13th September, Berlin, 19:13, today I’d like to do some writing prompts.
Prompt: Write about a recurring event: strange, sad, cryptic, or mysterious.
I woke up at 4:15. There have been many times I woke up at my parent’s house, my teenage bed, because of an earthquake. When your bed is shaking you go from a dreamland to a hyper functioning human being in less than a second. This time it wasn’t an earthquake. I listened for a possible sound that may have woke me up, but it was perfectly quiet. I noted the time and went back to sleep.
I had an idea in those days. I believed in that idea and was working my ass off to make it real. A website about the stock market. With all my money I bought 15-minute-delayed data and started building a site where people would dig into the market with the amazing tools I created, then talk about their findings, socialise, share, all the shenanigans you find in any stock market related website today. This was ten years ago.
I was working day and night, doing everything by myself. After seven months I started to find comments in the code saying “you’ll probably forget that you already built this feature, and will try to fix it by thinking it’s a bug, but it is not..”. I was talking to myself but not out loud. It started to feel like crossing the desert. The data was as plenty as the sands and multiplying fast.
Then it happened again. 4:15. This time my father was in the bathroom. Maybe that was him the first time. I’d know the reason next time I thought and fell asleep. But it kept happening again and again without a seeming reason. I came up with all sorts of hypotheses and each got shut down the next time. Was it food? Was it overworking? Was it dehydration? None of the excuses held up and I kept waking up at 4:15.
I started to think that it was my subconsciousness, trying to tell me something, not letting me go until I get it, act on it. I kept a notepad and a pen ready next to my bed and tried to record my dreams, whatever I could remember, to see if I could piece together a message. Some days I was flying, some days running from tigers, some mundane, jumbled dialogs, transition from one place to another as easy as walking to the next room, people changing faces from an uncle to a friend, and my favourite, finding rooms in my parent’s house where I didn’t notice they were there before. I couldn’t find the main narrative however hard I tried.
Over time, because of a cleaning schedule, because of a happy news, a sad mom entering into my study to share her burdens, an excited dad who wants to watch a football match together, because of an unproductive evening due to food coma, and mostly because of my burning desire to finish the minimum viable damn product and have people use the site I’ve been building forever, my working hours shifted slowly towards the night. First 2, then 3, then 4. At 4:15, I was filled with a foreboding that turned my insides out. It was an ever so subtle feeling and barely perceptible, but experiencing it day after day was like that drip of the broken tap, growing louder and louder. What was I missing? Was I sick? Was something coming? The dread was unbearable.
Then I burned out. The constant grind, living with my parents as a grown man for too long, and this sourceless nudge, this ghostly anxiety, broke me.
I learned many lessons in those days. The value of a business partner was one. I learned what “runway” means for a startup. I learned not to get angry at the smallest words of my mom. I learned to appreciate the cosy silence of my parent’s living room while all of us read our books. I learned the important relationship between salt and water and sleep. And many years later, while visiting my parents, I learned that a very old garbage truck that had a heavy engine to climb the hills of my hometown, was the cause of that deep, silent vibration which was waking me up at 4:15.
Prompt for the next time: Make a list of your favourite words or phrases, magic words, ones that have power for you. Use the one that most calls out to you in the moment as your title, then begin to write.