As far back as I can remember, I have wanted to stay up late. Getting up early was boring and predictable, expected. Staying up late, on the other hand, was forbidden and exciting. For a neurotic, people-pleasing, straight A student, staying up late was my first rebellion. While my days were filled with doing things for other people - school, homework, chores - after dark was my time. My parents gave me a strict bedtime for the first decade or so of my life. But at some point, working and having 3 kids caught up to them, and that meant that even though I still technically had a bedtime, even on the weekends, they were way too tired to care or to enforce it. And so the nights of TV and hot chocolate began. Sometimes I’d write instead, filling notebooks with journal entries and poetry. It was easier to think at night, easier to imagine and to dream. Sometimes I’d just wander around the house, looking out through dark windows and feeling the quiet fill in around me. I felt possessive of these hours, captivated by their unexpected magic.
Even as I got older and moved away, first to Chapel Hill and then to New York City, I never lost the desire to stay up late. I had a couple of regular early morning jobs - most memorably the year I spent at The Juilliard School when I first moved to NYC. I was miserable, mainly because of all the early mornings combined with the 60-80 hour work weeks. I just could not condition my body or mind to adapt. My nighttime ritual had disappeared, and my life no longer felt like my own. I was just going through the motions, “performing” a life of working and sleeping, day after day, with little joy or meaningful time to myself. Every second of my day became carefully structured between obligations. I never slept enough, and I became deeply unhappy. My lifestyle didn't help. I spiraled into various unhealthy patterns - drinking too much, experimenting with drugs.
Being 31 is good. It helps a lot that I quit smoking 5 years ago and also stopped binge drinking. I learned that I need to keep as much serotonin as possible in my head, so I also stopped doing drugs and eating like shit. I learned to cook, and I can't even remember the last time that I drank a soda. I'm a yoga teacher now. I meditate every day. Don't get me wrong - I still love to stay up all night drinking wine with friends sometimes, but I've been slowly finding a balance, learning how to take care of myself in a way that is as respectful as it is fluid and ever-changing. For me, I've learned that I'm the happiest and the healthiest when there are no hard rules. I eat cookies when I want to. I still don't have a bedtime. I stay up until 3:00 am some nights writing, or drinking tea and watching comedy specials, just because I can.
But you know what? I love to wake up early now sometimes too. Just last week, as I walked to Union Square to teach my 7am class at Yoga Vida, I could feel a different and ethereal energy in the air. The world around me and inside me felt a little bit stiller. That same nighttime magic was all around me, and my body and mind were somehow lighter, clearer.
It was like the world was letting me in on some great secret, and that feeling of stillness and magic stayed with me all morning. After class, I walked down to Washington Square Park and ate my breakfast under the trees. I could hear cicadas singing above me. I wrote for awhile, and then just sat in the quiet, watching the world fill in with people in their suits heading to work, cell phones to their ear.
All of this is to say that I have discovered, slowly, that the magic was never in the nighttime - the magic of the nighttime was in me. That stillness and clarity might be easiest to access late at night or early in the morning, when the world is a little more empty, when that very special energy exists in the air. But it can also be found anywhere I make the time and space to look for it. When I go to bed and wake up isn't the most important thing. What matters most is that I make space for myself - space for quiet and for stillness, for discovery, inspiration, and the pursuit of magic, every single day.