It really is almost a transcendent joy—that moment when you know that you can safely roll back over and go back to sleep. Even those mornings when I wake up, look at the time, shuffle to the bathroom, then hurry back to the bed to collapse back in it and fall asleep for just eight or nine more minutes is so profoundly delightful as to leave me grinning an hour later.
Years ago, as I alluded to above, I happened to mention my enjoyment of such moments during a conversation with a friend, and her reaction was less than accepting. She could not understand why in the world I would roll over and go back to sleep. “If you get up, you have more time to get ready. You could have a fun, leisurely start to the morning instead of rushing around in a panic.” I pointed out that when I get out of bed when the alarm goes off, I don’t rush around in a panic. Going back to sleep until the alarm sounds is not the same thing as oversleeping. The bliss I was describing is that moment of knowing that I’ve still go time to sleep.
She also expressed a lot of skepticism about whether I actually slept during those few minutes. “You’re just laying there awake with your eyes closed! What’s the point?”
I knew, then, that the chasm between morning people and non-morning people is truly vast, and possibly insurmountable.
She was by no means the last person I found myself in this argument with. And it is an argument. She wasn’t just perplexed at the difference in our perception, she got more than a bit irritated. It really seemed to anger her that I would want to sleep for a bit longer, that I would go back to sleep for as little as a few minutes, that I would enjoy it, and that I would describe it as a wonderful thing. I think she felt that I ought to be ashamed of myself for not leaping out of bed the moment I realized that I had woken up before the alarm went off.
Since finding myself in this particular discrepancy of viewpoint on a number of occasions over the years with various people, I’ve developed my own definition of a true morning person which includes that intense belief that a proper response to waking up early is to embrace the wakefulness and leap into action.
When I say that I fall back to sleep for a few minutes, I mean it. I don’t always fall all the way back to sleep, of course. Sometimes I do lay there with my eyes closed, just enjoying the feel of the blankets. Other mornings I sort of doze, drifting along the edge of wakefulness, not really asleep, but definitely not awake either. But many mornings I do fall back into sleep. I’ve looked at the clock, saw that I had less than four minutes before the alarm goes off, and then fell back into sleep deeply enough that I started dreaming again before the alarm sounds.
Now, not everyone who doesn’t feel as I do about enjoying every last second of my allotted sleep time is a morning person. I’ve met plenty of people who don’t get that same thrill of satisfaction for falling back into bed for a bit longer in the morning who also don’t insist that the only normal or natural reaction to waking up a few minutes before the alarm goes off is to jump up and get an early start on the day.
So I know that there aren’t merely two kinds of people in the world on this particular topic. As with most things, people fall on a spectrum, and we probably all slide up and down that spectrum over time. While there is some science out there about chronotypes (a technical term for classifying people based on their natural circadian rhythm), it’s a mixed bag. A lot of the articles one finds talking about the “science” of morning people vs night owls are simply citing surveys, which isn’t very rigorous. Most of the more scientifically rigorous information is actually from studies of people with insomnia and sleep apnea and the like, which yields a lot of information that may be useful for treating sleep disorders, but doesn’t actually tell us much about healthy sleep patterns. All we can reliably infer from the science we do have is that people do have natural sleep patterns that vary from person to person.
It’s just as natural to be a night owl as not. And it isn’t productive to try to talk someone into being the other sort of person.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not claiming that I’m physically incapable of getting up early. Some mornings I wake up before the alarm goes off, and I decide to get up rather than roll over and get a little more sleep. Some mornings I sleep like a log right up until the alarm goes off. And yes, some mornings I hit the snooze alarm a time or two (snooze alarms are another source of bewilderment to a True Morning Person).
I like sleep. Even more, I like it when I get enough sleep that I feel rested and ready to work in the morning. As part of my taking-care-of-myself routine for some years, I keep track of bed times and make efforts to keep my sleep schedule from getting too far out of whack on weekends or on vacations. And part of that routine is letting myself enjoy, from time to time, those moments of voluntary sleep before the alarm.
