Not long ago, on a visit home to family, I proudly announced one morning that I had stayed up until almost 2am the night before reading an article on circadian rhythms. The irony was just too delicious. The interesting part of the article concerned the effects of artificial light—lamps, and even computer screens—on our body clocks. This could go a long way to explaining my nocturnal tendencies, in addition to the fact that, if I’ve been practicing late, the music runs through my head until almost sunrise.
Years ago I got down on myself for being an owl. I felt guilty. Early birds carry this air of self-righteousness with them, as though the only way to get any work done is to get a jump start on the monks at la Grande Chartreuse, and these attitudes sometimes gave me a complex. Finally, one of my uncles boxed me on the ears and said, “If you work best at night, do it.” I was cured of my guilt, and the self-flagellation came to a halt.
For all the advantages of being an owl, there are disadvantages. Perhaps the most obvious is that you are out of sync with the rest of the world. As something of a misanthrope, I find there to be many benefits to this: I eat at off hours, and I even shop, walk, and run at off hours, and the quiet is a good thing for me. Too many people demand interaction from this introvert, so I simply do my best to avoid them. But eventually there comes a day when, after eating lunch at 3pm and starting my work at 4pm, a friend invites me to dinner at 5pm. Then I am faced with an unbearable choice: stay home and get work done and be alone, or go out and eat when I’m not hungry and fall a day behind in my tasks.
Compounding this whole situation is the fact that I’m desperate for light. In the winter, I can get very depressed because of the darkness, and so in about September I have to start being very careful about how late in the day I awake.
Surely by now some of you are beyond incredulous. ”This is what he considers to be a problem?” In fact, I have a couple of friends who are jealous of what they consider to be my easy lifestyle. But it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In anything on this side of Eden, there are pluses and minuses, and the minuses have started to get to me. Being too extreme an owl, I’ve noticed, can rob one of vital energy, and, if there are “show-face” commitments in the schedule, the day can start to feel cramped very quickly. In short I would say that my lifestyle is different from, but no easier than, the 9-5 approach. The work still needs to be accomplished.
But should I bother to change? I’m sure there’s a Reader’s Digest article out there somewhere, or a keynote speaker at a local Rotary meeting, who has claimed that the only healthy way to live is to be out of bed before the cows are milked, but I’m inclined to think of such endeavors as merely an effort to get everyone to go with the flow and to be conventional, which is something I resist out of principle. Maybe it’s best simply to leave my routine the way it is and reinterpret the facts a little. For every person who hates night owls, there’s someone who admires them, even if such admiration is tinged with envy. Then there are those who say that such nocturnal habits are a sign of genius: A friend of mine relates that Murray Rothbard, surely a great mind, worked all night long and refused to teach morning classes. I, however, as a jackass, can lay no claim to genius.
The truth of this whole situation may well lie in beauty. More than once, after an evening of revelry, a friend will ask me how I’m getting home. ”I’ll walk.” Almost to a man they have all been in disbelief about this, but I assure them that I love long walks at night. Nighttime, in fact, is gorgeous. It is quiet, and it always seems as though a great space yawns before me in which I can accomplish a lot of thinking. It is a heavenly abyss, a cloud of unknowing, a place in which Eternity opens up into time. It is stillness and sweet harmony.
Maybe being an owl isn’t so bad after all.