Sleep deprivation does strange things to the mind. It strips it of its armor, removes the protective layers built up by ego, experience, false connection to identity. It exposes raw, sometimes dangerous emotion. Innocuous events can trigger floods of memory buried and unremembered, or remembered and filed under "over that." Vulnerability. Suddenly, your environment is everything; there is nothing else. It's probably why new military recruits, young doctors and subjects of interrogation are deprived of sleep.
Graduate students, too.
I started writing this entry back in July, when I was in the middle of one of the twice-annual residencies for my MFA program, on the edge of whatever's on the other side of the edge.
It's not that the program is designed to deprive us of sleep -- it just seems to happen that way. Eight days of digging deep, workshop after workshop, the collective psychic buzz of lots of strong, hopeful, energetic minds together. It could be the place itself -- it's haunted, they say, and each residency someone has something to tell: Footsteps on the back stairs, a window opens after it's been closed, violent dreams. These events could be read as allegorical -- hidden reaches of the psyche, subconscious opening up and whatnot. But when you're there, it's just damned spooky.
Of course, so is the mind and what can be pulled out of it. Writing is exploration, which for an artist exposes possibilities, and exploration is both external and internal. Writing also is psychology, and the residencies are boot camp for the brain. (Doesn't help that the residencies are held at a former military base.)
Peel away the layers. What's really under there? Forget about what you want to be there or what you think should be there -- what's there? How does it relate to what's going on in your world, or the world in general? How might another person relate, given her experiences, her tragedies and her joys? How might the differences between these reactions cause conflict?
There's a story in there somewhere.