Thursday, January 11, 2007

Tales from the Dark Side

I was born a night owl. Okay, maybe not literally (I was born a little after 6 p.m.) but right from the start it was clear to all and sundry that I was most definitely my mother's daughter. My father was a lark who rose, happy and even-tempered, with the sun and faded not long after moonrise. My mother? She was a whole different story. Mornings were best ignored. Afternoons were a little better. But once the sun went down, my mother's energy levels, enthusiasm, and creativity kicked into overdrive and kept on kicking until four or five in the morning.

Which, quite frankly, made life in a four room apartment during the conform-to-the-norm 50s in Queens a bit of a stretch for all concerned.

I exhibited my night owl tendencies early. There were stories about my three year old self sneaking out of her bedroom at night to watch Steve Allen or whoever the king of late night was at the moment. There were stories about a six year old who refused to go to bed and actually outwaited her parents who decided to try one of Dr. Spock's theories and just leave me alone in the living room at midnight with only the TV (set to a presidential convention, one of my guilty pleasures) for company. "The child will quickly retreat to the safety of his or her room," the good psychologists predicted.

Well, the good psychologists hadn't met yours truly who sat there in her footie pj's until almost two when her parents dragged her, wide-awake and talkative, off to bed.

The truth is, we spend most of our lives trying to live within the framework set up for civilization and it doesn't work for all of us. I loved it during the early years of our marriage when Goldisox worked swing and night shifts in the Air Force and then again with AT&T. I loved being the only one awake in a sleeping neighborhood, that sense of being part of a world known only to a few. I loved knowing the phone wouldn't ring, nobody would show up at the door unannounced (that, at least, is the hope at three in the morning!), that these hours belonged to me and I could do whatever I wanted with them. (Did I mention that up until I sold my first book I had done my best to remain gainfully underemployed, doing truly crap jobs that would provide needed money but absolutely no sense of accomplishment or fulfillment. That's what writing was for. That was where all of my hopes and dreams were focused.) So there I was, sitting alone in the living room, watching old movies while I transcribed court reporters' notes into readable text or typed addresses onto fancy-schmancy envelopes for a Steuben Glass mailing, happier than a pig in manure to be living counter to the universe.

Given our druthers, both Goldisox and I would live the night owl life. We reverted to type over the holidays and it hasn't been easy switching back. The thing is, doctors and dentists and banks and post offices and all manner of necessary services aren't skewed with the night owl's needs in mind. Night owls have to bend in order to survive in the real world and it isn't always easy.

Last year I was working on a book and having horrendous trouble. My brain doesn't click during the sunny hours of midday. Unfortunately my brain wasn't clicking during the evening either. One morning I woke up around five, heart pounding with anxiety over the book that wasn't, and unable to fall back asleep. I crept from the room and went downstairs to make a cup of tea and mull over my hideous state of affairs. The laptop on the table caught my eye. I was half-asleep, under-caffeinated, desperate enough to try anything. I booted up, sat down, and suddenly the words started pouring out. I couldn't have stopped them if I'd wanted to. I worked until nine-thirty and in those few hours accomplished twice what I normally accomplished in an entire day.

Not being a total moron, I lathered, rinsed, and repeated the next day with the same results. Clearly the middle of the night (or beginning of the morning) was a fertile creative time for me and I managed to hang onto the magic right through to the end of the book. For the first time in ages, the process of writing was sheer delight and I wasn't left an exhausted, depleted shell of a writer when it was over.

Am I a nightowl? An upside down lark? A cuckoo? Beats me. All I know is that I'm not going to regain my mojo until I get this whole Circadian rhythm thing worked out.

And there's more. Lots more. Even some knitting stuff.

Stay tuned.


Blogger Wendy said...

Greetings from a fellow night owl. Both my parents are morning people, so I must have gotten this tendency from my paternal grandma who always used to say "I don't start to twinkle until the stars do."

So, has your knitting mojo returned? I think to jumpstart it you need to come down for a visit. One night in Wendy's Stash Room (aka the Guest Room) will cure whatever ails ya! ;-)

7:12 AM  
Blogger Fran Baker said...

I'm a morning person who gave birth to a night owl. When he's home visiting, the rule is that he has to have the car home in time for me to go to early Mass on Sundays. The Mass, BTW, that he calls "Mass of the Living Dead."

I quit worrying about how pale he is when he was in college. He wasn't sick. Just practicing to become the next Count Dracula!

1:26 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

Wendy, Wendy, Wendy, beware! NJ isn't all that far from VA and I know how to drive!

BTW, how on earth do you manage to work the early hours you work and still function?

Fran, I always say I love the beauty and stillness of early morning. I just see it from a different perspective.

9:33 PM  
Blogger KaliAmanda said...

At 2, I used to escape from my bed, open the fridge and retrieve my bottle with milk chocolate and make a stealth move from the back of the living room to my perch under the marble top coffee table to watch Tom Jones. But I usually gave myself away by singing along, snapping my fingers and, ocassionally, coming out and shaking my booty with absolute abandon. But sometimes I'd just fall asleep and have to be carried back to bed like some sort of tiny drunken groupie...

10:30 PM  
Blogger Wendy said...

Hey Barbara, who said I was actually functioning? ;-)

10:24 AM  

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