I call myself a ‘morning person’. Yes, when teaching I do have to work in the afternoons, but I find that, for any important creative work (some of which I find I have to do every day of my life), I have to prioritise the morning.
There have been times, when I had lots of teaching to do as well as several texts on the go, with deadlines, that my mornings started to cut into my nights, because I started getting up earlier and earlier so as to elongate my morning and the period of maximum and highest quality creativity. During one such period I started getting up regularly at 5 am rather then 6, then at 4.30 and then at 4. In a way, that is my ideal, rarely attained, but if it could be sustained, who knows what might be possible? Sad to say, it makes me think of how our lives and potentials are compromised by those demands that exhaust us even in the basic act of keeping ourselves fed, watered and sheltered.
Nevertheless, I learned long ago to avoid resentful conflicts and to rather see every aspect of my life holistically and as continuous, not divided into warring fragments. And so, when I am not writing or don’t have the energy or inspiration to write, I satisfy myself that I have written and that I will write, and that every experience can flow into my writing, just as my writing flows into me and my world in an inexorable and undeniable reciprocity.
It wasn’t always so easy and clear to declare myself a ‘morning person’. In fact it wasn’t until my forties that I was able to start feeling I could establish any traits within myself and stop broiling away my life in a serous of risky experiments and fatal strategies, knowing neither myself nor the world sufficiently to be able to construct a life out of the materials available to me.
When living alone in my 30s, for seven years as a kind of hermit, searching for a way to understand myself and what kind of artist I might be, as well as how I might simply survive, I had some strange dialogues with the day and the night. Unemployed, and surviving on benefits, I was – as they say ‘time rich’. I lived a strangely aristocratic life as an impoverished person. And so I would sometimes spend the entire night writing and drinking cheap green tea until the sun rose. I had no structured time of the kind that orders and organises the modern, capitalist, technologised and consumerist world in which I found myself.
I can recall watching both sun and moon pass slowly across my window, and writing long poems about that cosmic fact. Or listening to looped tapes of favourite albums (Radiohead, Al Green, Faure’s Requiem … ) through the formless day and through the night, sleep coming and going as and when it wished, and the two (night and day) having little distinction. Like the first time I sailed on a yacht out of sight of all land and all other human beings, I felt myself to be outside of society’s time, a truly timeless human spirit, someone connected to infinite and eternal things. And that, of course, is ideally where and how the artist and writer, the poet and songsmith should and would reside if they possibly could.
A neighbour I had at that hermetic time, in a street and a house that seemed to be populated by starving artists of various kinds (unemployed actors, recent arts graduates), once told me that he had walked home one summer night at 4 am and heard me, from the other end of the street, typing energetically away on an old typewriter. A wonderfully romantic image, and one which I feel glad and proud to have created.
Today, the demands on my time and creative abilities are almost entirely consumed by the significant demands of teaching, which, in return, just about keeps wolves from my door. Still I manage, in whatever gaps and chances I get, to continue with all my most cherished artistic practices. I write as often as I can and publish my writing in a variety of ways (including artists’ books, academic articles, this Blog etc.).
In my early career I was consumed by my passion for photography but now I restrict that form of expression to smartphone pictures uploaded to social media. In doing so I sometimes miss my old professional aspirations re photography but reconcile this with the thought that photography was always a newly democratic form or artistic expression, never just the privilege of professionals, so my relatively careless and carefree exposures are perhaps now, more than ever, in the true spirit of photography.
Large parts of my life and career have also been dedicated to playing and writing and performing music. Again, I am not able to pursue this as much as I feel I would like, but continue to make, record and publicise as much of my music as I can.
Again, it’s important to do all of this without any sense of conflict, resentment or too strong a sense of compromise. I might fear sometimes that I have become a dabbling dilettante, and yet there is a unique sequence of influence running between these various interests, so that my songwriting influences my article writing, my photographs influence my teaching etc. Every artist must make their peace, it seems, with their particular economic scenario (time rich / money poor, or money rich / time poor etc.), along with the particular and especially the idiosyncratic or unique technical and creative abilities they have been given to hone in their own way.
But to return to the initial theme here, before closing, I will always be a morning person, and often wish the whole of my day could be one long free morning fueled with fresh energy from excellent sleep. But I am happy to take and greet and use as best as I can every free morning that I am given in which to do my best creative work. Meanwhile, I can learn to love the afternoon too, as a time when I have to live and work in other ways, but relieved of the burden of feeling I have to create.
I’ll just illustrate this post with Wikipedia’s idealistic and rural (and slightly fuzzy) image of ‘morning’.