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Adventures of a night owl

Adventures of a night owl

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creativity

The time land forgot.
Or sneered at

When my mum rang at 2pm last Sunday, my friendly English houseguest told her I was home, sleeping, but he’d get me. Cheers, mate.“Are you still in bed?!” Maternal outrage shot through my delicate brain fibres. “What a waste of a day!” I hit replay on eight strobe-lit hours of laughing, dancing and generally being stoked with life. Nah, I hadn’t wasted a day, I’d just traded it in for a wasted night.

Hey, hey, easy. Before you brand me a longhaired layabout, let me say this: I work. Hard. I just do it when most people of all hair lengths are laying about themselves. While they are busy wasting a perfectly good night sleeping, I choose to utilise their poor abandoned hours to eat, play, live. And write words to be read over their morning coffees. I realise, to quote my mother—who in turn speaks for society at large—that this is “strange behaviour”. It’s a sad evolutionary-retarded fact that to function in a semi-non-maniacal way, you must spend much of either the night or the day asleep. And for most people, most of the time, daylight gets the pleasure of our company— certainly, if there’s a non-nightshift square on roster offer. And so it is that those of us who are active every night by choice are frowned upon, whispered about, and have small children herded away from our eerie presence. “Why would you be up when you could be sleeping?” we are asked. “What do you do?” And, my favourite, “Surely, you cannot be productive at that time?!”

So, to answer for just a few members of my nonrodent nocturnal group: The self-employed taxi drivers are up doing short inner-city rides resulting in very generous drunken tips. The Working Girls of the capital letter variety are up doing much the same. And many of the rest of us are moulding still, dark midnight matter into stuff for your daytime consumption. Like cupcakes. Or columns for your current perusal.

Some choose to be active at night because of ease of movement, but many others do so due to ease of manifestation. When is a ghost ever spotted during the day? So, too, a wisp of an idea often lays in wait for the world to sleep, so it can make its presence felt in the yawning chasm left behind.

I am not suggesting that the night air is afloat with magic pixie dust—though I dare say the stuff is easier to buy at that time—it’s just that knowing no one is going to call or email helps with thinking up stuff. As does the fact that Jessica Simpson hawking pimple cream is the only thing on TV.

But if you don’t trust my opinion perhaps you’ll trust that of the great bastion of trustworthiness, the politician. Because it’s not just rides and writing going down while you sleep. People are shaping the world. According to Politico, Barack Obama frequently holds conference calls with senior staff at 11pm and can be found perfecting his famed oratory up to three hours later. At which time Winston Churchill would have been just winding his watch for a busy worknight ahead. Death-mongering aside, these are pretty smart people. While it was published a few years after Churchill’s time, perhaps Obama read the results of the study that appeared in the February 2007 issue of Personality and Individual Differences, and subsequently, on Discovery Online. Out of 120 subjects of varying ages, “evening people” almost all aced a standardised creativity test. Meanwhile most “morning people” barely passed—or just didn’t.

While firm reasons for these results were not ascertained (maybe the morning people had had a bad night’s sleep and the night people were just more practised at not having one) they are still interesting. And, dare I say, vindicating, to us Creatures of the Night. Which, by the way, is a title another study suggests may have once been literal.

“Genetic discovery suggests mammals were once nocturnal” reported the October 2006 edition of National Geographic’s Seed magazine. A new photoreceptor gene had just been found in fish, birds, and amphibians, it read, that suggested mammals may have gone through a nocturnal phase in the course of evolution. There is much conjecture as to why the phase ended, but the nocturnal threat of massive prehistoric creatures is the mammoth one. And, ahem, they’re extinct now.

But I still reckon the best place to defend my weird nocturnal lurkings is not in the science section of the library, but in the dusty shelves labelled ‘literature’. Check the names on the spines: Voltaire, Franz Kafka, John Milton, Ambrose Bierce, Griff Niblack, Fran Lebowitz … all wrote these tomes by candlelight.

And such great authors were not embarrassed of their upside-down timetables, either. “What hath night to do with sleep?” asked Milton. “If a man had as many ideas during the day as he does when he has insomnia, he’d make a fortune,” opined Niblack. “Life is something that happens when you can’t get to sleep,” Lebowitz chimed in. But Ambrose Bierce summed them all up with “Dawn: When men of reason go to bed”.

So, some reason: In sleeping all day last Sunday I admittedly missed out on all kinds of weekend activities I can only undertake during daylight— mowing the lawns, for instance, or taking a sunlit stroll to The Warehouse. But I have to wonder, if you are a person not in charge of a minor who has to, or chooses to, be up all day, every weekday, why don’t you give at least one entire weekend night a go? See what that has to offer? You may have a million-dollar idea—or at least a priceless strobe-lit dance. Whaddaya reckon? “Don’t be ridiculous!” industrious Kiwis up and down the country shout at me from their dawn-lit garden sheds.“Oh fuck off then,” I reply. “And turn off that lawnmower. I’m trying to sleep.”

Gena Tuffery is asleep