Derek is Still Asleep
Someone once said that guilt is just "feeling jealous of yourself."
I've arranged my life in such a way that mornings are the time when I feel most jealous of myself. I have no pets and no children. I also have an eight minute walk to work, so I have no commute. Other than my friends who work from home, I don't know anyone else who has managed to pull this off in Los Angeles.
My co-worker who has a young daughter and lives in one of LA's more distant exurbs, says that he thinks about me when he's waking up before dawn and says to himself: "Derek is still asleep." An hour later, when he's sitting in traffic on the 101, still 40 minutes from the office, he again thinks: "Derek is STILL asleep."
And it's true. Most days, I am. Mornings are an indulgent time for me. I have a great deal of natural light in my apartment, and I don't HAVE to be awake until almost 8:45a, so I have the luxury of never having to set an alarm.
I wake up naturally sometime between 7a and 8a. Depending on how early I'm awake, I do triage on the things I NEED to do like fundamental basic grooming for the day, and the things I'd LIKE to do: make breakfast, make a pot of coffee, do 15 to 20 minutes of stretching, sit down at the piano and play a little bit, read the New Yorker Talk of the Town articles, etc.
I'm neither a morning nor a night person. It's unpredictable what my most productive hours are going to be on any given day, so if I wake up early enough with mental energy, I might take on a writing project. If I know I have a difficult piece to write for work that day, and I'm clear-headed at 6a, I'll grab my laptop, get back in bed and hammer out a first draft, bleary-eyed.
I then know I can roll in to work a little late, and still come out ahead. Morning is the time that can set my perspective for the rest of the day. I hate the feeling of coming in to work, feeling like I'm dragging myself there. So if I've done something I've enjoyed already in the day, I feel like I've got a head start.
I'm so slow in the morning that it makes my wife laugh. She, after all, is the night owl. But once she's up, she's up, dressed and out the door, all complete as I'm still bumbling about the kitchen trying to figure out how to make coffee.
One of the things about starting my career in newspapers is that it wasn't an early morning job. Generally one couls roll into work about 9:30 a.m. and there was a good chance you'd be one of just a few people in the office. A huge amount of the work had to be done at the end of the day. After the reporting, after the writing... then there was the editing, copyediting, headline writing, designing. All that has changed, of course, as stories now get published continually all day, not just when the presses run.
Either way, it suited me fine to work from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and I somewhat still do that. Since I work for myself, no one but the cats notice if I get to my desk at 8:30 a.m. or 10 a.m. And in the years that I've been self employed, my morning routine has grown and grown.
I wake up about 7:30 and actually rise 10 to 20 minutes after that. This is key time for snuggling with Amy and petting cats. I used to shower every morning when I went to the office, mostly because the hot water jump-started the waking process. I don't bother now, especially if I'm going to the gym later. I wake up at this time most weekends too because on Sundays I have to be at church at 9 a.m.
I eat the same thing every morning. Exactly the same thing. Bob's Red Mill Museli (preferably the gluten-free variety, which has coconut flake in it) mixed with whole milk greek yogurt, topped with blueberries. I get sick of this maybe 10 times a year and have a regular bowl of cereal. I drink a pint of water. And I make a cup of dark, strong pour-over coffee.
Then I start on the "newspapers," which are really all apps on my iPad. My iPad is essentially nothing more than a newspaper delivery device. It lives on the kitchen counter, where I sit to eat, and depending on how interesting I find things, I'll get through the top news of the New York Times, Washington Post and maybe Los Angeles Times. (We do get the latter delivered in print, too, but Amy has at this point grabbed it and taken it to work.)
If something has properly outraged me in the day's news -- and it often does -- I write an immediate postcard to the president. I keep a stack of pre-stamped postcards next to the iPad. That helps me focus and gives me some closure to my political ire.
Then I sit to meditate. This is a new addition since February. I wouldn't necessarily do it first thing in the morning, but I have found that I am more habitual about it if I do it then. Otherwise I tend to forget. Then I might do my 40 Days writing assignment, justifying that by saying it's part of my mental warm up for my writing work.
By now, it is 9:37 a.m. or so and I am just getting to work, having not driven anywhere.
Morning As Usual Until I Toss The Gravy
The morning routine of the job has me arriving at the restaurant at 7:00 AM. Then I wait tables for an hour or so, while my boss, Eddie Callahan, the chef and owner of the place is making breakfasts. As the restaurant slows down from breakfast, I take over filling short orders while he starts making his luncheon plate special. Today it looks like meat loaf. Eddie is fat and irritable most of the time. The lunches look a lot like what they serve in the high school cafeteria.
