The practice of organizing things into tidy categories is a typical and generally admirable habit of the human mind, and it is especially common for people to divide others into opposing personality types, such as conservative and liberal or classical and romantic. While there is some measure of truth in these distinctions, I also know that they tend to undervalue the subtlety and complexity of our humanity. Therefore, in this posting I am going to discuss one such division in a careful and serious way – morning people and night people.
I know that this subject might seem lightweight, but there are actually significant character differences between members of these two groups. I am a night person, and so I typically regard morning people as excessively cheerful twits, and in turn, my morning-loving friends consider me a grumpy hermit. However, this posting is not going to be an exercise in personal opinion or an advocacy for a point of view but rather a nonpartisan attempt at conciliation, and, speaking on behalf of my fellow night people, I will address morning people directly in an attempt to explain to them the ways in which our two groups diverge in their fundamental understandings of life.
Being children of the sun god Apollo, morning people think clearly; in accordance with their allegiance to Artemis, queen of the moon, night people imagine deeply. The subjects of Artemis sometimes get bad press from intellectual sun-worshippers, to whom they can appear distant, cold, and detached. To you, these are terms of rebuke, but for us they are simply descriptions of temporary emotional states that give us important perspectives on life.
You love the light; we prefer shadows. You thrive in society; we treasure solitude. The outer world delights you; the inner world holds us in fascinated thrall. We respect your discursive intelligence and your mastery of technology; we prefer to attend to our intuitions, and the skills and techniques we value are akin to those practiced by miners, who labor in darkness, searching for gems that they can bring to the surface and polish into something beautiful.
You constantly talk about improving the world, and we applaud your good intentions; you are always overflowing with new ideas and progressive schemes; but you do not seem to understand that too much light can blind the eye to important things and that there is a profound difference between having sight and having a vision.
You like noise and enjoy robust activity; we prefer quiet and the stillness that is conducive to contemplation; we tell you that we see best in darkness and hear most clearly in silence, and you dismiss us for being paradoxical, as if life at its deepest levels is not always being lived out amid contradictions that frustrate the logical mind.
To our amusement and dismay, you try to abolish night with artificial light, and sometimes your assault on darkness resembles the fear of children who keep a lamp burning beside them when they retire each evening. But unlike children, you do not value play; you fill up your schedules with busy-ness, and you live by the dictates of the clock. We cannot escape such things, of course, for it is not plausible to retreat to mountaintops or flee into the desert, and so we embrace the quiet privacy that night lprovides us. Watching the cosmic rhythms that guide the constellations across the sky, night people learn to synchronize thier lives in keeping with measures greater than those that govern the mortal world.
You do not understand the generosity of night; not everything that lives in or emerges from the shadows is fearful; sometimes these spirits are puckish, even charming, rather like mice scurrying in cupboards; many of our night imaginings are as poignant as lost children, and these orphaned parts of being ask for nothing more than to be acknowledged and welcomed home. After midnight, the bustling, task-driven egotist who rules our daytime hours slumbers, the dark gate within us swings open, and guests, invited and uninvited, arrive in a bustling throng, all of them bearing gifts.
I know that this sounds like bizarre poetry to you, and it is. You prefer straightforward prose, as if language were as utilitarian as a pair of shoes. But some parts of our nature require richer linguistic sustenance, and words resonate in unexpectedly meaningful ways when deeply mysterious things inspire them. Language is always in some sense a form of translation, and it would be wise for you to occasionally look inward and investigate the shadowy sources of your eloquent intelligence.
We salute your dauntless daytime spirit; you get many things accomplished while we are still abed; you abash us with your running torrent of ideas. But when we sit in quiet meditation, we are not doing nothing. Our vocation is not at all like your industrious and diligent notions of work. We play with images and fancies until something happens, but when we tell you about such things you declare us “foolish” or “idealistic.” We don’t pretend to understand these matters, but we are grateful for the lovely bounty they bestow upon us, and that is why we spend our nights vigilant, awaiting the arrival of the strange messengers. See the difference? In the morning, your spirits soar; in the dusk, our souls descend.
You love to sit in the rosy light of dawn amid floral gardens, with the grass aglitter with dew; we know this, because we catch sight of you before we close the shutters of our chambers and retire. We, too, love flowers, and we appreciate the freshness in the morning air as we return from our night journeys to sleep and dream. But in daylight, we prefer the shelter of quiet nooks and shady bowers; we delight in grottos, especially when they are adjacent to purling streams. Sitting beneath the shadowed canopy of a huge tree while reading a book – or reading airy nothing – is our idea of joy.
We share your erotic appreciation of the world, and we know that you love sensuous things – smells, tastes, textures, and sounds. But it is tender night, and not gaudy day, that is the traditional time for romance and magic. Shakespeare understood this, and so in A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream love works its spell in darkness – the only place in which such things are possible, far from the cynical and rationalistic light of day.
Actually, though we delight in good comedy, we prefer the shaded complexities of tragedy; sometimes we think that morning people do not always appreciate life’s inherent ambiguities; nor are we always sure that you value irony or that, in your uncomplicated though honest optimism, you fully comprehend that genuine wit is always laced with some measure of darkness. You probably find us skeptical, pessimistic, and critical; we agree, for that’s what we mean by “adult.”
We know that Thoreau admonished us to be awake to the morning star, but he wrote much of Walden in the evening, and besides, it is possible to stay up all night and still be alert enough to greet the dawn. Consider how many great books are filled with the spirit of night – Moby Dick, for instance, and even The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which, despite the deceptively cheerful tone of its final chapters, closes with shadows falling across American civilization.
In truth, day and night minister to different parts of our nature, but there is no denying that most of us delight in one more than the other. But rather than have such divisions provoke us into either inner or outer conflicts, I propose a truce, and as in all worthy peace treaties, both parties must agree to surrender something.
I therefore ask that all morning people concede that despite their fondest wishes not everyone on all occasions will have a nice day and that every smile can be complicated and improved with a hint of sorrow’s shadow at its edges. In turn, night people will admit that even the heaviest mood and most serious countenance could be lightened and brightened by a touch of morning sunshine. Thus may our differences be amicably resolved and our opposition transformed into mutually respectful complementarity. After all, the celestial body that we call the morning star has a second name – the evening star; it would seem strange to dispute which title suits it better.
This article was first published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on May 28, 2000. Anyone who wishes to read more of my columns and reviews should access the paper’s electronic archives at the following address:www.arkansasonline.com.