Friday, June 03, 2005

On being a night owl

We who are night owls do our best work and feel most energetic when the cursed, burning day star sun has gone down. The night is a time of magic and possibility, and we revel in it. Carpe noctem is our motto: we'll do more after midnight than most people do all day.

Unfortunately, the rest of the daywalking world doesn't see things our way; some day folk view us night folk as being suspicious characters who are up to no damn good.

There was a story in my home town newspaper years ago about a woman whose car was been broken into late one night, and she found the teenage robbers on her own by staying up late and cruising the neighborhood to see which houses had lights on, then reporting the night people to the police.

When asked why she tried this tactic, she replied something like "Well, everyone knows that people who stay up at night are up to something! God-fearing folk go to bed at a decent hour."

It pains me that her tactic worked.

It pains me that we night owls are suspected of alcoholism, drug use, criminal activity, or just plain ol' laziness. To the daylark mind, we can't possibly be staying up to do honest work or anything mundane like running errands (even though shopping at Meijer at 3 am is a fine way to beat the crowds). Thus, we've got to be partying or scheming.

I've gotten used to that kind of prejudice. But to make matters worse, modern medical science quaintly refers to us as suffering from "delayed sleep phase disorder."

I cannot adequately describe the resentment I felt when I discovered that we night owls are seen as having some kind of organic disorder.

We have a "disorder" just because Corporate America has decided that 8 am is the good and right time for those with real careers (and real paychecks) to start their day, even though business has turned into a 24-hour global enterprise and the magic of electricity and the Internet makes it possible for us to do productive work at any time of the day or night.

Not only is it possible to do work at night, it is necessary: police, emergency room doctors and nurses, EMTs, firemen, janitors, soldiers, hotel staff, and utilities workers all have vital jobs to do after nightfall.

Unfortunately, if you don't wear a blue collar, evening and night jobs are hard to come by, and don't offer much in the way of advancement or money.

We're offered "treatment" for our "disorder": get up the same unnatural-to-us time every day. Don't ever sleep in. Use bright lights in your room to get yourself out of bed. Don't ever give in to your natural instincts.

The military definitely values the male over the female. I'm waiting for the day when women are labeled as having "testosterone deficiency disorder", given a prescription for steroids, and instructed to lift weights, every day, without fail, to make up for being the "weaker" sex.

I have pale skin. I sunburn easily, get very sick from it, and my situation is only going to get worse as the ozone layer gets thinner. So, being nocturnal is doubly natural to me because the moonlight doesn't burn. Will I someday be labeled as having "melanin deficiency syndrome"?

Being a night owl instead of a daylark is like having green eyes instead of brown eyes. It's like having curly hair instead of straight hair, being female instead of male. It's part of who you are, part of your biology.

But of course you can fake being something you're not, fake it for years, even. Our society encourages all kinds of faking in the name of conformity; otherwise, breast implants wouldn't be such a booming business, and gay people would never know what the inside of a closet looked like.

My mom faked being a daylark for three decades. I couldn't figure out why I was a night owl for a long time, because my parents were always up at the crack of dawn. But once my mother retired, and could sleep when she wanted to ... suddenly she was staying up 'til 2 a.m.

My dad, on the other hand, is a lark, through and through. We will never understand each other.