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A night owl in an early bird world

By: Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

I often fantasize about things like getting to bed early. Getting a full eight hours sleep, then getting up early, doing some stretches, and having a healthy breakfast and a leisurely cup of coffee. I fantasize about turning myself into an early bird, and giving myself a schedule that fits in line with everyone else. 

For as long as I can remember, though, or at least since my early teenage years, I’ve been a night owl. I remember a few times as a pre-adolescent sneaking out of bed, hiding behind the couch and listening to Johnny Carson, because I just couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong. I wasn’t scared or having bad dreams. I just couldn’t sleep. But as a little kid I mostly stuck to the schedule my parents gave me, especially during the school year.  

As I got older, and started going to sleep-overs, I was never the first to crash out, and could easily last until dawn as we got into adolescence and spent entire nights up playing video games or watching movies. In fact I preferred that, if only so I didn’t have the awkward experience of waking up first, and either sitting quietly or hanging out with my friends’ parents until they got up. 

By the time I was a teenager, though, it started turning into a problem. An inability to sleep at night, coupled with a school schedule that required getting up in the pre-dawn hours, wasn’t a good mix. There were a few times my dad, realizing that I was suffering from insomnia and not just staying up and goofing off, let me stay home and sleep. But not too many. 

Despite this, my grades were mostly good, because I would read my assignments at home. But I think I slept through most of my first period sophomore English class. I’d wake up long enough to take a test, and then go back to sleep during lectures and discussions. 

In math I suffered a little more, because I absolutely needed more than reading to comprehend. But a monotone algebra instructor, and a poor sleep schedule that was no longer restricted to weekends and slumber parties, weren’t a good mix. More than once I heard my instructor, in a delivery that would have made Ben Stein proud, calling out, but never raising his voice in pitch or volume, “Wake up Mr. Wells. Mr. Wells, if I have to tell you to stop sleeping in my class one more time, I’m sending you to the principal’s office.”
His voice so unchanging that classmates would have to jostle me awake. 

I never really was a math guy anyway.    

I fared better in college, scheduling all my classes in the afternoon or early evening. Eventually, though, I had to join the world outside academia, and unfortunately for me, and all the other night owls out there, we live in an early bird world. Office jobs almost always require you to be in your seat before the day begins at 9 in the morning, if not earlier. Men and women working in the trades are usually up even earlier than that.

I worked a lot of office jobs, mostly tech writing, and while they usually had strict office hours, I admit that the creative people had more flexibility than the administrative staff. We were deadline driven, mostly, and the rest of it wasn’t always scrutinized closely as long as content and projects were delivered on time. 

I’ve been lucky to maintain, and even expand on, that flexibility over the years. As I write these words, for instance, it’s 1:52 a.m. (I do most of my writing at night, after everyone else is in bed.)

But morning is still going to come early. My partner is going to be working. Our child is going to be awake. People are going to want to call me on the telephone. And I can’t expect it to all hold still while I indulge my flip-flopped sleep preferences. So, I really can’t complain about it.  

I’m not a bar musician. I don’t do slam poetry sets at midnight in Austin or San Antonio anymore. But sometimes, when my phone rings at 7 in the morning, less than an hour after I’ve hit the hay, I do really identify with the Asylum Street Spankers lyrics from the song “Leafblower,” about life on the road and inconsiderate hotel staff, “when 9 to 5 means 9 to 5 means 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.” 

You are all beautiful people

Watching our communities come together over the last week to help our neighbors to the south has been a humbling and heart-warming experience. I wrote some about this last week, but that was before I could see the full extent of how folks would react. Folks then were in triage mode. Now they’ve had time to evaluate, to listen to needs, to communicate those needs, and to act. We saw businesses around the region set up donation stations for canned goods and water. 

As the needs began being communicated back to us, we saw people listening too, and taking steps to help with the supplies that were needed at that time as the communities move from survival to cleanup. While this work is all going on, too, we’ve seen people show up just to cook and feed those working to salvage what they can from the mess.
It’s terrible to see the tragedy in these communities, but it’s amazing to see how we come together to take care of our own.
You are all beautiful people, and you make me proud to be from Eastern Kentucky. 

Jeremy D. Wells can be reached at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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