A Long Night’s Journey Into Day
F. Scott Fitzgerald (author of “The Great Gatsby”) was, like many artists, an unstable person and drunkard. He was never among my favorite authors; nevertheless, amid his many collapses and psychological crack-ups (having Hemingway as a ‘friend’ probably didn’t help), he came up with a single line I always remember. He said: “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always 3 o’clock in the morning.”
Well, I’ve been there, and I understand what he meant. But there was also something wildly seductive about it all — those lost nights of the past I once knew — as if certain emotions can only be felt in the black hours, and certain experiences can only unfold in the dark. The world is just different at night, that’s all. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
The forest across the way from my home, for example. In the daytime I would have no qualms about walking there — as it rises up to form a small mountain above the sea — either with my dogs or alone. At night, maybe I could brave it if the dogs were with me — and a flashlight — but even then I would be uneasy. Also, the hungry, lonely forest dogs howl in unison deep in the bushy, nocturnal graveyards of the forest; one never sees them at all during the day. Why does night bring out such plaintive squeals from the core of their hearts? I would have to be as drunk as Fitzgerald ever was to go fooling around in that forest at night.
When I was little I was terrified of the dark. In my second-story bedroom in that old ramshackle house that stood over the woods at the very dead-end of Carson Street — that was back in West Virginia — I spent many a witching hour in mortal fear of demons rushing out of the closet or zombies with knives and bludgeons scaling the pole my grandfather had put up on the side of the house for his ham radio operations.
I KNEW there was nothing to worry about, and still my brain beat in my head like a thousand knuckles rapping the inner lining of my skull.
But we are often attracted to the things that frighten us, and I realized from an early age that I had a reckless, rebellious quality in me. It took only until my teenage years for me to make a very good friend indeed of the dark and the things that happen there. Accordingly, I recognized that my calling in life was to be a poet. Whether I ever got round to writing any actual poetry or not.
In truth I did write and I was a poet in earnest — sometimes good and sometimes bad — but I took my inspiration from melancholy rather than cheerful impulses. When I was happy I had no need to write: I was too busy simply living through the bright attractions of prosaic day. It was the night that brought out the craziness in me, and the bizarre assortment of samplings which I was hungry for. This seems to be true of many people who prefer the night. One of these years I’ll write a book and tell the story of my nights. Needless to say, a lot of those forays left me in bad shape for the following morning’s exigencies. Always passable as a student (which I was for a long, long time), my nocturnal escapades rendered me not such a marvelous EMPLOYEE. Name any job you want, I’ve probably been fired from it.
Then, belatedly — after all my unfortunate enablers died off or wandered away — I smartened up and life sharpened up. Literally, because many of the clever things I started doing, I did early in the morning. Yes, the good old Protestant Work Ethic kicked in. Now I get up at six o’clock in the A.M., drink some coffee, walk the dogs, and start working — like on the blog I am writing now as I wait, muttering with smug disgust, for the slothful world to wake up and come to their English lesson on Skype! The fitness center is also in the plans for the diurnal section of my 24-hour allotment, so by midday, I will feel on top of the world. Meanwhile, in Moscow, a lot of people I know — IT guys, programmers and the like, will just be slouching toward work.
O how superior I feel! The vampire has emerged from his coffin, REFORMED! Sometimes, I even fantasize about going out into the garden and revving up the lawnmower at 4 A.M. — Ho Ho Ho! — glancing at the neighboring windows as pallid, groggy faces appear through the pre-dawn steam of the glass and malignant fists are shaken at me while the engine roars and the grass flies. I imagine blowing a trumpet as the dogs and I go past the slumbering houses. “To the work !! — you IDLE SWINE !” I would shout gleefully, blowing my fabulous horn and disappearing into the dew like a Knight in Armour.
If I slept until noon nowadays, I would wake up feeling so depressed and empty, so behind in my schedule, that I most likely wouldn’t even attempt to do anything constructive. I would feel defeated. I would NOT be good company.
But I wondered about all of this, and why I now feel this way, after so many years of riding the night-train. I have done a little research and learned a few of the reasons why some people function better at night and others during the day. The word the researchers like to use is “chronotype”. (I used to hear a lot of about biorhythms and, you know, I still believe it’s true — that we have different energy cycles which can account for moments of intense creativity followed by periods of lethargy). Thus, there are “larks” (morning people) and “owls” (night people) — and it’s OK to be either one.
Apparently, morning people tend to be more agreeable, conforming, pro-active, and basically efficient in the time-honored areas of punctuality, getting stuff done on time, etc. They tend not to be big drinkers and smokers and more conservative sexually (not always out trying to score with the dolly birds of the night clubs, etc). And because they don’t come to work looking like an unmade bed, their mouths still reeking of the previous night’s cocktails of a thousand poisons, we tend to give them style points for being of the “virtuous” category. The night people get kudos for being more creative, for thinking more “outside the box”. They are usually the misfit artists, the unemployable, genius-entrepreneurs, the lover-studs, etc.
I mean, no one ever remembered seeing Van Gogh out jogging in the park at 6 A.M. Or Dostoevsky in a 7 A.M. yoga class. Nor do pimps and prostitutes normally hook-up at the salad bar for “brunch.”
OK, so I am superior now! Better than you !! Why? Because I am AWAKE and you are ASLEEP! Right?
Nope, I think not. It comes from childhood, I really believed them (adults) when I was told that I needed eight hours of sleep or I would feel bad. And all those adages about “Early to bed and early to rise/Makes a man healthy, and wealthy, and wise.” It was instilled in me.
In Moscow, I would get FIVE hours and feel super-charged all day because of the stimulating people I knew. So the eight-hour mandate was only well-meaning, morality-inspired brainwashing. Nevertheless, it is a fact that now, at age 69, I am much, much, much more efficient and productive — and yes, CREATIVE, than I ever was as a 25-year-old night-crawler. At this point in my life, I am completely reliable and people respect me for it. Now my word is GOOD.
But there is a cabin in my mind, a grimy locker in my soul, where the drugs and the whiskey are still kept. Sometimes, I long for a little night music. I want to be on the midnight train and ride through the wee and desperate hours. (because in a real dark night of the soul it is always 3 o’clock in the morning, remember?), Sometimes I long to go back, to find a hooker with the right look in her eyes and a cheap hotel, and dance in the bed with that wonderful sister-of-the-dark until the owls grow silent and the larks of the unforgiving morning appear like police at the window. I miss that.
I miss it. Maybe it’s because, for all the belated emergence of practical skills and rules-of-the-road common sense which have brought me to the point where the neighbors no longer draw down their shades when I walk past and where even a policeman might say “Good morning” instead of going for his gun, there remains something of the incorrigible pagan in my spirit, like a dark bride, or a gypsy woman whispering “Honey.” and flashing golden teeth in the dying candle light of a derelict room. It is who I really am.
===Eric Richard Leroy==