Unlike—I think—most people, I have no idea if I’m a morning person or a night owl. I’m able to act like either one under the appropriate circumstances, and both modes seem attractive to me for different reasons. There’s nothing quite like the self-satisfied feeling of getting up at dawn (or on the 49th parallel in wintertime, several hours before dawn), drinking a monastic cup of tea while doing something virtuous like writing in one’s journal or essaying a few yoga poses, and knowing that the entire day stretches ahead, full of promise and new projects and chipper birdsong. The flipside of this sunrisy feeling is the horror of the late-afternoon “yips”—which is apparently when serotonin levels are at their daily ebb—when the disappointment of time wasted, tasks uncompleted, and ambitious plans unbegun settles around one’s shoulders like malevolent fairy dust. The day is no longer a fresh white linen tablecloth flapping on the line in a lemony breeze, but a damp rag used to wipe up muddy footprints on the back stairs. But for those happy hours from dawn to early afternoon, and particularly before lunch, that disappointment is a distant cloud on the horizon—and the horizon looks like it does in an old-timey dairy ad, with a half-circle yellow sun peeping over a hill dotted with contented cows and tiny bicyclists. (For the accompanying soundtrack, listen to Joni Mitchell’s “Morning Morgantown.”)
Yet the night owl thing has its attractions too. Staying up long past everyone else is in bed feels edgy and avant-garde, and seeing the sunrise from the other end—the seedy, bleary, all-night-Denny’s end—also feels oddly virtuous. I’ve come full circle, seen the day through from full promise to chagrined post-mortem, accompanied an entire shift of humanity in their varied tasks around the clock. I am a poet, a deep thinker unconstrained by the petty demands of capitalist production; I épate the bourgeoisie left and right; I have wasted not one moment of this precious day in sleep; I drink life to the lees; etc.
As the lovely, maddening Edna St. Vincent Millay puts it:
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
It’s not particularly surprising to me, reflecting on my own circadian preferences, that I am agnostic. As with so many things, I’m highly suggestible and adapt myself easily and unconsciously to those around me, whomever I want to fit in with at any given moment, whomever I want to please. My mutability is part of a larger personality construct born of being an eldest child and thus constitutionally unable to disappoint anyone. Fortunately, because there is a full set of romantic conventions ready to hand no matter which sleep-wake pattern I choose, I am also able to idealize whichever I am currently not following. This is FOMO with a vengeance.
For a long time I used to go to bed early. Or something.