When I was a kid I wanted to stay up as late as humanly possible, sometimes inventing fake “illnesses” in order to stay up just a little bit longer. Then I became a pre-teen and discovered 90210. But it came on at 9 o’clock, which also happened to be my bedtime, and my mother was super-strict. Luckily I got a VCR as a teenager and was able to record it, but it just wasn’t the same. You know?
Finally I became a young adult and I could pretty much stay up as late as I wanted. So I did. Often back then I wouldn’t go to sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning. The problem was of course dragging myself up out of bed when the alarm clock sounded the next morning, always way too soon for my tastes. Oh yeah, and I was in college, so I can’t tell you how many morning classes I missed due to my night owl habits. In fact, I showed up for one of my morning classes 3 whole times one semester.
It was pretty obvious I would have to find some balance or I would fail all my classes just for lack of attendance. But I just was not tired when a “normal” bedtime would come around. 8 o’clock, nope. 9 o’clock, still wide awake. 10 o’clock, just getting started. 11, 12, 1, and the time would keep moving while I watched TV, played video games, read books, listened to music, or all of the above at the same time.
Sometimes my mother would stop by my room on her way to bed and wish me a good night, giving me the look that said, “You know you should be going to bed too,” without actually saying the words. Her point was a valid one, one that I finally had to confront head on when at the end of my third college semester the school placed me on probation. You see, I hadn’t shown up to any of my classes for four weeks, and some of my professors thought I had dropped. When I arrived two classes before the final exams they told me in stereo that I wouldn’t be able to take the test. I hadn’t logged enough hours of seat time in each course.
That hit me like a ton of bricks. All the time I spent staying up late, getting up whenever I felt like it, it was all coming back to poison me like some erstwhile apple in fairy tales. There was no longer any time to “take care of it later.” The time was upon me, and I began making some drastic changes.
I used my VCR to copy 90210 and began watching it in the afternoons instead of the evenings. I set a rigid time of 9 pm to go to bed, and I challenged myself to stick to that time. I began listening to music to soothe me to sleep. Ah, the smooth lullaby sounds of Metallica did the trick. And I set my alarm for a full two hours before I needed to be in class, because, guess what? I decided to walk to school in order to keep me healthy, to get me active in the morning, and to save cash by not taking the subway.
At first the project was a dreadful one. I would get to bed by 9 but not get to sleep until 11 or later, tossing and turning in the process. Then I found new music to help me out. Enya did a little better than Metallica when it came to soothing the savage beast. I began getting up before the alarm went off, the infamous internal alarm starting to kick in. That first morning I looked like something the cat hacked up, but by the 10th day in I was doing okay. That schedule lasted for the next two semesters, and I began to realize that I honestly could train myself to do things differently, that once a night owl didn’t have to mean always a night owl.
I mean, the early bird gets the worm, right? Now, fifteen years after those two semesters of trained monkey-hood, I can honestly say that the experiment helped me recognize my potential, and gave me a new lease on what I was able to do when I put my mind to it. Did that mean I stopped being a night owl? No. My body is still tuned that way, even though I can control it to an extent. I do most of my best writing at night. I feel more comfortable at night. Maybe because I’m home and I know I’m not going anywhere, and for the most part I have nowhere to be. Because no matter how early I get up in the morning, the day is still going to be interrupted somewhere, and while the early bird may get the worm, what comes after the worm?
I feel more fulfilled at night, like I’ve accomplished something even if I haven’t. I’m an adult now, though, with adult responsibilities, and a job that requires me to be up early in the morning, so I can still flip the switch when I have to, but when I have two or three days off in a row it’s easy to slip back into those easy patterns, to go to bed whenever I feel like it instead of forcing myself to go at the prescribed time. It’s not like it used to be back then, though, when 90210 was king. But what ever is?