November 2, 2002
EASING INTO THE DAY:Early Riser: The joy of getting out of bed and down to work (Joseph Epstein, February 2002, Atlantic Monthly)
Talking to a friend not long ago, I paraphrased a remark of Einstein's: "Only a monomaniac gets anything done." "No," replied my friend, "only people who get up at five A.M. get anything done." I happen to be both a monomaniac and a five o'clock riser, so why, I wonder, do I continue to feel so slothful? Before attempting to answer, let me say that though I'm not someone who bounds out of bed like a wide receiver breaking from a Notre Dame huddle, I do look forward to getting up early. I like the darkness, I like the silence, I like the company I encounter at that hour-which is to say, I enjoy the hour or so of solitude. And as a grateful pessimist, I like the fact that I have made it-still alive!-through another night.
I also immensely like my morning regimen. I turn on the stove under the tea kettle, fill the tea ball (alternating Assam Extra Fancy one morning with Irish Breakfast the next), and await the whistle of the kettle while I make out a list of the day's errands, meetings, and responsibilities. Then I sit on a high stool at the kitchen counter and read, more often than not from some thickish book having to do with something I have promised to write. I sip tea, I take notes on my reading, I await the sunrise.
Sometimes I am accompanied by music from WFMT, Chicago's last remaining and splendid classical-music station, though I turn it off if the music becomes too dramatic, thereby interfering with my reading and my sense of a day's calm beginning (not much Beethoven, no Wagner, and scant Richard Strauss permitted at this early hour). I hope no one will think me nauseatingly sensitive if I add that I used to be joined by a striped cat, now dead, named Isabelle, who, after I fed her, sat beside my book, always on my left, demanding no attention, content to be nearby and to look elegant. During baseball season I turn on an AM station at 5:13 to get the previous night's scores and, while I'm at it, the weather. No phone rings; I generally do not turn on my computer, allowing e-mail, and hence the outside world, to invade my morning. For the same reason, I wait until 6:30 or so to go to the door for The New York Times, in which I turn first to the obituaries to see who has been taken out of the game. I could still be sleeping--a pleasure I do not slight--but I really am happier awake.
Jim Hart turned us on to Mr. Epstein, one of the very best essayists in America. Posted by Orrin Judd at November 2, 2002 9:43 AM