One-upmanship in the Morning


Our Daily Correspondent


The Awakening, 1900.

Back in the bad old days, wags used to say the streets of Alphabet City stood, from west to east, for Adventurous, Bold, Crazy, and Dead. I’ve long thought that we need a similar system for categorizing the different hours at which one wakes up. I suggest:

Nine – Nonchalant

Eight – Effortless

Seven – Sensible

Six – Self-motivated

Five – Fantastical

Four – Fast-living

These are, obviously, encumbered by their alliteration. Of course I’d rather have substituted a slatternly here or a debauched there, but that would defeat the purpose, and this gets the idea across. Unless your job or lifestyle demands unorthodox hours, this seems to me a rough guide to such things. 

I’ve been sleeping poorly and so, as one does, thinking about sleeping poorly a lot lately—telling myself it is not acceptable to rise before five, that five is the absolute limit between neurosis and madness. Keep in mind, there’s no running or gym involved in this morning routine, just hours of sitting around. If I got up at six I might qualify as “an early riser,” but anything before that marks dangerous territory.

My family knows what I’m talking about. At my grandparents’ house, there was a strange, passive-aggressive competition to be the first one up. To do what is unclear. Not sleeping was the thing. And with it there was always the implication of moral superiority.

“I’ve been up since four thirty,” someone might volunteer.

“Oh, really?” Complacently. “Well, I didn’t go to sleep at all.”

The net result of all this not-sleeping was that anyone else was jarred awake by the competitive commotion, and so went around heavy-lidded and cranky, only to repeat the cycle again the next morning.

And so, although everything in me told me to leap out of bed at four forty-five the past few mornings, to give in—hey, I could just go to sleep at seven!—to read or “enjoy the peace” or whatever people do, I clung to sanity with everything I had. I put myself to sleep by inventing acronyms, and managed to drift into restless dreams until the special-permit jackhammers started to roar just before seven. No one wins.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.