Most days the alarm is part of sleep, a dream’s ramp into light… or dark. Most of the year, the alarm goes off before the sun does, and the sound’s fireworks are the color of night but many times louder.
I rise as if to shut a door against intrusion, stumbling from bed and listening, behind the noise, for my own footfall as if it were someone else’s. My knee might be stiffer today or less stiff. My calf may have unclenched at last or my shoulder quieted its own ancient reminder I’m no water-skier or shot-putter. Today mysterious energy might be in me, or I may be starting the long slog to dusk again.
These are the habits of the possessed. Any will goes into regarding yourself from afar, to see if the creature lives and moves and how.
The desire to be upright waits on coffee. The desire for coffee waits on nothing. Coffee is my unshakable consort, the bitter mistress of consciousness. Sometimes I fill the coffeemaker just before bedtime, set its alarm, and pray the smell and sound of brewing will be the next day’s first joy. Many mornings it is, some days it’s just one nice note, playing evenly all day long, and sometimes coffee is friction louder than whatever is cranking, a base tone of resistance.
People tell me they wake up automatically without an alarm, but I would have to fall as the sun fell to achieve that. Maybe someday, I think. The road I’m on must go somewhere.
I’ve heard monks invented time. The first mechanical clocks marked periods of prayer, a strange genesis if it’s true. If prayer is security— self-soothing and reassuring claims of control, assertions of music in existence—the clock seems an unlikely instrument.
Wheels and cogs move invisibly, electricity arcs through transistors, particles or waves speed through silicoglyphs, and atoms strike plates. Relentless restlessness prods the world again.
I’ve gotten used to it but haven’t gotten to like it. The background fatigue of going to bed late and rising early can be measured, that’s all.
My first act most mornings is to write a haiku, my only concession to advice I once received: don’t make lists of requirements, make lists of desires.
One can become the other.
When I started writing a haiku a day some years ago, I believed in the transformative power of habits. Most of the time I still believe, but sometimes a revelation breaks over me—what if invisibility is the essence of transformation? What if the gradual drip drip of what we do keeps us from seeing the shape we’re taking?
Reliable sleep would help.
For my eleventh birthday, my parents bought my first clock radio, a rolodex model. The digits of hours and minutes split into paddles, the seconds rolled around like an electric meter until, when the moment arrived, one half paddle loosed and slapped its predecessor.
Its incremental time brought new terror into life. I fell asleep awaiting another drop and awoke to another, a recording playing just like yesterday. In the rotation radio of 1969, I heard the same song for months. Its lament was a soundtrack that crawled into me and accompanied the same daily ablution, the same daily breakfast, the same daily ride to school on the same bicycle, the first of many wearying routines disguised as invisible workings.
The intention to break patterns is my one regular resolution. I know I don’t have to do today what I did yesterday and can decide to stop drinking so much coffee, to go to bed earlier and get up later because believing in “must” is my biggest issue. I must step out of its shadow.
The same time that loops and cuts grooved paths in life also allows absolute invention, a new course.
And something operates quite apart from time, I’m sure of it.
This morning, like most mornings, I’m up before everyone else. My haiku has been posted, and I’ve made my unwritten list for the day.
I know today’s necessities.
The house has a strange white quiet right now. In the dark of everyone else’s sleep, ceiling fans spin and the refrigerator hums and the air conditioner stirs in a cycle dictated by degrees. The corner of the computer tells me what time has passed since last I looked. My coffee dwindles. I may have time for another cup.
Soon I’ll move from this spot. I never leave without thinking of returning. Ungatherable statistics of waking, living, and breathing will accompany me. A ghost self is just out of step in this dance. He moves to another pace.
Something will soon remind him no moment lasts. And he won’t need reminding.