape despite their flaws,

a message from one depth and one overcoming,

out of the myriads that have been endured.

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8 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 2:13 AM
New Comment
I want to attempt with all my strength, to do the specific things that I see to be done.
And this is why the illness of bodily defeat is so bitter;
one's struggle, conducted alone, but in the hope of one day dragging treasures into daylight,
is felled by the weakness of one's own physical vehicle.

I also suffer from a chronic illness that keeps me from pursuing my goals (which I think are the same as your goals) at anything close to the speed at which I feel I should be able to. I don't know if my condition is better or worse than yours, but one thing that helps me is to think about how there are others out there who are a lot like me, but without these limits, and they seem to be doing what I wish I could do. Maybe they'll succeed even if I'm not able to help. And if they succeed, then so do I.

You're not as alone as you think.

Thanks for a response. I am actually most concerned about the things that I could be doing, that I don't see anyone else doing, and which aren't being done because I am operating at far below my potential. In my case, I think illness is very much just a symptom of the struggle to get on with things in an interfering environment.

The most ambitious thing that I can think of attempting, is to solve the AI value alignment problem in time for Earth's singularity. After this bout of sickness, and several days of dawdling while I waited to recover, I somehow have a new tactic for approaching the problem (it's more a personal tactic for engaging with the problem, than an idea for a solution). I hate the idea that this kind of experience is the price I pay for really pushing ahead, but it may be so.

In my case, I think illness is very much just a symptom of the struggle to get on with things in an interfering environment.

Do you mean you think you have something like Mindbody syndrome/TMS? I thought I had it for a while, but now suspect the root causes are actually physiological, not psychological, for me.

Just to clarify, am I interpreting your post correctly in reading it as you saying that the reason you're not operating at your full potential is because of a chronic illness which causes migraines and other symptoms? If so, this may be something that you've already thought of, but it's worth putting a lot of effort into tracking down the root cause of of the illness and fixing it (assuming you don't already know the root cause and that there is a potential fix) even if it means temporarily working more slowly on the AI alignment problem. That's what I'm doing, at least.

Migraine is just an occasional problem. Living and working conditions are the truly chronic problem that have made me irrelevant.

Have you heard about the EA Hotel? Or considered moving to a country with a very low cost of living?

What's particularly frustrating about lack of sleep (really any chronic illness that effects the brain) is that it hinders almost all goals. As far as I'm aware there is little to no silver lining. Add to that the fact that ruminating on sleep issues tends to just make them worse, and it's easy to spiral into a self-defeating cycle.

I'd be interested in a post that examines a rationalist approach to tackling sleep issues.

"I normally have little regard for trigger warnings, but on this occasion, imagine that my words are prefaced with every trigger warning ever" is a very unhelpful warning. Taken literally, it implies you are warning for diet talk, pictures of spiders, sudden loud noises, people's faces, flashing gifs, sex, curse words, and a detailed description of how to commit suicide; zero of these things are in your piece. In general, I think trigger warnings should have a brief and non-vivid description of the potentially triggering content, in order to allow readers to make an informed decision. For example, you might say "trigger warning: vivid description of death and the suffering and thoughts associated with chronic illness."