Originally posted April 21, 2010...
What are you still doing up? If you’re reading this right after I’ve posted it, you should probably be in bed. And if you were in bed at the time this was “published” (a fancy internet word meaning “added to internet”), good on you. Apparently, the most healthful period of sleep for our minds and bodies are between the hours of ten pm and two am. Sleeping at this time keeps our minds sharp, I’m told, helps us to better digest our food, and is supposedly the best time for our skin. This is why Jon is a fresh-faced, dewy, apple-cheeked history professor and I look like a raccoon who smokes two packs a day and can’t master sudoku. On weekdays, Jon gets up at six am. It’s summer, he’s not teaching any classes, just independently researching and publishing (the real kind of publishing), but is not on anyone’s deadline or timetable. He gets up that friggin’ early of his own volition. And his alarm clock is a rooster’s crow, which is just so precious I wish he were dead. The point is, he thrives in the morning and I do not. So…
Dream: To become a morning person.
Goal: Achievable. Normal people with real jobs have to get up early all the time. Just because I mostly work nights doesn’t mean I can’t join their ranks.
Plan: I… I can’t do it. Have you guys gotten up in the morning lately? It’s horrible. One of my current jobs requires that I work roughly two mornings a week, and it takes all the stamina I have to do it successfully.
I’ve always worked nights, in restaurants, in retail, in theatre, and as a friend (I’m no good to any of you before two pm). At first it was out of necessity. I was a student, I think, for a couple of years there, and so couldn’t work during the day. And once school ended, I couldn’t bear the thought of getting up early for the mind-numbing entry-level jobs I was qualified for. I rationalize the years of McJobbery by thinking, “Well I don’t have to go in until four, it’s not like working here is my life!”
Unfortunately, after literally years of this, when I do have to get up early for something, I’m stressed about it for days. I will try to get to bed early for days prior (early being 1.30) and then the night before nearly kill myself in a Nyquil fueled rage. The night before, I’ll settle in at like ten o’clock and pretend like it’s normal. I’ll make my bed just to turn down the sheets in that inviting way and try to remember how to read (lately I’ve been slogging through this awful Vietnam war novel called Tree of Smoke and I can’t get through a chapter without forgetting every character’s relationship to each other, so I put it down in favour of old Vanity Fair magazines or crappy Canadian plays which all seem to concern “the harvest.”)
Then, at a predetermined time, I put the reading material down, pretending like I’m just too darn tuckered to continue, turn out the light, snuggle up, and panic. One of the things I love about not working until later in the day is that I can go to bed whenever I want and often that is when I am simply too exhausted to stay awake. That makes sleep easy. I don’t have to think about falling asleep, I just do it. But when a “bedtime” is imposed, I feel like a ten year old, imprisoned in his room, wanting to stay up and eat cookies and party because “I’m not tiiiired!”
As the night wears on, I go through stages, like when you find out you’re going to die. I bargain at first, saying to myself, “Okay, it’s midnight now, I have to be up at 6.30, six and a half hours of sleep is acceptable, I can function fine. All I need is to fall asleeeeep now! No now! Now! No foolin’ here, now!” Which of course only serves to keep me awake longer. Then the fear set in. I start to worry what will happen if I don’t get any sleep at all. I picture falling asleep at my till, completely oblivious to the thieves taking money from me and raping the old ladies who just need their prescriptions filled which could have easily been prevented if I could just wake up. Or that I will be so tired I will collapse on a stack of returned DVDs and disc two of Damages Season One will shatter and one of the shards will stab me through the heart. Then comes the anger stage and it is fierce. I become my own abusive husband. “Why can’t you fall asleep, you stupid whore! You do this to yourself, you realize that! You’re so fucking selfish!”
My real and unabusive partner, however, offers no consolation. Jon falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow and is out like a rock until six. Occasionally, my tossing and turning will rouse him and he’ll murmur sympathetically. “Are you having trouble falling asleep?” he’ll ask, and I’ll nod, and he’ll cuddle me (or whatever version of cuddling two men do; he’ll sling his arm over my pizza gut) and say, “Oh honey, I’m sorry. If there’s anything I can…” and he’ll be asleep again, taunting me with the ease to which he succumbs.
I’d say on most of those night I get between four and zero hours of sleep. I wake up those mornings prickly and praying for a fire or a blizzard. And it seems like everybody is so falsely cheerful in the mornings, pretending like they don’t hate their stupid lives, but how could they not? And mornings are filled with jarring experiences, like stepping into a shower that’s never as warm as it feels on your forearm (by the way, that’s how you’re supposed to test the temperature of a baby’s bottle– you pour a few drops on your wrist. I can’t see how that’s the least bit accurate. A shower that feels temperate and calming on my forearm is freezing on my face and pizza gut. It’s a wonder we don’t have more dead babies). And what about cereal? Seems like they only come in two varieties: super sweet and tree pieces. Gross.
Jon says mornings are peaceful. There’s a sense of accomplishment in starting your day with the sun’s rise. That may be true, but I can’t help but be grateful for all that late nights allow me. Like those really deep conversations with friends that become more truthful and illuminating as the night wears on, until you’re both drunk with tired, convinced you can change the world, and hopelessly in love with each other. Like the post-performance high that carries you until four in the morning, convinced that you are truly an actor and the stage is your home. Like the wacky seventies game show that’s suddenly the best thing you’ve ever seen on television that keeps you on your best friend’s couch for another hour, another beer. Like the blank page that slowly fills with writing when inspiration hits, and stuff that’s jumbled in your head all day suddenly makes sense at 1.45 and pours out of you.
Soon I’ll probably have to get some awful desk job, or raise some awful child and give all of this up. I’ll cut my caffeine intake and my gorgeous long hair. I’ll get up to pee and two-thirty and think, “God, I can’t believe I ever stayed up this late.” Maybe I’ll allow myself a moment to mourn the loss of that time. I’ll briefly wonder if I was happier then, staying up until all hours, keeping my body sedentary while my mind wandered. But I’d probably be too tired to seriously contemplate such an idea, not with work in the morning, so I’d shuffle back into bed and make sure my alarm was on so I’d be set for tomorrow, ready to greet the day.