There are times in your life when you just want to listen to music all day, because oh my God, those lyrics or that tune are your life. Like when you’re in the crazy, fluttering swoop of a new love. Or when you’ve got a migraine so bad that even looking at the computer screen makes you feel about two microns from vomiting and you can’t handle anything but turning on a very, very quiet Pandora station and lying there like road kill that somehow managed to crawl inside your apartment. My mind never goes as deep into a song as when I’m in blinding pain and will do anything to escape it.
I need music when I write, but also when I do things like clean the fish tank or grill hamburgers. The constant tunes are a dinghy for my depressive brains. And sometimes my mind pauses its perpetual tangle of words thrashing across the screen, to grab onto some song lyric like an overtired toddler hoarding a Tonka: MINE.
For example, I’ve been listening nostalgically to Sublime since high school, but the song “Garden Grove” was playing yesterday, and suddenly I thought: yes. YES.
Bradley Nowell sings “there’s a reason why my soul’s unsound,” and boy does he have the definitive list, including “that smell inside the van,” “my bedsheet covered with sand,” “sitting through a shitty band,” “getting hassled by the man,” “waking up to an alarm,” “sticking needles up your arm,” “feeling depressed ev-ER-ee day,” “getting yelled at by my dad,” “saying I’m happy when I’m not,” and other grungy complaints.
Without trivializing his tragedy, I want to point out that Nowell knew what he was talking about, before he died of a heroin overdose when I was still in junior high. What strikes me this week about this litany of 90’s misery preserved forever in song? Nowell lines up depression, parental disapproval, drug use, shitty bands, and ultimately fatal lies about your overall well-being right alongside the total injustice of waking up to an alarm clock.
And I get it.
For every person who is waiting for me to give in, be sensible, buy a bunch of tasteful sweaters and blouses, and find a full-time job in someone else’s office, I can give you a reason why being a freelance writer is best for me. But I need to be honest. It’s not all about the writing.
After years upon years of waking up to alarm clocks, from junior high through my last “day job” in 2010, there is nothing — NOTHING —like the bliss of telling almost everyone that I’m not available for any meetings until after 10am, going to sleep, and waking up the next morning when I’m damn well ready to.
Does that mean work goes til midnight? Fine. I will tap away at my keyboard in flagrant nightly disregard of every lecture on “sleep hygiene” I ever got from psychiatric nurses and my more well-adjusted friends.
Because no matter how many hours of sleep I get, my body feels like a badly-glued model plane in the morning, and there are gremlins in my apartment who inject my joints with sand overnight. It scrapes my insides from toes to trochanters when I get out of bed, while invisible pinpricks flare across the soles of my feet. I realize all this may be the purview of my “fibromyalgia,” that dastardly, desultory diagnosis, and that it’s not normal to feel like the twelve feet between my side of the bed and the bathroom is my own daily constitutional in Hades. I’m just trying to give all you “morning people” a little perspective.
Most importantly, if I have to stand up before 9am, I realize beyond a shadow of a doubt that absolutely everything in the world except keeping my head on the pillow is a terrible, terrible idea. It does not matter how much money I have spent or stand to earn. An early-morning trip to Norristown, New York City, or Johannesburg, a perfectly reasonable scheme the day before, is revealed for what it truly is under the horrible peachy-pink streamers of dawn: the mistake of the century compared to the utterly sensible pleasure of closing my eyes again and rolling over.
My ex-husband seemed to have an easier time of it, routinely leaving the house for work before 7am, as I did for years, without any sign of violently resenting his lot in life. I was sometimes aware of his departure, and behind my eyelids, abject sympathy bubbled alongside the relief of lying here in the dark for another hour or two.
Maybe my problems are compounded by my inability to consume the world’s morning drug of choice. Just when I need the most help, caffeine will do nothing but make my heart race, nausea churning my stomach as if the poor organ is lashed to a raft in a stormy sea. The next morning, my bladder will feel like it’s full of NASA ignition fire instead of pee.
So I do my best to carve out an alarm-clock free life, but there’s only so much a girl can do. A couple times each month, with a heavy heart, I set my alarm for an ungodly hour like 7:30am. This usually results in a solid spate of anxiety dreams, beginning around 5am, that the alarm has failed to go off and I have missed my meeting. I wake up at 6:30, heart pounding, and seize my phone. Slowly, slowly, I sink back into unconsciousness, and just as I re-achieve that true blessed blackness, the alarm rips it away.
All I can do is hit snooze three times at minimum, forcing my eyes to stay open for that last nine- minute stretch, and then feel on the nightstand for my glasses, and stagger to the bathroom for a cool shower with the treacly twang of Mumford and Sons turned almost migraine-low and the bathroom light OFF. Oops, can’t shampoo with my glasses still on. One wet shaky hand puts them where I know the sink is.
By the time I dry off, it’s still hard to remember why I would ever consider eating anything again. But when I have an early meeting, I choke down an egg or a piece of wheat toast, almost gagging with the effort while I wait for a train full of other people’s stingingly fresh cologne and coffee breath.
I face the world dressed nicely enough but without a trace of eye shadow or lipstick, hair pulled into a damp ponytail because giving me a choice between two extra slams of the snooze button and a stint with the hairdryer is like asking whether I’d rather eat a caramel sundae, or be bitten by a recluse spider.
After more than three years of freelancing full-time, I don’t know how the good employees of the world do it. Mornings are meant for at least an hour in bed between regaining consciousness and regaining your feet, with plenty of stretching and enough meditative diaphragmatic breaths to make a college theater professor weep.
How much can you really get done before 10am anyway, provided writers and editors who shall remain nameless haven’t been e-mailing you at 6am with pitches and questions that need attention? By the time I get to a massive homemade smoothie with yogurt and frozen blueberries, the thing might as well be lunch.
But my pitches are rolling. My deadlines are on track. My edits are smooth. The afternoon flashes by. And when illness and the umpteen pitfalls of my life flare up, I find one seed of utter contentment besides old Sublime songs or Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach yesterday, today, and tomorrow: no alarm clock.