Saturday, January 05, 2019

nocturnal animals

Whenever I am left to my own devices, free of schedules and work and daytime obligations, I revert to the same night creature I have pretty much always been.  When I was in college and free most summers, I would stay up all night and be going to bed around the time my mother was waking up to go to work, and then would sleep well into the afternoon.  It was a particular kind of leisure I would have enjoyed more if I knew how seldom I would have it as an adult--expanses of free unencumbered time.  I cleaned the house for money from my parents and worked some odd proofreading and theatre related jobs during the year, but most of my time not in classes was gloriously my own. I would read, write endlessly in those mead composition journals I kept during those years, draft poems and stories and plot out my misguided plans for literary domination.  (I also watched a lot of weird things on middle of the night television.)

In grad school, I completely gave over to this nocturnal schedule, since most of my classes at DePaul fell in the evenings or Saturday mornings (it was a program devised to appeal to people who already worked but wanted to pursue an MA in Lit.)  I, however, besides working in a coffee shop for a bit, managed to live on a combination of student loans and credit cards during those years that allowed me ample time to study and write--again, the sort of free time I would never have again. I was thinking about this period of time in my life tonight--especially in winter--when last  couple of week's break from the library had me reverting back to those old sleep schedules--staying up til around 5 am and sleeping well into the afternoon.  Though I'm cautious this time of year over the lack of daylight, how short those days in the light seem, but, oh,  how long the nights are.  Still though, my peak creative time. Lately I've been writing poems in the daytime, but I do my best editing/revising and sense making at around midnight.

But then again, 20 years ago, I was just beginning to write sort of seriously for the first time.  Or maybe I should say beginning to write with any sort of skill or success, and so most of those nights found me propped in front of re-runs on tv (Freinds and X-Files were on every night like clockwork), word processor on my lap, banging out the first poems that had anything like promise.  This would be the year that I got my first acceptance.  The year that I set out to write my first book manuscript and misguidedly submit it before I turned 25 .  I was still freaking out about my future then, still trying to talk myself into and out of getting my Ph.D. I was also nearing the end of my grad school security blanket and knowing that unless I did go the further schooling route, I would have to get a real job and support myself.  My nights were spent writing, but my day's were spent in the Depaul library, hunting down books by women poets and hauling stacks back to my tiny studio apartment--Sharon Olds, Ann Sexton, Carolyn Forche, Luoise Gluck.  Were spent reading for my MA comp exams, that year's list which included my first influental encounter with Rita Dove, but also Toni Morrison, James Joyce, a smattering of Shakespeare and Dickens and my favorite of the titles, Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea.   

At some point, it occurred to me that the only option for the future I really had was to continue writing. To center myself there in the poetry, and not really wanting to teach or write scholarly essays for the rest of my life,  I would have to find some sort of non-stressful but bookish job that would allow me the bandwidth to write in my off hours. It took me a while to settle into it, but libraries were an obvious answer, and one that has allowed me to support myself while my creative pursuits sustained me mentally but not fiscally all these years.  And also, how important the writing and creative things have sustained centered me, not just in how I spend my time and the goals I work toward, but who I am as a person while the world spins around you and constantly threatens to knock you for a loop.

Tonight, I crashed kind of early around 10 after eating too much Mexican food and getting sleepy but was wide awake at 1am. Coming  out to my desk and turning on the space heater, getting a cup of tea and opening my laptop to write this post (knowing that tomorrow, it being Saturday, I can sleep til my heart's content.)  But there's something comforting about these nighttime excursions at the keyboard that I really love and how I feel most like myself when I feel like the only person in the world still awake.... 

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