It is my second week of work. The restaurant is not far from my house and I got the job from LuLu LaBreque, who runs an employment agency in our town. I spend the first few days cleaning out a disgusting shed out back where sacks of potatoes had been rotting for weeks. Then I move up to waiter and kitchen boy. I just graduated from high school. Eddie knows I am going to college and he calls me “college boy.”
After breakfast, I start cleaning the pots and pans, and washing the breakfast dishes. Pot washing is the hard job and when I finish I take a break. Now it is time to get ready for lunch. Eddie puts a sign out front advertising the special of the day, and Rosy the cashier arrives. Eddie believes that half the people who come for lunch only do so to see Rosy. And he may be right because she is pretty and friendly –all smiles all the time.
“Hey college boy,” Eddie calls out, “Where’s my gravy?” I dart back to the kitchen where I see Eddie, his face turning red. He’s holding up the clean pot that he says was full of gravy for the meat loaf. “Sorry, Eddie, I thought that was a dirty pot.” And now he really blows up and starts yelling. “That’s it, you’re fired. Get out of here.”
About a year later I found out that Eddie had been arrested, that the state police had searched the restaurant and found guns hidden in the ceiling. I never found out the details of what Eddie had done or what happened to him.
The Life That's Left
My mornings now are a result of adaption more than desire, but I've been on this schedule long enough now that I'm more or less used to it.
My day, one could say, starts at two or three in the morning, when I often get up, or at least try to. It's not entirely my choice, but there's much about it that I like. For one, it's nice and quiet at that hour up where I live, in the California high desert sort of between Palm Springs and Big Bear.
Where I live isn't even a city or town, it's just part of the county of San Bernardino and is officially a Census Designated Place, which I think means the government knows it's there. My closest neighbor is about 100 yards away, and the few homes up here are scattered.
That's important to my schedule because one thing I love about this place is that it's quiet and dark, two things I never had when I was living in Los Angeles. In the dark of night, I get an unbelievable view of the night sky, not only because of the attitude (about 3000' in elevation) but also the absence of any tall buildings or trees anywhere within view.
So, I like to go out and look at the sky, but even that isn't the reason I get up so early. It's more because of ... technology?
There's no broadband up here, something I got used to when I lived in the developed world, which I think is because no company is going to spend the money to run a cable ten miles away from where there's a larger group of people.
I decided, instead of getting a land line and using dial up, to get a satellite connection, which is severely limited and slower than you can imagine. If you want numbers, I get to download 250Mb a day at speeds up to 300 kbs. That's about 100 times slower than anyone I know, and represents an amount of daily data they could chew up in five minutes.
So, I've learned to get up so early because my plan gives me unlimited free download from two in the morning until seven, so I've learned to get up then to look at YouTube videos, listen to music, browse and get stuff from the internet, and look at the stars and enjoy the cooler weather when it's summer.
Since that's ungodly early and usually means I didn't get my eight hours, around four in the morning or so I go back to bed for what I call "second sleep." My dogs, for some reason, really like this, much more than my normal bed time, and I catch a couple more hours of sleep before getting up at a more reasonable six o'clock.
Another compromise because, to be honest, iin the summer it gets too goddamned hot by nine in the morning to do anything, so I only have a few hours to get anything done.
Yes, I get up at an ungodly hour, drink two cups of coffee, get some things done, then sleep until I need to go to the bathroom, then get up all over again. In the summer I wear so little that it takes no time to get decent, and in the winter my whole life revolves around staying warm.
Which means spending as much time as I can in bed, under blankets and comforters and cuddling dogs as closely as possible.
According to me, anyway, it's a life.
I step out of bed, avoiding cats who think being underfoot will get them fed faster. They are, typically, the first focus of my attention each morning, so getting their bowls filled is not much choice. Otherwise -- I do believe them -- they will die of starvation, because it has been 10 hours since they last ate.
I also have no choice carrying out the typical requirements of our flawed human form. That is, I use the available items in the bathroom: toilet, sink, no choice. Shower, choice.
Then come the choices that make this my favorite time of day: fixing myself a cappuccino, reading the paper, pulling a cat into my lap in the chaise longue. It's usually dark so I put on one lamp in the corner of the room, which makes the room and, it seems to me at the time, the whole world seem cozy and quiet.
