the witching hour

how i became a morning person

Bit by bit over the past year, I’ve realized the unthinkable has happened: I’ve become a morning person.

I started off very much on the late night end of the spectrum, although in high school the distinction seemed a little irrelevant. I was chronically sleep deprived during the week and stayed in bed until 11 a.m. on weekends trying to make up for lost time.

My first semester of college was full of late-night conversations in the lounge below my room. We alternated between pseudo-philosophical talks (what was the point of Brown? What did it mean to be happy? Did we really want to be happy? What were we doing with our lives?) and binging on weird YouTube videos (If you’ve never seen “sail fail cat” I highly recommend you stop reading this and go look it up). This would usually begin under the guise of “studying,” and culminate in a pilgrimage to Jo’s for mozzarella sticks sometime between 1:15 and 2:00. Usually, my homework would get done too, and I would go to bed sated and happy, knowing that this was how friendships formed.

Nighttime was when the defenses of the day wore down, and in college it was the first time that I would not be the only person awake. It was when these discussions were supposed to happen, hopes and dreams and fears shared and explored. But it quickly settled into its own rhythm.

In college late night seemed part of everyone’s schedule. It would be unthinkable for a library to close before 1:00, and three dining halls on campus are open until at least midnight. I speak from my own experience, from a thankfully limited number of all-nighters working on problem sets and lab reports that may just be routine for other students.

Night seemed normal in this microcosm of the world.

My second year at Brown I scaled things back on weeknights. My roommate used to joke that I went to bed earlier than most third graders (around 12:30, for the record), and I would get up around 9:00 on a good day. I realized I missed the sunshine that winter cut down on more and more each year.

Sometimes I would go to the gym in the morning. Walking to the Bear’s Lair soaked in sunlight made me feel good about myself, proud of my pale imitation of responsible young adulthood.

Now, as a junior, I have to be at work by 7:00 on Tuesday mornings. This goes beyond anything I’d do by choice, but has definitely helped me to establish my newfound habit of early waking. On my way to the bathroom to put in my contacts, I consistently run into the same friend, who, shower caddy in hand, is on his way to bed.

Walking around the campus before sunrise, or grabbing a to-go box from the Ratty once it opens at 7:30, I’m struck by how many people, bucking the norm, seem to have caught onto the morning and show up fully awake every day.

College campuses are quiet in the morning. Most places are if you’re up early enough, but here that quiet extends past seven, eight, and sometimes nine as if it were the middle of the night. Birds chirping, everything smooth and wet and delicate, feeling new and fragile like the surface of an egg.

To me it’s a more comfortable kind of solitude than the middle of the night, a set of moments romanticized for their isolation, for being cold, dark and mysterious. The night is supposedly a time when truth is laid bare, when creativity happens, when some self-sacrifice yields a profound product. There may be some truth in this, and some escapism in clinging to the morning, when sunlight helps to melt snow and doubt. But is it night itself, that particular time of day, that has this ability to draw out something secret, something more real, or just any time when living in the world is not the first task at hand? I wonder at the notion that any one time can serve the same function for everyone.

I know that most people live much more in the real world than I do. The support staff at Brown, the business workers on Thayer, parents and teachers at all the schools in Providence, 9-to-5ers and commuters to Boston, all living bits of circuitry that overlap and make a city run and create a world.

I remember cramming myself into the 4 train, a packed sardine can speeding under the East River into Manhattan, at 7:00 in the morning. With several braceleted arms curled around me in an attempt to grab on to a pole, I fantasized about what it would be like to go to school in the suburbs and have the quiet shelter of a car or a school bus.

Weirdly, I’ve found that quiet and shelter at that same time of day, a few hundred miles north. Waking up feeling like the day is something plentiful and luxurious and comfortable and deserving of coffee, I find myself much more productive and better off than when I’m trying to get my act together at night.

In a little more than a year I will probably not have the choice. Hopefully and probably, I’ll be in a situation where I, like most of the rest of the world, have a similar schedule every day that involves commuting somewhere in the morning. And unless I’m willing to get up before the sun (I’m not), night might become my only option.

There is something unmooring and exciting about late nights, especially in college. And every once in a while I’ve stayed up through the night and felt invigorated for it. But for now, I cherish the mornings that have somehow become the most peaceful part of my day.