I'm Trading The Day For Night
The moon from my roof brings an added sweetness to the night.
Does the thought of waking with the dawn make you feel like you have been delivered a kind of death sentence? Or does your body naturally orient itself to the rhythm of the sun and feel energized by it.
It seems the population has always been neatly divided into "early birds" and "night owls". While each of these labels is a gross generalization, they do carry connotations we are all familiar with.
Early birds "catching the worm" are usually thought of as industrious and responsible, the kind of people that get on with it—and generally without complaint. Think farmers, mothers, blue collar service workers, gung-ho fathers getting kids up early for fishing, which come to think of it is probably where that phrase comes from. And there is this from Mother Goose:
COCK-CROW Cocks crow in the morn To tell us to rise, And he who lies late Will never be wise; For early to bed And early to rise, Is the way to be healthy And wealthy and wise
This reads a bit judgmental on Mother Goose's part. Being an early bird seems to imply some kind of implicit goodness or virtue. If you are not catching the worm, it is thought you are not, nor will you ever be "successful" in this life. Tsk Tsk...
Night owls on the other hand are the darker brethren. Sleeping in all morning like sloths, waking at perhaps ....noon. How can anyone accomplish anything with those habits? (think the early birds). The night hours belong to the poets and visionaries. All those edgy creators drinking bourbon or wine, and no doubt altering their states with further....inspiration.
Up until now, I have been decidedly in the first camp—minus the righteous virtue. Four a.m. did not seem ungodly to me. I in fact, welcomed that quiet, small hour (when the night owls are just giving it up). Coffee and meditation, and reading. That's the way I have it. For my constitution, those are activities that belong to the morning.
While I was always drawn to the dawn, this habit seemed to be sealed when I became a mother. My child inherited my natural circadian rhythm and was an early bird as well. As a person who needs plenty of quiet time in the morning (I am someone who can rise 3 hours before work and yet, still be late), I found myself getting up earlier and earlier before my son and the demands of the day.
As an artist, nothing used to please me more than to get into the studio before first light and convene with my work, while sipping coffee. There was something about sitting in the morning dark before sunrise, with remnants of a dream state, pregnant with all the possibilities of the session to come that rendered that time extra special.
I am not certain when it happened, but there has been a sea-change. While it may be only temporary, recently I am joining the ranks of artists who embrace the night. Nothing crazy like 3 a.m. mind you. I do still have a job that requires I show up at 8. But my rhythm seems to be more fluid. I have exchanged the coffee for wine, the events of the day behind me in review as opposed to the morning's initial planning. Does the night cause me to approach the work differently? There is some scientific evidence that our brains are more creative at night, having to do with our frontal cortex shutting down for the day. Our brains apparently then don't reject so many new ideas and are game for most anything. Perhaps this allows artists to experiment and be more spontaneous as the inner critic has decided it is time to snooze. Many of my artist friends are total night owls. Have they always known something I didn't? I now wonder what amazing bursts of genius I might have missed out on by working in the critical and cautious-brained morning. Damn!
And while the night holds promise of creative genius for artists, insomniacs curse the night for robbing their sleep, leaving those hours with a whiff of sinister. We often associate the night and dark with sadness, loneliness, fear, unknown, Why is that? I spent 5 days in a Tibetan Bon dark retreat some years ago and I was so at home, like a womb there, I ended up fearing to face the daylight instead.
Jeanette Winterson in her gorgeous essay, Why I Adore The Night says we "treat night like failed daylight." This presumes that the night has nothing to teach us and so, its gifts are discarded. The night holds great secrets. There is an opening, as the science suggests, that I am just becoming keenly aware of. The relative quietness of the world at night creates an inherently fecund space, where shadows become illuminated.
While my body may eventually decide to revert to its natural inclination once again, for now, the night studio and I are becoming better acquainted. It seems we are changeable, even in our most ingrained habits. I will report back whether my frontal cortex critic has shut down long enough for me to have any insights into the "genius" of the night.
"Day For Night"
from the amazingly rockin' CD "Girlfriend" by Mathew Sweet