A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.
– Maya Angelou, American poet, memoirist, actress, and Civil Rights Movement activist
Late Thursday night, and everyone in the house is asleep, except for me. Mobile phone safely out of his room, my son, Jacob, is at last sleeping soundly. David turned in early, as he has to get up early for an all-day fishing trip with colleagues and a client on Friday. Isabella has always been an easy sleeper since she was a baby – she lays her head on her pillow and is dreaming within minutes. And Rex, my faithful library companion, is chasing squirrels and cats in his dreams as his geriatric hind legs jerk back and forth and his nails scratch his dog bed, hot on the hunt.
I am wide awake, despite the many evenings I have been sleepy and exhausted of late, in part because of the time change, the falling back. I am wide awake on this late night, and it’s the best time to write. When it’s this quiet, the words in my head and on the page are dancing, alive, pulsing with energy.
It’s not so cold just yet that I need to be swaddled in a fleece blanket as I sit before my laptop. But in thinking of the late cold nights when everyone is beneath their down comforters and I must bear the thermostat having been turned down after 11PM, I remember one night before we remodeled and added on to our house. Our bedroom was my office, with our monstrous computer armoire looming in one corner of the room. When I worked late, which was often, David would sleep with the pillow wrapped around his head. Sometimes the luxury of staying up late at night was for my own writing.
I remember one night when I was writing for myself, working on my novel. Our bedroom sat over the garage. Cold air flowed through the cracks in the hardwood floor planks, making my feet icy and numb. I was wrapped in a blanket, but anything exposed – my fingers, my nose, my ears – was cold. But I was happy. Words were shaping worlds and giving voice and action to living, breathing people. Words were making them cry and laugh, gave them wishes and regrets. Words were flowing across the computer screen as my fingers tapped away, creating a musicality.
I finished a section, happy with the way it ended, happy with the chapter’s arc. And then I looked up for the first time in hours. I turned to my right, where the picture window faced the west. Dawn was breaking. I had written all night. The realization filled me with wonder. I was cold, but I was not tired. I was alive.
As I ponder the distractions of the last several weeks, which have tried to keep me from my writing, I think back to that one wondrous night of writing, which is not unlike a runner’s high. How to get back to that state of sheer joy? This is where the older, wiser self rises in freedom from the younger self, who has crumpled under the strain. Stand yourself up. Ask yourself: What do you really want? And then go to it. There is precious little time. With great defiance, go to your happiness. Many people are still trying to determine what makes them happy or would make them happy. But for those of us who have figured it out, against all odds, we must find our way. There are many more dawns waiting to greet me as I write.