July 17, 2007 § 9 Comments

Birdsong and morning trains.  It isn’t going well.

More and more, I’ve been thinking about something I read on Martine’s blog.  It was this:

The night, for me, has never been about truth. The night is about regret and secrecy and passion, and longing and recrimination and rumination. But not truth. Truth is best observed and channeled in the morning’s light. And truth is essential to what we do.

[ . . . ]

What I think about at night, what I don’t think about at night, what I don’t realize I’m thinking about until it works its way into my dreams, that’s filling the tank. Night is for maintenance and detailing. And mornings are for writing.

I suspect it has finally come to it: I have to become a day person.  Ugh.


§ 9 Responses to Daybreaking

  • Say it ain’t so. There’s some great figures, especially those who liked to gaze up at the night sky (Da Vinci, Galileo, etc…), who were devoted night owls. Martine may be right about the mood of the night, but it can be channeled and used too. I have a hard time, for example, imagining Poe scribbling dutifully first thing in the morning…Or Kafka. Then again, you might not want your thesis to end up being Kafkaesque.

    Although I can’t see why not…

  • Sal says:

    Hrmph. A few problems with this post-since when has writing and moreso academia been about truth? I always was under the impression that it was more about the subtley-nuanced layers of discursive intertextuality. Leave truth and its idea to the essentialists and the religious literalists. Also, I am in agreement with the Neocromacer: some are devoted night owls, and this works for them.

    This idea of truth being day and secrecy being night is, well, highly a matter of opinion. This stance seems wrapped up in relgious discourse, ‘illuminating light of God the all-wise’ and so forth. While this way of living and writing may work for some, clearly it doesn’t work for others.

    For some, it takes the cycle of the sun for the ideas to bud and brew, and as the night falls they translate to language, to the keyboard, to paper. The silence of the night without all the white noise of day leaves much mental headroom for reflection and intellectual productivity.

    All this to say that I get the feeling that you’re pondering too much on the process of working, rather than on the work itself. If you graduated from undergrad with summa, and you’ve completed a MA, and almost finished a PhD, it seems that you clearly have a method that works for you, tried tested and true.

    At this point, in all honesty, I’m rooting for you to finish. Just keep going. If you write best at night, go with it. You’re on the home stretch and all most done. Go with it. You’re so close to being finished that you can almost taste those letters. Go with it. I realize that a blank page can be very intimidating. Don’t let that bastard page win-you’re too good for that. A blank page is nothing compared to some of the shit you’ve been through. If you can come out of all that, that blank page is just a couple of ideas and paragraphs away from being a full page onto page two.

    It’s clear that you have the brains, talent and intellect to finish this and just keep going. And a big plus in your favour is that you have an amazing supervisor who’s there for you, and who will always give you the best constructive criticism around, instead of not reading anything at all and marking your chapters with a ‘well done!’ rubber stamp. Whether what your writing is any good or not, ultimately that’s up to him, and rest assured that his comments are bang on and always encouraging.

    Please accept my apologies if this is too personal or blunt for a public post.

  • Vila H. says:

    Thanks for rooting for me, Sal. You’re right to problematize the opposition between “light” and “dark,” which is at the very least painfully Platonic, but for me, the distinction still stands. Despite the fact that I am a lifelong night owl, I have noticed that I am an infinitely less productive scholar at night. I think more clearly during the day, and also somewhat more confidently, which in my case is key. I’m not as easily overwhelmed by the blank page, which looms a thousand times larger in the dark, and I am not nearly as conscious of the prospect of failure. As every child knows, nighttime is when the monsters creep out from under the bed, and mine are both rowdy and plentiful.

    For me, night is about music and conversation and adventure and love and the kinds of writing that stem from these things. If I ever write a novel, I will write it at night, but a thesis? No, a thesis is work, and, as such, it belongs elsewhere, so that I may embrace the things that aren’t work at night. Moreover, I have come to detest the solitude of writing at night, which feels endless at the midpoint between dusk and dawn. Remember, I live alone, so the solitude from which I write is absolute; there is no one to escape from in another room, and no one to reunite with afterward.

    It’s funny, as much as light has religious overtones, so too does silence. Shh—God’s talking, and all of that. I like the “white noise” of the world that surrounds me, and in most cases, I find it reassuring. To my ears, silence is what happens when something is terribly wrong, or when one is very far away from the place one calls home. In either case, it is almost deafening at night, and because of this, I find that it’s not especially conducive to intellectual productivity. To each their own.

