Why do we bother with the rest of the day,the swale of the afternoon,the sudden dip into evening…
excerpt from “Morning” by Billy Collins
Morning is my favorite time of day. I like to be up bright and early, but, if I can help it, I don’t like to leave the house first thing in the morning. That way, I can start my day in the most unhurried way possible. If I have the luxury of waking up slowly, I feel calm and focused, and then I’m ready to start my work. Like the speaker in Billy Collins’ poem, I feel potent and alive in the morning. A little caffeine coursing through my veins doesn’t hurt, either.
This is my final undergraduate quarter, and I’m taking a history class, a creative writing class and a biological research seminar—all very reading and writing intensive. This means that I’ve had to figure out when I can produce the highest quality work, rather than simply figuring out how to squeeze as many hours of work into the day as possible. I’ve found that the morning is the best time for my brain to engage in expansive thought. When I first start an assignment, I’m not interested in focusing on anything in particular. I just want to explore all of the possibilities. I spread my reading material in front of me, make a good cup of tea, grab something to eat, open the windows to let the sounds of the outside world drift in, and dive into my work. I crack open the crisp pages of a book, and lose myself in reading. I break out an actual notebook and a real pen, and I write. Sometimes I have to use my computer, but that’s so much less Romantic. Billy Collins would use a pen and paper.
I first embraced the joy of a languid start to the day when I was studying in Equatorial Guinea. While I was in the field, especially on Moraca Playa at the remote southern end of Bioko Island, all of my activities were dependent on daylight. I didn’t want to miss out on time to experience my surroundings, so I got up early. If I woke early enough, I’d get to watch the beautiful play of light on the water, and I could listen to the crashing waves in perfect solitude. I’d make my way to the driftwood picnic table, and sit down with my journal while one of my carefully rationed teabags steeped in lukewarm, filtered river water heated over the campfire. Then, words just flowed out of me, even if my thoughts weren’t very refined.
This routine isn’t an everyday occurrence. Sometimes I like to re-watch 4 episodes of The Great British Baking Show with my morning cup of tea—you know, for inspiration. But, when I need to produce good creative work, I know I’ll be able to do a decent job by recreating this ritual. I was recently reading my journal entries from my time in Equatorial Guinea, and I was surprised by the breadth of ideas I managed to capture, and the sprawling quality of my writing. My quicksilver thoughts were on paper before I even realized what I was thinking about. That environment, and my experiences in it, clearly helped me to get into the intellectual space I want to inhabit.
Phryne was breakfasting alone, which was the way she felt breakfast ought to be taken. Phryne had never woken up wondering who or where she was, though in her Apache French phase she had been a little in the dark about who was reposing beside her. She felt that the day should not be bounced in on with rude energy, but carefully and delicately seduced into being, and children and animals were sadly impervious to reason on this matter.
Kerry Greenwood, Away with the Fairies
I second Phryne Fisher’s thoughts on this one. (I won’t wax poetic about my favorite literary character here and now. I’ve already written at length about why she’s my hero.) I cherish any opportunity to think unencumbered thoughts. In my own life, that happens in solitude more often than not, and not infrequently over a quiet breakfast. I don’t dislike other people, it’s just rare that I spend time with others who share my interests and values. Because I have a strong sense of who I am, and well-developed ideas about the right way to go about living a good life, an environment which allows me to ruminate on my personal ideology is appealing. This kind of environment produces my best ideas. For that reason, I’ll always embrace the morning.
If you’d like to try incorporating some productive morning habits into your own life, check out this article from Self. And if you’re interested in reading a great essay on factors that impede and promote quality thinking, I recommend Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. It’s been my guiding light in recent months, when I’ve been questioning the value of my own ideas. These musings on the virtues of solitude and independent thought have helped me to embrace my individuality, and to nurture my own intellectual growth.
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