Chronobiologists have also established that out of every ten people, eight follow a normal circadian cycle (that is, rising naturally at around 7:30 A.M.); one is a lark; and one is an owl. These settings are genetically encoded and cannot be erased. Once an owl, always an owl.
— Anne Fadiman, “Night Owl,” At Large and At Small
Given that I work for myself now, and thus set my own schedule, it would appear that I am a lark. I generally go to sleep between ten and ten-thirty, and generally get up around five-thirty with no need of an alarm. I rarely need more than seven hours of sleep, unless I’m recovering from traveling. And I do enjoy accomplishing things before breakfast. In fact, as soon as I finish jotting down the rudiments of this post, I’m heading out to the garage to take care of today’s work before the infernal heat begins constricting the life out of the day.
Yet for more than twenty years of my life, from adolescence to the brink of middle age, I was an owl by trade. Working in my family’s newspaper distributorship, I would usually go to sleep around nine, get up four hours later at one A.M. (with the help of an alarm), be at work by two, and be home by eight. Shortly thereafter, I’d get the remaining three hours of sleep I needed and wake up around noon to “start” my regular day. (At least one historian claims that this bifurcated pattern, which he calls “segmented sleep,” was actually the norm for humans before the invention of electric light corralled our sleep habits into one eight-hour block.) And while the genetic determinists might claim that I was only a lark in owl’s feathers, forced by the marketplace into denying my true nature, I loved my noctivagant life. If I were indeed a prisoner to false consciousness and unnatural obligations, I must have also had Stockholm Syndrome.
Oddly, my reading habits also changed along with my sleeping. Once I started keeping a normal schedule, I found it difficult to read during the day without getting drowsy. Now, the majority of my reading gets done in the couple hours before bed, where, for whatever reason, I can concentrate and stay alert better. The Lady of the House, by contrast, who is the ne plus ultra of larks, seems to lose all sense of time at night. She would happily go to sleep by 8:30 if I didn’t shame her out of it, and wails that it’s “practically midnight!” if I’m still reading at ten. I’m afraid she’ll never know what she’s missing. For though I may not be a full-fledged member of the genus Strix anymore, night has always been the domain of shapeshifters, and for those precious couple hours after dark, with a book in hand, I manage to inhabit the murky boundary between worlds once again.