On Pretending to be a Morning Person

After I returned from my trip to Guangzhou, one of my coworkers asked me whether it was harder to beat jet lag after traveling to my destination or after returning home. Six hours fresh from my landing at JFK, I told him that in this case going was more difficult than coming back. After all, I had a conveniently timed flight. I boarded my plane in the wee hours of Tuesday morning in China, which would give me plenty of time to sleep and be ready to hit the ground running at 5:00 am on Tuesday morning when I emerged in New York.

Reader, I was terribly wrong.

I did not have a restful flight. Because I’m a kind person (read: pushover who fears passive aggressive glowering from the elderly), I gave up my coveted window seat in the emergency row aisle to an old woman who wanted to sit with her traveling companions for a seat between other two elderly ladies, both of whom were extremely chatty and interrupted my attempts to watch Argo without interruption.

These past days spent in Eastern Standard Time have been a confusing time.* On Tuesday, I only made it until 11:00 am before I felt a sleepiness so overwhelming that it felt like someone had wrapped a heavy blanket around my brain. On Wednesday, I walked out the door and made it downstairs before realizing that I’d forgotten to wear my glasses and that was why I couldn’t see. On Thursday, I was wide awake by 4, despite having successfully stayed up until 10:30 the night before. I’ve temporarily resorted to writing everything down on old receipts because my memory has become sieve-like, thoughts breezily passing through and then vanishing without a trace. The “20-minute naps” that I’ve begun taking before dinner have left me awfully confused about why it’s suddenly 5:00 am the next morning instead of 8:00 pm yesterday evening.

A more interesting and less miserable side effect of being jetlagged is the chance to masquerade as a morning person. Prior to this trip, my mornings were a frenzied affair in which I would wake up, make myself presentable, and remember to bring my lunch under 20 minutes in order to arrive at the office barely on time. When you’re awake at 5, there is time to watch an episode of Broad City in between brushing your teeth and getting dressed. While I didn’t want to spend more mental energy than I usually did with my clothes, I liked having the option of carefully crafting an outfit. There was time to eat breakfast in the comfort of my own home. There was even time to decide whether to make scrambled eggs or walk three blocks to buy a bagel or in my case, do both. This past week has been filled with bagels, and I’m beginning to suspect that I’m really using bagels as an excuse to eat an otherwise socially unacceptable amount of cream cheese. (Side note: I got distracted by this Serious Eats article, which tells me that I can save money by slathering my bagels with cream cheese myself.)

Because I live in New York, there is no such thing as a completely quiet morning. When I took the subway from the airport back to my apartment, there were already enough people on the E train to fill the seats in my car. That being said, the trains are less crowded. It is easier to maintain the illusion of personal space. There are also more school children, whose existence I was skeptical of but I guess I was just never awake early enough to notice them. I also found out that arriving to work at 8:30 isn’t too bad. While I’m never the first one there (thanks to a boss who is truly a morning person), I like how the rooms are half-dark and that the desks are unoccupied and that the normal soundtrack of Pandora playlist and furious typing is absent. When I’m not running late to the office, brewing myself a cup of tea is something I can dwell on rather than something to do as quickly as possible so I don’t feel like I’m behind with my day.

But there are costs to suddenly become a morning lark. My leisurely mornings come at the expense of a misallocated day. The time I spend doing things slowly at the beginning of the day mean that there is less time and alertness for the personally productive things that otherwise fill my time. I’ve found myself devoting my shortened evenings to getting ready to sleep rather than reading, journaling, browsing social media, or thinking about the next hobby I should try. The solution to this problem is that I should start doing some of these things before I head to work and when I’m still attentive and still actually awake.

It was this mini-dilemma that made me realize what the hardest thing about being a morning person. And it has nothing to do with waking up early. What I dislike most about my hopefully short-lived tenure as a morning person is knowing that there is a time later in the day when I will not be at my peak. At work, I felt that I was racing the clock, knowing if I didn’t complete tasks A, B, and C before the early afternoon, the likelihood that they’d be done with same amount of attention and speed would plummet. The option of doing something later wasn’t truly available anymore, and as a person who is used to being more alert as the day grew on, I had trouble organizing my day. One of my coworkers, who also used this week to experiment with being a morning person, described how there was an intensity to starting your day much earlier. And intensity is an excellent way to describe it. Instead of settling into my day, I needed to start it at my best and knowing that it was as good as it was going to get. I’m sure it’s a system that works well with a lot of people, but as someone who is used to being most alert at night, it was something that was difficult to get used to. (I’m also sure that being jet lagged has a lot to do with it too. My anecdotal evidence and sample size of four days are not very impressive or very statistically rigorous.)

Luckily, I don’t have to get used to being a morning person. With any luck, I’ll be back to my normal sleeping schedule in no time, and while being a night owl is not conducive to a society organized by a 9-to-5, it’ll be a state of being that I’ll know how to navigate.

* I’ve spent some time thinking about why I’ve been having much more trouble with jet lag than I remember ever experiencing. My first thought was that I’m just getting old, but if that were the case, I would have had a much miserable time during the beginning of my trip. My current theory is revolves around the fact that I had to go to work right after returning from my travels. With previous run-ins with jet lag, I generally didn’t have any real responsibilities besides staying awake until a reasonable hour whereas I’m obligated to use my brain for 8 straight hours, regardless of how much sleep I did or didn’t get.

