When I can't sleep I make lists in my head, with rules to make me concentrate harder, helping me fall asleep quicker. Like one night I decided to go through the alphabet, listing one work of art I dug for each letter. But I got to Z in no time and was still awake, so I added the restriction that they had to have one-word titles, and no revising, Here's what I came up with as best I can remember, though I only came up with the title. I identify them more fully here:
ARABY, the James Joyce short story
BURN, the movie with Marlon Brando
CANE, the collection of stories and poetry by Jean Toomer
DAWN, the first volume of Theodore Dresier's autobiography
EPISTROPHY, the Thelonious Monk tune played by Eric Dolphy on his lp LAST DATE
FOUR, an early Miles Davis composition, sung by Lambert Hendricks & Ross with lyrics by Jon Hendricks
GLORY, the soundtrack to the movie
HELP, the Beatles song
i, the collection of "six non-lectures" by e. e. cummings
JEZEBEL, the black & white film with Bette Davis, her challenge to "Scarlet O'Hara"
KALAMAZOO, the Glenn Miller tune I first heard on one of my sibling's 78s
LAURA, the tune from the movie with Gene Tierney
MAX, an early poem sequence by Ray DiPalma
NUNS, an early chapbook by Terence Winch
OKLAHOMA, the film of the Rogers & Hammerstein musical
PATERSON, the poem in several volumes by William Carlos Williams
QUARTET, the novel by Jean Rhys
REUNIONS, a poetry collection by Harry E. Northup
SKY, a memoir by Blaise Cendrars
TALES, the early collection of stories by then LeRoi Jones
UNFORGIVEN, the Clint Eastwood movie
V., the first novel by Thomas Pynchon
WOMAN, the first in the series of paintings with that title by Willem de Kooning
X, the chapter in Dante's first book, LA VITA NUOVA, where Beatrice scorns him (& I read for the first of many times as a young man when I was going through a similar stage of my relationship with my own "Beatrice") (yeah, I know, it's a bit of a cheat for the "X")
YOJIMBO, the Kurasawa movie with Toshiro Mifune
Z, the Costa Gravas film
Most often I make elaborately categorized lists of three. The Trinity figured largely in my youth, part of my "race" and faith, from the Holy Trinity I named every time I crossed myself to the shamrock that supposedly symbolized them, or the Holy Family my mother named every time she got exasperated with me, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph", or the three small bedrooms in a house with six children (living) and two adults, or later three children and five adults, (some kids always slept in the half finished attic) or the three main identities I had as an "artist" over the years—musician, poet, actor—or the three kids I have, or etc. etc. I grew up thinking in threes, dividing the world into threes, my life, my work, words, ad infinitum.
So on sleepless nights when I'm not working some other contrived structure for lists, I make mini-lists of my favorite works of art, subdividing the categories to make room for more and more of what I love, and believe often saved my life.
Like books. I make a list, say, of my three favorite books of prose, but by poets, and then divide that into first "non-fiction"— then split that further into books by authors who aren't personal friends—Walt Whitman's SPECIMEN DAYS, Gary Snyder's EARTH HOUSEHOLD, Michael McClure's SCRATCHING THE BEAT SURFACE—and those that are (or was before he passed, in the case of Haining)—James Haining's A QUINCY HISTORY, Merrill Gilfillan's MAGPIE RISING, Terence Winch's THAT SPECIAL PLACE—then "fiction" left unfurther subdivided as I grow more tired—Rainer Maria Rilke's novel THE NOTEBOOKS OF MALTE LAURIDS BRIGGE, William Carlos Williams' collection of short stories, THE FARMERS' DAUGHTERS, Kenward Elmslie's THE ORCHID STORIES.
By the time I've recalled all these books and thought of the pleasure and comfort and in some cases laughs they've given me, I'm asleep.
On another night I list my three favorite spiritual tomes: Lao Tse's TAO TE CHING, Jack Kerouac's THE SCRIPTURE OF THE GOLDEN ETERNITY, and Hubert Selby Jr's late novel THE WILLOW TREE.
Or my three favorite plays to read in book form: William Saroyan's THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE, Eugene O'Neil's LONG DAYS JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, and Samuel Beckett's WAITING FOR GODOT.
Or three of my favorite books read in the past year or two: Diane diPrima's memoir RECOLLECTIONS OF MY LIFE AS A WOMAN, Mark Terrill's collection of prose poems BREAD & FISH, and Ken McCullough's prose and poetry triptych OBSIDIAN POINT.
Or the three books that mixed poetry and prose and influenced me highly when I was young: Dante's LA VITA NUOVA, Jean Toomer's CANE, and William Carlos Williams' SPRING & ALL.
I made a bunch more last night, before I fell asleep, but can't remember them now. What are your top three...whatevers?