Writing Is My Morning Coffee
And now I know why.
I have always been a morning person. My parents noticed early on that I was up before the crack of dawn every day. I was either taking a walk along Inglewood Boulevard or pouring all the cereal into a big pile on the kitchen floor. Whatever I was doing, I did it before my siblings got up, and my early morning activities were usually interrupted by one or both of my parents.
For sleepovers, I was the one who was awake before everyone else. On camping trips, I got to watch my friends and family sleep while I enjoyed the peace and quiet of early morning in the great outdoors. Even in my party days, if you can call playing Uno into the wee hours with 6 other guys while indulging in recreational cannabis a party, I was already up and driving home long before anyone else stirred.
I didn’t need an alarm clock for much of my life. I think I tried one for a month or two, but gave it up when I realized that I could not reliably hear it since I’m mostly deaf in one ear and partially deaf in another ear. After waking up late a few times before work, I decided to rely upon myself to wake on time.
I have a built-in alarm clock in my head. It’s like there is something within me that says, “It’s 5:30 in the morning! Time to get up!”, and I’d get up. I have even “set the time” in my head when to wake up just before I go to sleep, and I usually hit it within a few minutes.
All of this happened long before I was writing on a computer in the morning. That is a relatively recent change in my life. I’ve been using computers since 1987, the internet since around 1992 or so, but didn’t do much early in the morning. I started writing a morning page and gratitude list around 2008. Since I’ve been getting up early before computers became a big part of my life, I just figured it’s genetics.
Then again, I have two daughters that don’t rise before the crack of dawn like I do. They really take after their mother. She likes to stay up late, reading, watching videos, sometimes chatting on the phone with her relatives in Vietnam.
There was something else going on, too. My wife Alice, was a co-sleeper with my kids. I think this is great and it helps them to develop empathy and to feel safe. But she didn’t really have an exit plan. So I’ve spent the last four years working on an exit plan. I read Ferber. I read all sorts of articles on the internet but just could not figure out why I like to wake so early and my kids can hardly bring themselves to get up before 7.
When my kids wake late, they want to stay up late. I’ve tried all manner of inducements to encourage them to go to sleep earlier, but to no avail. So I took them to a sleep specialist to see if maybe there might be something wrong. But I was also thinking I could pay $50 to pick the brains of an expert and come up with some ideas, too.
I checked my insurance website and found a few covered specialists. I made calls until I found one that wasn’t booked out until September. And that was in July. Which is kind of odd. We pay twice as much in GDP as the other industrialized nations in Europe for our healthcare, but seeing a doctor can still be difficult. Anyway, I found one, made an appointment and took the kids there.
Two days before the appointment, I’m thinking of Ferber again. I didn’t Ferberize my kids when they were young because my wife and I objected to the method. Leave your infant in the crib or bed to sleep and listen. Then when she cries, come in to soothe her and wait longer when you leave. Keep track of the time so that each time, you wait a little longer before coming in so that she will go to sleep on her own.
See, Ferber got the right idea by noticing that people associate their environment with sleep. When we fall asleep, we take note of our environment. Then, when we wake briefly during the night, usually several times each night, we check our environment to see if everything is still the same. If not, we get up to set things right and go back to sleep.
The problem is, babies can’t do this. Since a baby can’t set the environment back to the way it was when they fell asleep on their own, they cry. Then we come in to soothe him or her. This is the problem with co-sleeping. Babies and toddlers associate sleep with the parent who is co-sleeping with the child. Then when the co-sleeping parent wakes to see his or her child is asleep, the parent goes back to their own bed, changing the conditions that the baby fell asleep with. Can you see how this cycle goes?
Well, my kids are old enough that it seems like they should know how to fall asleep on their own, but have never really learned how to do this. I’ve seen the studies that say that kids who co-sleep with their parents have more empathy. Yeah, that might be true, but if they can’t set their own time to go to sleep, then sleep comes when complete exhaustion sets in.
So while I was talking to the sleep specialist about Ferber, I told her how I was working with the elder child and that I was using a timing method to help her fall asleep. “I’ll come back in 5 minutes”. Then 10, then 15, and by then she’d be asleep on her own. The sleep specialist told me that I’m on the right track, “But if you want her to go to sleep earlier, she must wake up earlier. To set her body clock for an earlier bedtime, you need an earlier rising time. And the best way to do that is with light. Light in the eyes is what sets the body clock to rise.”
Huh. That’s neat. So I need bright light to help my daughter rise earlier, then she will go to sleep earlier.
A week goes by…
Another week goes by…
And a light turns on over my head. Bright light. Body clock. Writing is my morning coffee. Yeah, I wrote an article with that title a few years ago.
For years now, I’ve said to myself and others that writing is my morning coffee. But I didn’t understand exactly why until a few days ago. I write on a computer screen. White background with black text. At 4 am or maybe 5 if I stay up too late.
The bell rings in my head. Ding, ding! I get up early in the morning to write and I look at this bright screen to write my morning page and my blogs. The computer screen is setting my body clock so that I can set my time to rise just by exposing myself to this screen early in the morning.
As far as I can tell, there is nothing that I want to change here. I like to get up early in the morning to write and listen to quiet music. This is my time of reflection and introspection. This is my quiet time to pour my words onto the screen, to edit and to publish. I fall into a certain state of mind, not quite a reverie, not quite a mediation. Whatever it is, I enjoy it. So I write.
And now that I know why writing is my coffee, I can decide when I want to wake up.