“I want to wake up and think only about breakfast, not what I’m anxious about.” I said to my professor, a few months ago in his office. This was not related to the syllabus, but I had already felt the hot slide of tears begin down my cheeks. I felt stuck, incapable of writing anything worthwhile (okay, doing anything worthwhile). And I was crying in front of my thesis adviser. I also felt pretty stupid about that.
Crying, when you think about it, is the weirdest bodily function. Water coming out of eyes? Warm, small liquids?
But he seemed to understand.
The next day, he sent me an email:
We’ll find the poetic vein for you to mine soon. Stay positive! Don’t overthink! And just eat breakfast.
I have never been a morning person and that is god’s truth. I think I have lied about this before in casual conversations with Morning People: “Oh, right, mornings? Love them. Daybreak, AM I RIGHT?” This stems from my essential desire to be of their ilk; these people who waltz into the day singing musicals, who shower in coffee and never think twice about crawling back underneath the downy forest of sheets and staying there forever. These people are as strange and amazing to me as astronauts.
I have loved some mornings: the summer I lived on a farm we woke up at six and drove to the field in the truck, with Summer Dog in my lap. That was quixotic; a dream world of blueberry bushes and night dew against morning ankles. This was before I equated waking up with sadness: bed as lover, alarm clock as intruder. I assumed Morning People woke up and were not barricaded by anxieties, that long laundry-list of them that squared the unreturned library books and circled the future babies. Surely they don’t overthink — zero angst — surely they are a leaky faucet of positivity!
If crying in office hours was the confirmation, mornings were the first notice of depression. To wake up was to enter a day I was not eager to enter and to encounter the teenage-angst of what you might call Morning Emotions. I pressed snooze ten times. I brushed my teeth in the smudgy mirror and was not glad to see my face. I did not eat breakfast, and I certainly did not think about it: after the first ten minutes, a volume of stupid worries had imposed themselves on my imagination. I grew afraid of confronting the anxieties; of fighting off that heavy (but slightly adorable) bear that is sleep. And so, I punched the alarm clock and woke up angry that — surprise! — I hadn’t done any work for class.
Why do we do this? There is no way around getting up, but to get up. There is no way around getting over a slump but to get over the slump. There is no way to encounter tiny, shiny joys except to be awake for them. There is no way to make field notes, except for to be in a field.
I don’t mean to simplify the equation — ignore the bottle of medication sitting on my dresser, or the therapy appointments, or the longevity of said slump — because each person’s equation of guilt, sadness, or simply, a love of sleep; is nuanced and involves a lot of +’s and –‘s and %’s that I don’t know.
But it is also true that once I wake up and encounter the morning, things are not so bad: there are small planet-rings of coffee, there are eggs, there are books and, if one of my housemates is doing laundry upstairs; the blue smell of detergent wafting through basement vents. Often, what causes me to turn toward happiness is no more poetic then embracing the boring rituals that involve moving, stretching and brushing teeth. I can wait all my life for the mythical Plaid Dreamboat or Fascinating Opportunity, but perhaps, after all, the answer is much more accessible.
All my life I have struggled with this tendency to inhabit my thoughts rather than inhabit the what-and-what’s of the day, but what I want to live with is this advice each morning:
Just eat breakfast.
Not just because it is the most important meal of the day (it is) but because, otherwise, my routine takes a different turn: grumpily, I check my email (twitter, Facebook, the news) and my bulb of anxiety becomes a stubborn weed. It is not so much about the hour we’re awake at, but the way we’re awake. We are better than this, you and I — you, the morning person, you, the not-morning-person. Empathy is a room that must be furnished daily. Creativity is a room where you have to draw on the walls with crayon because otherwise, it stays the same. And sleep? Well, sleep is a room that needs to be exited when it’s time.
This past year, and this next year, I come home nights from work perfumed with sauces (tartar, balsamic, mustard) and, because I am a lazy showerer, I wake up perfumed in the same sandwich scents. But I have decided that working hard is sexy. And waking up is sexy. The sexiest people I know are people who work hard (and are not asleep, although sleeping people can be very sexy without knowing it). These things involve living consciously; living out the hard days with the smallest, most basic units of courage they require.
This is my favorite breakfast: toasted sandwich bread, peppered egg, orange juice and a textbook spilt out onto my desk. Coffee is pretty great, too.