In December 1991 Ray and I were spending our first Christmas living in our own place. It was a tiny studio apartment whose windows overlooked an alley behind a bar. I was in the middle of getting divorced. Ray had had a recent significant job change that was complicated by the involvement of one of his exes. So we were both broke and most of our personal property was at least temporarily in someone else’s custody.
His mom or his sister had given us a small artificial Christmas tree that had been boxed up in a garage for some time. Ray came up with a few old strings of Christmas lights somewhere. We had bought a single box of very cheap glass ball ornaments in multiple colors, and a similarly cheap tinsel star tree-topper with a cluster of lights. So we had the small tree perched on a chest of drawers. It’s the kind of first Christmas stories lots of couples tell. One of the things I really liked about that silly star treetopper is that it looked exactly like one my parents had bought when I was a baby, and had been my childhood treetopper until sometime in grade school when they replaced it with an angel.
One weekend a couple weeks before Christmas, we helped one of Ray’s friends, Miss Lee. She was an older woman that Ray had met when he had worked as a nursing aide a few years before. She had only recently moved from a nursing kind of facility to a sort of assisted living apartment. It was the first time in years that she had had more than a single room of her own, and she had recently gotten a bunch of her things that had been in storage at a relative’s house, including a box of Christmas ornaments. She had been told she could have a tree and that the maintenance staff would take care of disposing of cut trees after the holiday. So she needed someone with a car to take her to buy a tree, and then help her set it up.
Miss Lee lived in the south end of Seattle, not far from one location of the former Seattle institution known as Chubby and Tubby. Chubby and Tubby started as an army surplus store run out of a tin shed in the Rainier Valley neighborhood of Seattle by two friends after they came home from serving in WWII. They moved to a bigger location in Rainier Valley in the mid-50s, then opened at least two other stores (the one in north Seattle being the one I shopped at most often), before the owners passed away, then eventually their heirs sold the locations and closed down the stores in 2003. Chubby and Tubby was a strange store that’s really hard to describe. They sold blue jeans and tennis shoes and fishing poles and tools and gardening things and… well, just a whole lot of weird stuff. Always cheap.
And every December, each Chubby and Tubby store offered Christmas trees for sale, cheaper than you could find them anywhere else. In the 80s and 90s the price was alway $5 a tree, no matter what size. I’ve talked to people who remembered during the 70s when Chubby and Tubby trees were only $3. The owners sold the trees at a loss. They said they wanted to make sure that people who couldn’t afford a Christmas tree could have one. The trees were usually Douglas Firs, and they were… well, they were never very symmetrical. They were never as scraggly as the proverbial Charlie Brown Christmas tree, but they were always unique. I had purchased at least a couple of Chubby and Tubby trees in the years before this particular December. We hadn’t bought one ourselves that year in part because I didn’t think we’d be able to dispose of it easily afterward. Also, the loaned artificial tree was even cheaper.
Anyway, Miss Lee wanted a Chubby and Tubby tree, in part because she had fond memories of getting trees from Chubby and Tubby when she was younger, but also because you can’t beat the price. Before we’d gone to the store, we had untangled her strings of very old lights and determined that at least one of them was probably a fire hazard and shouldn’t be used. So she also hoped to find a cheap string of lights or two at Chubby and Tubby as well.
It was less than two weeks until Christmas, and Chubby and Tubby was absolutely packed. It took Miss Lee a while to pick out her tree, mostly because she wanted one small enough to fit in the spot she’d chosen in her living room. And then there were strings of lights and ornaments to look at. There was one particular string of Christmas lights that Ray was very taken with. A string of a couple dozen lights with plastic teddy bears wearing Santa hats. It was at Chubby and Tubby, so it was cheap, but even cheap was out of our own budget at the time. Miss Lee wanted something simpler, with multicolored lights for her own tree. She offered to buy Ray the string of Teddy Bears, but he told her very firmly no.
