Insomniac City — A Scintilla of Memories

On the 5th of May 2018, I visited Chapter 101 bookstore in Gurgaon; a fancy place, I heard about this bookstore during a book meet. The place indeed was lovely, it exuded warmth which you receive from an unknown known person/thing/place. 

Like always, I wanted to buy all the books. After realising that I have already spent a fortune on books since last book fair in January, I decided to purchase less books, finally I decided to buy only one book. And, that was, More than this by Patrick Ness. While I was going to send for this book’s bill, I saw something dark blue, a hardcover;so lustrous I thought.
Wait a minute! What? This book.
I immediately recalled where I have read about this book. Now I know, I figured almost immediately. I have read Oliver Sacks’ autobiography On the Move
And, I read in a blog on BrainPickings, that Oliver’s lover, some writer and photographer has written an amazing book chronicling his life in New York with Dr. Sacks; all I remember from the blog was “Are you conscious of your thoughts before language embodies them?” and a photograph of an eye. That’s all.
[Note: The line was one of the journal entries by Dr. Sacks. And, the photograph of an eye was Bill Hayes‘ eye’s drawing by renowned artist Ilone Royce Smithkin.]
Now, I was overwhelmed with emotions, it was as if I’ve found a rare treasure. I did not waste a single second to buy the book after sniffing the book and admiring it; a feeling of gratitude to my friends for taking so much time deciding about the book they wanted to buy else I’d not have stayed.

The book I was flabbergasted looking at happened to be Insomniac City: New York, Oilver, and Me by Bill Hayes.

Insomniac City: New York, Oilver, and Me by Bill Hayes
Yesterday, I wrote Insomniac City’s book review as well.
And sent the link to Bill Hayes as well via my book-sty Instagram handle.
This was his reply:

“So beautiful and insightful! Thank you for your kind words and sensitive reading of the book. Best, Bill”

What a strange thing? I was to write On the Move – Oliver Sack’a autobiography’s review first but as fate has it, I happen to write the review of this book first.
I have read Insomniac City three times from May 2018. So far, I have not read a single book repeatedly in such a short time, I do read my favourites a couple of times like Arundhati Roy‘s The God of Small Things.
Like The God of Small Things, Insomniac City has a special place in my heart.
That was the story of finding this book. 
Here’s what I couldn’t include in the book review even when I so wanted it.

O: “Every day, a word surprises me.”

[Note: O symbolises Oliver Sacks, this is taken from his journal entries.]
A book like this – which is a collection of memories, confessions, discoveries, photographs and personal narratives of a lot of people including writer’s own like this one – is such a book, reading each word of this is a cherishing experience.
Be it meeting the same Sri Lankan cabbie twice or finding the exact same things that he owned when he visits the place where he and Steve spent time. Each feeling as experienced and felt is translated beautifully by the author. He is making sure that you are participating in this experience by weaving words which stays with you.

O: “I like having a confusion of agency, your hand on top of mine, unsure where my body ends and yours begin…”

Did you happen to read this line again and again? 
Ah! Welcome to the club.
This book is full of so many such lines and thought provoking statements sometimes borderline psychedelic and sometimes full of wisdom. 
Here’s my pick of lines from each of the chapters in this potpourri of emotions and lived reality.

My Afternoon with Ilona: You are the most important person in the world.

(The artist is drawing writer’s eye, only one eye, she is 95 years old and a master in her craft. She confides him by telling him this while appreciating the beauty of his eye. She confesses never seen some probing eye.)

His Name is Raheem: “I say to those guys, the ones who own the building, ‘What are YOU doing? I’m saving the Earth! What are you doing for this planet?’”

(Raheem, the garbage collector, is often brought into trouble by the people who’s garbage he collects. And this is what he had to say to these people.)

O: “The most we can do is to write – intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively – about what it is like living in the world at this time.”

Oliver Sacks
The most honest confession of Billy Hayes can be found in this undated journal entry in the May of 2015, “Some days, I feel like Sylvia Plath married to Anne Sexton – or is it Anne Sexton married to Sylvia Plath? – but without depressions or suicides. Just Poetry.”
And, when I read this book, it was the recovering phase of my depression period. It was that time when I could feel the heat of my partner when I used to sink in the couch, could feel like he’s there, mumbling something. 
When Billy narrates the incident of losing Steve, I felt the same – that shock and numbness when you don’t know what to say – no, my love didn’t die, he said a few things to me while I was depressed, loosely translating, “How are you, bag of suffering?”
I was stunned. I didn’t know what happened, from where I gathered so much strength that I blocked him on every platform, deleted all of his pictures except one and let him go of my life. 
I don’t talk to anyone about him, not even to myself, today was the exception.
Losing Home. Or Finding Home.

We learned through this book that Dr. Sacks didn’t want to prolong his life just to prolong it. No one does, I guess.
This idea of finding home always fascinates me, I considered my love my home. I have written about it as well. But home has different meaning to all of us. Doesn’t it?
To me, this book was home. And now, when I see myself, having recovered from all such phases, I’m at home with my own self.

PS: I just want to express my gratitude to Bill Hayes, Oliver Sacks, and all the books in my life which have helped me a lot. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.