    Anyway, whatever the hour and with the help of the best supervisor in town, I am determined to keep trying. Thanks for having faith that I’ll succeed.

  • Martine says:

    Interesting exchange, here. I do have to remind you though that I was quoting someone else in the excerpt Vila pulled out from the post. ;-)

    I think the “truth” here doesn’t really stand for a kind of “religious” or “moral” truth. To me it’s more about not lying to yourself, a bit like when you write when you are tipsy and you think everything you put down on paper is really good… until you reread it the day after!

  • monica says:

    I think writing is about truth, academia too. It’s trying to find a small, pointed piece of truth. Scholars used to try to rationalize to prove the existence of God, now they try just to find a tiny bit of truth. A semblance of meaning and order, with or without God. Not being a philosopher, I’m not going to get too worked up coming up with more than that.

    I think he’s right in that it is easy to get caught up thinking about work, rather than working. When doing my MA thesis I would try to only write in my office, because academic work can creep into every hour of life rather than staying in its place. If I worked at home at night, I would just obsess about it and get less actually done from exhaustion–that day and the next. Anyway, do it in the daylight, do it at night, however you please, and know that we’re rooting for you.

  • Sal says:

    Ahh, now I see the light! :) I agree with Martine, that truth is being honest with one’s self. I suppose in this context, in all honesty my best academic writing times were afternoon. But Vila’s point about writing a thesis vs. a novel raises an interesting point.

    Admittedly, I’m the pot calling the kettle black by embarking on a discussion of pondering the process of academic writing over thinking about the actual work. But briefly, academic writing struck me more as a factory envrionment rather than a specialized workshop where craftspeople work semi-autonomously, at their own pace on their labour of love. That’s not to discredit academic writing, but to think about its discourse of labour in relation to other creative endeavours. While academia is indeed a creative space, success seems to stem from discipline, governed by the foreperson who tells you when to punch in and punch out, and when to take your lunch. While this mechanized labour may turn into routine, what it seems to do is channel the creative energy from the workshop, and order it into something that will hopefully lead to stable professorial employment in the future.

    Vila’s night interests are quite well stated-I started to think about the creative endeavours I associate with night, such as playing around in the darkroom and spinning records. While I have earned money through these passions, I would hardly call them stable careers. But the mechanized labour of the factory gives me the steady paycheck which allows me to play around in the darkroom and spin records for ‘fun’ instead of work.

    For what it’s worth, I’m happy that you’ve identified when your most productive times are for scholarly writing. You’re already over half-way there. Keep up the good work. I’ll get off my soapbox for now, and save the banter on the religious overtones of silence for another time.

  • Vila H. says:

    Martine: Thanks for the reminder, and for an excellent analogy. I rarely drink when I write, but I experience a similar fogginess when I write too late in the day. Maybe a glass of wine would help? ;-)

    Monica: You’ve utterly nailed it. As I’ve written about before, I desperately wish I had an office to go to, as much to demarcate time as space. (Sighs.) Thanks, anyway, for the kind thoughts.

    Sal: Funnily enough, there are moments when I wish that academia was more regimented, not less. It’s become very important to me to mark a clear end to the workday, for precisely the reasons that Monica describes; I once called this a “you done good” point, which otherwise never arrives.

    So, what would it take to get you blogging again? :)

  • Sal says:

    A painter once advised me to stop working on my thesis at least 2 hours before I go to sleep. In his experience, after working on work, it took him 2 hours to relax (without the help of exotic pharmaceuticals), wind down, chill out, in order to prep himself for restful slumber. In those two hours, he advised me to do something that has nothing to do with work. This cycle, he said, will turn into balance.

    Well, he was right. After finishing a workday, I would pick up my brushes and start to play around with colour on the canvas, in my own workshop-a labour of love that was ‘fun’ and not work. Or, I would go out for a walk and photograph nocturnal Montreal, etc. The goal was to detox from whatever sort of Foucault/Barthes/DeCerteau I had worked on during my workday.

    I have thought of blogging again, but now that I work in broadcast news, all that I would be writing about would be complaints about moronic terms like Islamist and Jihadist (which don’t make any sense anyway, and it’s a stretch to say that this terminology is a part of an evolving discourse on terrorism which is moving away from the lexicon). Chances are with enough public criticism I’ll find myself on the no-fly list, if I’m not already on it. I’m just thankful that my name isn’t Muhammad or Conrad Black.

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