Then too soon, no choice, I must get ready for work, leaving the house in time to get to the metro in time to get downtown by 9.
Why choose to fix and drink the cappuccino? The coffee I do because I see no reason to part with that addiction. I enjoy the ritual of preparing it and the joy of sipping it as I read is a lovely luxury.
Why read the paper? Recently this, in fact, has become a choice I question. Reading a paper, as my mother once said, was the equivalent of dogs sniffing each other when they meet: What's going on? Where have you been? From the paper I learn these things about my city, this country, and other people around the world. But I am grappling with the need to keep up on the day-to-day doings of the reality show that is today's politics. So these days I sometimes choose instead to read literature that takes a long view on history and humankind and our foibles, figuring I can catch up on the headlines on my metro ride into work.
As for how I wake up: Even as I walk toward the escalator at the metro downtown that takes me to the street, I'm sometimes not sure I am awake.
I am around loud, rowdy boys, all day, every day. They either belong to me or I teach them. Noise is the dominant feature in the majority of my waking hours, so my mornings are my time to find quiet, peace and solitude.
I generally start at the crack of "you've gotta be kidding me" with my alarm. No need for anything that will wake the dead; I am generally pretty good at getting up. No snooze button here. I learned years ago I would rather just set the alarm for later, and actually sleep rather than have multiple 9-minute naps.
My feet hit the floor and the cats begin meowing. Before any of my personal needs are met, it is feeding time at the zoo. Cats first, then dog, then coffee for the human. I excel at burning my mouth, so years of practice have shown me the importance of waiting a few minutes for the coffee to cool. I use this time to take care of a few personal necessities. That done, cats fed, coffee cooled, and it is time to go outside.
Even though I live in New England, the majority of days it is nice enough to go outside. Yes, it might be cold, but if I bundle up enough, it is okay for a few minutes. The summers are my favorite. I started this ritual because of the dog; he won't go anywhere without me, and that includes outside. I used to have to venture out into the yard with him, but thankfully I just need to be outside with him. The deck is fine.
I do some light weights and squats to wake up the old body while he is finding the perfect place to pee. If it is too hot or too cold, I go back in when he is finished, but if it is one of those beautiful mornings with crisp air and no humidity, I will bring my coffee, my phone, and my calendar outside and just sit.
In the quiet.
Surrounded by trees.
The sun peeking out behind the forest.
I would love to say I use the time to meditate or do yoga, but alas, I am not quite that enlightened. I use it to check Facebook, or Twitter, read my email and get a handle on the going's on of the world. This can take me 20 minutes during the school year, when the demands of start times and students come first. During the summer, that little exercise of sitting and just existing in nature could take me until the next human gets up - maybe 20 minutes, but maybe its an hour.
Just for me.
Time to think, to breathe, and just to be.
What a delightful way to start a day.
My phone might be trying to kill me
I wake up with my phone, and every time I do, I hate myself a little more. The inescapable, addictive habit of our age. For me, living alone, I find myself waking up with my phone, in addition to putting myself to bed by many rounds of facebook-instagram-twitter, instagram-twitter, instagram-twitter, out of a desire to connect with someone when I rise and when I go to sleep. A bit of a virtual "good morning" and "sleep well." The great irony is, the more I do this, the further from my center and the more crazily externally focused I feel, which is not a recipe for feeling connected to anything.
I used to live with roommates, and I do miss those touch points. Even if it's not someone you're sharing a bed with, it can be oddly touching, this "hello" and "goodbye," reminding us that even though we have people all around us, in the end we are ultimately solitary creatures.
After scrolling for far too long (and maybe even having hit the snooze button a few times before that), I make myself plant feet on the floor and force myself to a standing position. This is, of course, if my cat hasn't decided to wake me hours earlier by stepping on my face and giving me his mousie, a bedraggled $.99 gray fuzzy mouse toy with a shaker inside that he regularly places on my bed as a food offering, sometimes even helpfully washing it in his water bowl beforehand.
Regardless, I heave myself to standing and go to feed the cat. Then I stagger around a bit, late for work most days, figuring out what to wear and attempting to wash my face while unwittingly sharing the basin with the cat, whose own water source is apparently not good enough for him. (Don't get me wrong--he's amazing and adorable, but also very much "cat" right now. Like, he is a cartoon of a cat cliche).
I grab a TJ's pre-made salad out of the fridge and walk out the door. Breakfast and coffee are for the office.