At each check-out line they had a bucket of odd little brass keys. There was a contest. Every customer could pick a key out of the bucket, and then try the key on this Treasure Chest at the front of the store. If the key opened the chest, you’d get a gift certificate good for certain items in the store. Miss Lee told Ray to pick a key and give it a try. The key he picked unlocked the chest. Ray asked her what she wanted to use the gift certificate for, and Miss Lee said, “It yours.”And yes, the string of Teddy Bear lights was one of the things he could redeem the gift certificate for. So we took home the string of teddy bear lights.
We got the tree back to her place, got it set up, helped her put her lights on the tree and hang her ornaments. She told us little stories about each ornament as she unwrapped them. It was a fun day.
When we got home that night, Ray hung up the teddy bear lights in the window over our bed. That silly string of teddy bear lights hung either in windows or on our tree every Christmas for the rest of Ray’s life. Ray died mid-November of 1997, not quite six years after that first Christmas living together.
For Christmas 1997 I barely did any decorating. Ray had only been dead a few weeks at the time we would normally start pulling decorations from the basement. I knew if I started unpacking our ornaments and such I’d break down sobbing and I wasn’t sure I would stop. I barely felt brave enough to open the storage closet in the basement to pull out one of the smaller artificial trees that I knew I could get to without opening other boxes. I decorated using some ornaments and a string of lights Ray had purchased on sale somewhere a week or so before he died, thus they were already upstairs and they didn’t have a history of Christmases with him.
In 1998, as I unpacked boxes of ornaments, I broke down crying several times. Ray had loved Christmas so much, and so many of the ornaments evoked memories of when he had found that particular decoration and showed it to me in the store. Or times he had fussed with where to hang it to best show it off, et cetera.
Yes, one of the times I broke down was when I pulled the teddy bear santa lights from one of the boxes. I hung them in the bedroom window that year. The next several years I put the teddy bear lights up. At least once on the tree, but usually in one of the windows. The last few years I’ve gotten them out and looked at them, debating whether I should put them up. They’re more than 20 years old. At some point old electronics, even something as simple as strings of mini lights, break down and/or become fire hazards. So I would plug them in, look them over, and some years I’d decide to put them back in the box. But most years I have still hung them up.
Our building, which was the last home Ray lived in and has been my home for a bit over 20 years, has been sold and the new owners want to do major renovations. They’ve given us advance notice that everyone’s going to be evicted sometime before 2017 year is over. So this was my last Christmas in the place that was Ray’s last home. I’ve been… moodier than usual this holiday.
I put the teddy bear lights in the kitchen window. Every evening they turned on and shown their silly light until the wee hours of the morning. I checked them frequently, but they never showed signs of problems.
But when I took them down out of the window, I noticed that several stretches of the wire are stiffer than other sections. The plastic doesn’t actually crack when you bend it in those locations, but clearly 20-some years of use is taking its toll.
While we were packing things and taking the tree down, I was looking at all of our decorations with a critical eye. If we have to move, it would be silly to move old ornaments and lights we know we’re never going to use again. I now have a couple of big boxes of old light strings and the like to recycle, and a big pile of other decorations that I think are in good enough shape to donate, if I can find a place that will take them.
And those teddy bear lights (or at least the string itself) shouldn’t be used again. No one wants the lights to start a fire some December in the future. So its time to says good-bye to Ray’s teddy bear lights. 25 Christmases later, they’ve earned a rest.
Stand up. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your friends. Stand up for your neighbors. Stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves.
When you get knocked down, stand up. The old aphorism is it doesn’t matter how many times we fall, as long as we get back up and keep striving after. And it’s true. But the thing we don’t always remember is, no one said you have to do it alone. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask for a hand when you’ve fallen. And when someone has fallen and needs a hand-up, don’t be afraid to reach out and help them. When we help someone else stand up, we’re helping ourselves.
Stand together. Stand beside your friends, neighbors, and the people who feel alone. Stand together against the cynicism and greed and hate which we all have to face from time to time. Stand together. Lean on each other if you have to, but the most important thing is to stand up together. We’re stronger together.