On Learning Turkish

I’ve never not had class on a Friday, and this was the reason why I was dressed, while my roommate, who enjoyed the luxury of spending the entire day at home, had only recently decided to change out of the sweatpants she had worn all day. We were about to walk to a friend’s apartment where we would find a party, our other roommates, more friends, and maybe one or two strangers. While she blew dry her hair, I waited on a rickety Ikea chair next to the island counter. As usual, I had a book in my hand.

At the time, what I had really wanted to read was a Patricia Highsmith novel. I had been in the mood for a smart thriller, but as luck would have it, Powell’s did not have a copy of Talented Mr. Ripley or Strangers on a Train. I picked up The Black Book instead because the blurb on the back cover promised a detective novel-like plot.

In the dim kitchen light, I tried my best to read carefully. Orhan Pamuk’s prose was dense. It was easy to breeze through the pages and still form the images written on the page, but the book also rewarded you for paying attention. The sentences were woven together with an eye for detail that felt lush. They were also long.

Take, for example, this one:

Although the radio was on from the first thing in the morning till the last thing at night, the thick-coated and not-at-all Turkish-looking china dog curled up on top of it never woke from his peaceful slumber.

The first time I read this sentence, I tripped over its syntax. The second time around, I was only half-paying attention. But then I tried again. A radio, a china dog, a peaceful slumber. I reread it one more time before running to my roommate’s room.

When she saw me at the doorway, she held out a skirt in each hand. “Peach or black?”

I pointed to the black one. “Do you know what’s really cool?” I didn’t wait for her to reply. “You can tell that this book was translated from Turkish! I just read this sentence…”

I tried to explain how the verbs in Turkish were always the last words of a sentence and how it was an agglutinative language. My professor had told our class how Turkish sentences and words could often go on forever, with clause after clause and suffix after suffix piled on top of one another. I described how reading through the short, simplified passages in my textbook was strenuous, even on the best of days, because my English-accustomed brain was not used to sifting through so many words to find the actions that drove a sentence. But that was why the sentence about the radio and the china dog was so astonishing. I had just read a string of words that managed to capture how meaning in Turkish revealed itself in peaks and glimpses, and once you understood, you felt a little silly because the message had been there all along, waiting patiently for you to put the pieces together.

The next morning, I read the translator’s afterward at the back of the book. Maureen Freely talked about devrik cümle, or a sentence “in which words appear in an order different from that ordained by custom and practice, and cascading clauses create a series of expectations that are subverted by the verb at the very end.” Quoting the poet Murat Nemet-Nejat, she described Turkish “as a language that can evoke a thought unfolding.” Thinking of my jumbled explanation from the night before, I admired and envied her eloquence. Continue reading “On Learning Turkish”

People Watching #5

Hyde Park is a disaster once the end of the quarter rolls around. This is what happens when you have students sleep-deprived and stressed out by their last round of finals, visiting families, and/or graduation. Signs of chaos include:

  • Students wheeling luggage, often upset when the humidity causes their shirts to stick to their skin
  • Students loading their belongings into the trunks of 5-passenger sedan, often upset by size constraints of said vehicles in addition to the humidity
  • Students hauling furniture across town, which is just about the most terrible part of moving that you can ever imagine
  • Son and father at the post office with a giant crate of books that probably weighs more than several small children–the father looks stoic as he tapes the box shut and thinks of the cost of international shipping
  • Local residents peering curiously into the overflowing dumpsters for interesting finds–one man looks on as Hannah and I deposit cardboard boxes into the dumpsters on 53rd and Greenwood and looks disappointed when we drive away without leaving behind anything worthwhile
  • Speaking of overflowing dumpsters, the local garbage collectors must hate us all

The lengths people go to move in and out into their apartments, while quite impressive, is never quite as fascinating at the people I see at the airport. As I’m writing this, my flight has been delayed by one hour due to some eastward bound thunderstorms, and the people around me deserve a brief mention. They include:

  • A pair of sisters with matching red-dyed hair and Duck Dynasty sweatshirts; one sister sports a giant tattoo of New Jersey on her left calf
  • Elderly Russian couple: the wife asks me to accompany her husband because we have the same boarding positions on our Southwest flight and offers to “save me a good seat” and a handful of mini-Oreos in return; husband nods politely and continues reading a translated version of an Isabel Allende novel while also eating mini-Oreos
  • Man and woman conversing next to me: Man is dressed in business suit while the woman, who has a book in her bag, seems ready for a vacation. But based on the number of times they have mentioned HIPPAA, FDA regulations, and physician assistants (apparently PA stands for more than Pennsylvania), they not only know each other, but also must work in something health related. The woman talks about her seventeen-year-old daughter who is dying her hair for the first time, and the plot twist: she has to pay for it herself!
  • Also, they are clearly sitting in the wrong gate. Health professional man and woman are soon replaced with family consisting of mother, father, and young daughter.
  • Daughter is well-behaved and quite happy with a pacifier in her myself and her mother’s tablet in her lap. The stroller carries the mother’s Michael Kors handbag, child-size juice box of apple juice, child-size container of McDonald’s French fries, empty container of milk with hot pink label that matches daughter’s backpack, and the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in a while: purified drinking water bottled in a soda can.
  • Mother on the phone, twice to two separate people: “This is like the worst trip to New York ever.”*
  • Snarky airplane captain comforts cranky passengers on the loudspeaker: “We apologize for the delay folks. Newark has been congested for the past ten years.” Truer words have never been spoken.

*Little did she know that in addition to being delayed for one hour, we would sit on the tarmac for another sixty minutes, and upon our arrival, we would sit in the plane for another forty-five minutes because of course, our gate is occupied.