The origin of this phrase refers to a reaction of the mind to troubling events that are bothering you in a way that you can’t easily shake off. But they’re your own creation, because there is nothing out there nearly as sinister as you’re thinking it is. You’re a worried man with a worried mind.
“No one in front of me and nothing behind
There's a woman on my lap and she's drinking champagne.”
That’s Bob Dylan’s lyrics, starting with the sentence I used.
And you sit in your car on a red light somewhere in the big city, watching the rain come down on a slow Tuesday afternoon and having the feeling that your mind is playing tricks on you. And you can’t help but go along.
And you know that the battle is rigged and every time the wipers make their way across the windshield, you try hard to focus on the rain, but it’s no good.
There is something bothering you.
Perhaps you watched the TV too much, all the pundits with big egos spreading the visions on Bloomberg and other outlets, and you’re having hard time to comprehend why this should be important to you at all.
You look at the rain right there in front of you, and it’s real. It brings relief, just like Mother Night.
And you get the notion that something is missing in life, and society has become shaky on many levels – there are just too many aspects that are up in the air, not adding up, such as the recent strikes on Syria.
And you sense that a part of the reason our society is so unstable now – we blew the metaphysical foundation out from underneath our culture. And if there is a fix for that, it has to start with you. And what keeps you up at night is the question how to do it.
I am an engineer, but I don’t live by the numbers. I understand how they work, but I think in scenes, which are vivid in my mind.
I then translate these scenes into words – this is my reaction to reality.
It’s a bit longer cognitive process, but I can’t help it.
Like a bad dream, or like something from The Shining, with Jack Nicholson (who, I believe, was put on Earth to show everyone just how wild life can be) the irony is, that there is nothing sinister– just our mind’s playing tricks on us.
That’s the brilliance of it - as long as you can call self-destruction that. It’s like you sitting in front of the red light somewhere; your mind can take you to many different places.
And if “The Shining” is not convincing enough for you, watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, a movie, directed by Milos Forman, who passed away just days ago (Jack rules in it too, as he got an Oscar for it in 1976).
So what about the things that go bump in the night?
They happen because your brain collected too much information that bothers you, and it doesn’t want to handle it anymore. This is what wakes you up at 2am in the morning after the initial tiredness wears off. No matter how many times you flip your sweat-stained pillow and try to sleep again, something keeps wracking at your brain, keeping you up.
It wants you to take action.
Maybe you have to change the way you think.
There is a scene in “The Rain Man” that I’ve always remembered. It’s when the brothers sit in a diner someplace, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, and Dustin’s character is heavily autistic, and Tom looks at him trying to form his opinion about the state his brother is in. When the waitress comes, she opens a fresh box of matches to light something up but she drops the box and the matches spill all over the floor. Dustin looks down, moves his head quickly and says - “296”. Tom picks up the box, looks at the number and says: “You’re wrong – it’s 300.”
Then they both look up at the waitress who holds four matches in her hand, not knowing what to say.
Tom Kubiak is the author of The Traveler