Because when the forces of bigotry, fear, greed, and ignorance gather together and try to overwhelm us with hopelessness and despair, our only defense is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and say, “We will not be divided. We will not retreat. We will not give in. This is where we make our stand. Together.”
I stared at him open-mouth for a moment then asked, “What make you think I don’t drink coffee during the work week?”
“I’ve never heard you say you’re going on a coffee break.”
So I had to explain to him that in the software industry (at least the places I’ve worked) people don’t take official coffee breaks. You get to the office, you hang up your jacket and so forth, boot up your workstation, grab your coffee mug and head to the kitchen. You then bring your full coffee cup back to your desk and sip it while you work. And you go back to the kitchen and refill your coffee cup whenever the heck you want to, and bring it back to your desk.
Yeah, sometimes you wind up hanging in the kitchen chatting with co-workers. And some folks prefer to have a specific time they leave their desks for a break, but most of us take a lot of mini-breaks throughout the day. And, of course, folks whose jobs involve answering the phone (tech support, customer service, sales) don’t have the flexibility to get up and go refill coffee whenever. But for the rest of us, particularly since most of us aren’t hourly and wind up putting in more than 40 hours a week anyway, don’t really worry about rigid break times.
I do block off lunch time. I used to not do that, and work while eating at my desk like a lot of my co-workers. But some years ago I had a boss who really believed that one of your responsibilities is to take care of yourself so you can do a good job. I still eat at my desk, but my work computer is logged out, and I spend the time writing on my iPad or catching up on the news.
At the time we had this conversation, I was drinking on a typical workday at least six mugs of coffee a day.
The other reason he thought I didn’t drink coffee during the week is that I seldom made pots of coffee at home during the week. I’m a cheapskate, son of cheapskate, grandson of penny-pinchers, et cetera. Of course I’m not going to make extra coffee for myself if I can get it free at work! Which proves that I’m nowhere near the caffeine fiend that I sometimes talk like, because I can muddle through the morning get ready for work routine without several cups of coffee.
Note, however, that I didn’t say without caffeine. See, on a typical Monday morning, for instance, there is coffee in the pot left over from Sunday. And yes, I will stick a mug of that in the microwave and heat it up on Mondays. And other days, well, before I had the fancy electric teakettle thing, I would fill a mug with water, drop a teabag in it, and stick it in the microwave. Just a little caffeine to start the day, right?
On a typical work day, then, I have a mug of some caffeinated beverage early in the morning, then a couple of mugs of office coffee once I get to the office, and then four or so cups of tea in the afternoon. I betray my cheapskate heritage on that, because the office tea selection is often pretty boring, so I have a few of my favorites (double bergamot earl grey, aged earl grey, jasmine green, lavender earl grey, blackberry oolong, green & black earl grey… that sort of thing) in a drawer at the office.
So, yes, I need my caffeine. It gets me through the day. And some of it is in the form of coffee. And I sometimes make disparaging remarks about people who don’t indulge. And I know that I shouldn’t. Some folks have medical reasons to avoid caffeine. Some people have religious objections. And some people just don’t like coffee or tea. I am boggled at the last, but try to remind myself that lots of people are completely baffled at just how much I hate the taste of raisins.
So I try to live in peace with the decaffeinated freaks around me, even the ones who actually like the satanic fruit in muffins or cookies or whatever new kind of food someone has decided to ruin with raisins. And I hope that they will be equally accepting of what a weird caffeinated freak I am. Because on the whole, all people are strange. If there’s someone who doesn’t appear to be weird in some way, that just means you don’t know them well enough.
It’s December, and that means I’m trying to write yet another original Christmas Ghost Story to read at our annual holiday get together. But as is often the case, I have too many plots and can’t quite settle on which one to write.
Which is where you can help!
If you haven’t already, go to Which Christmas Ghost should I write? and take the poll. Seeing which things interests people does help. I may not wind up finishing the story more people vote for this time around, but just seeing people voting gives me at least a bit more motivation.
So it’s always weirdly quiet, some days to the point of making you wonder why you bothered coming into the office, with random moments of frenzied activity, leaving a lingering hint of impending calamity in the air. It’s just fraught.
