Moonstruck – by  Kathryn Jankowski

She comes more near the earth
than she was wont. And makes men mad.”

—William Shakespeare

I can’t sleep when the moon waxes full. Herbal teas, lavender eye masks, lightbulbs designed to promote slumber, nothing helps. The arms of Morpheus elude me. I’m hyperaware and agitated, the monkey in my brain assaulting me with a deluge of memories, earworms, echoes of whatever I’ve read or watched that day. Is this what the deranged endure, an onslaught of stimuli so intense the mind and body never rest? No wonder they howl.

Pliny the Elder said moisture in the brain made it more susceptible to the moon’s agency. Scientists today contend the full moon has no physical effect on humans. Yes, its gravity pulls at the earth. Yes, tides are higher. But humans? To put it simply, we’re too small and too far away.

And yet the world goes wild each month when Shelly’s orbed maiden beams down upon us. Need proof? Talk to a bus driver, as I did for a journalism class assignment. He’ll tell you he doesn’t need to check the sky to know there’s a full moon. That’s when the crazies come out. Not your usual tweakers, he’ll point out. These are hard-core cases, men and women in the throes of miasmas too pervasive to ignore. The ones who keep your nerves jangling until they leave.

Or better yet, ask a teacher. Any grade will do, although younger students, as yet unbowed by societal norms, tend to act out more openly. They’re not quite the beasts associated with what Europeans during the Middle Ages called the “Transylvania effect”—the moment when clouds part and a brilliant mammoth sphere changes men into monsters—but there are times when they come close.

Webster’s defines lunacy as “intermittent insanity once believed to be related to the phases of the moon.” In psychological terms, people who believe their behavior changes in accordance with the moon are engaging in an “illusory correlation,” the perception of a link that does not exist. When something bizarre happens during a full moon we assign the event meaning, a form of selective association. To paraphrase Neil DeGrasse Tyson, it affects us because we believe it affects us.

If you put aside the assumption that scientific measurement is the sole arbiter of reality, there’s no denying we’re inspired by our gleaming satellite. We bid it goodnight in children’s books, laud its pearlescent glory in poems. A citizen of Luna in Heinlein’s book called it a harsh mistress.

Georges Méliès launched a ship into its blinking face in one of the first sci-fi movies. Dozens followed. Its desolate beauty calls to us, urges exploration. Countries around the world spend billions blasting crews and robotic rovers to its surface in the unspoken hope they’ll discover truths there that reflect our humanity.

Here on earth we invest in high-powered binoculars and telescopes, the better to view its craters, ridges, highlands. Risk our eyesight when it slides across the sun and compels us to stare. What else draws our attention so completely?

And music, oh, the music! The Marcels crooned about a blue one. Sinatra invited us to fly him there and play among the stars. Its shadow followed Cat Stevens. We’ve danced and romanced with Van Morrison under the moon’s magic light. I was part of an audience that listened, spellbound, in an outdoor arena as Sting wailed about vampiric angst whenever it shone over Bourbon Street.

We love our moon so much we’ve created goddesses to embody its essence. Incas called her Mama Quilla, the Chinese, Chang’e. Greeks gave us a trio: Hecate, Selene, Artemis. In Rome they erected temples to Luna, source of the word “lunatic.” The Ashanti (ancestors of modern-day Ghanans) worshipped Nyame, the Navajo honor Yolkai Estsman.

The adoration needn’t be formal. In the late ‘70s, I lived in a rural housing complex of small cottages and fourplexes built for migrant workers but now occupied by single ladies on a budget. Dressed in flowing skirts and scarves, we’d scale a nearby hilltop overlooking refineries that belched flame and smoke like dragons atop crude treasure. Under the light of a silvered moon we joined hands. Soon we were whooping and dancing, wild women who—given the chance—would gladly run with the wolves.

None of this fully explains my insomnia. Am I in the throes of an illusory correlation or just plain nuts? Perhaps it’s what Aristotle proposed: anyone with a creative bent is a little mad.


Kathryn Jankowski is a Slavic/Hispanic writer based in northern California. A finalist for the 2023 Anne C. Barnhill Creative Nonfiction Prize, her essays have been published in Rappahannock Review, Longridge Review, Sky Island Journal and Microfiction Monday. Learn more about her work at www.kathrynjankowskibooks.com.