For the last twenty-eight years I’ve worked in the telecommuncations industry, and in the early years some more experienced co-workers said it was typical for our industry in particular and tech industries in general. I don’t know if it’s really just us or not. But I have gotten a lot better at not getting as discombobulated when a director or veep calls me directly to tell me to drop everything and work on this, or to ask why this thing that I have heard about only seconds before the call isn’t done, yet. But knowing that the stuff I’m already working on is due at a date that is not realistic, and that some of the people who I need to get information from are not going to be available for significant stretches of time during that interval, and then getting a call from a Senior Director saying he needs help with this thing—that uses up a lot of spoons.
Which is a long way to get to saying that I haven’t been in a good place mentally at lunch time to get writing done for a few weeks. And while it never seems as if the amount of writing I get done at lunch is that much, I recognize that spending that fifteen-twenty minutes thinking about the current writing project in the middle of my day goes a long way toward getting me to a productive space by the time I get home.
Because I usually walk home from work (it takes just a bit over an hour), I’ve gotten used to having that time to think and process. When I’m in a good writing groove, most of the walk will consist of characters in my head having lively discussions about things. I’m noticing that if lunchtime writing isn’t good, then the walk home doesn’t involve those character conversations.
I don’t know how to fix that, right now. I’ll just have to keep muddling forward.
But you can help. If you haven’t already, go to Which Christmas Ghost should I write? and take the poll. Seeing which things interests people does help. I may not wind up finishing the story more people vote for this time around, but just seeing people voting gives me at least a bit more motivation.
Which isn’t to say that the dinners haven’t been good and enjoyable. And as crowded as everything gets when we’re all crammed in at Mom’s small place, if we had more (shall we say) elaborate food, it would be even more difficult. It’s just that there is a part of me—primed by memories of epic childhood holiday dinners, plus a boatload of pop culture expectations, and memories of elaborate holiday dinners I’ve cooked as an adult—that keeps wanting it to be more. It’s emotional baggage, rather than any actual shortcoming of the event, right?
Which means that I have to spend a certain amount of time before the holiday psyching myself out to not be disappointed, and (perhaps more importantly) to not act as if I’m disappointed.
This year I’m responsible for the relish tray, a salad (specifically Mom wants me to make the salad my hubby dubbed Foofy Salad), and pies. All are things that are easy to transport and don’t need to be cooked or heated when we arrive. And it has the upside of leaving me certain that there will be pie. Later this weekend, we’ll be cooking a dinner with some of the traditional holiday dishes that we don’t get on the actual day.
Before I queue this up and finish packing, I want list some of the things I’m thankful for; if for no other reason to remind myself that there is still a lot of good in the world:
- my wonderful, handsome, sweet, smart, talented, and sexy husband
- people who love
- people who make art, stories, music, and other creative things
- radio and other wireless technology
- people who help other people
- my friends—wonderful, talented, nerdy, loving, and some of them nearly as crazy as me
- people who make things work
- my wonderful, talented, hard-working, handsome husband who inexplicably puts up with me (who absolutely deserves to be on this list more than once!)
- people who sweat the details
- people who don’t sweat the details
- my job
- satellites and space craft and telescopes
- my extended chosen family, which yes overlaps with several other times on this list (not just the third)
- technology that lets me carry my entire music library in my pocket, access the world’s libraries from the palm of my hand, read silly things people say halfway around the world, all while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store
- my family, yes even the most exasperating, because they’re part of what made me who I am, and I’m sure that I drive them just as crazy as they drive me
- people who clean up after disasters
- good food, drink, and opportunities to be merry
- my sexy husband who keeps me sane, fixes things I break, finds things I lose, and perhaps most importantly, inspires me to ignore my worst impulses and go high when others or the world goes low
Thank you, everyone who reads this. Whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving, I hope that you are surrounded by love. I hope your life contains more blessings than troubles. May you find joy, and may you know that you give others reason to be thankful.