When I was growing up, my mom had a morning routine. She has always been an early riser, and she would get up while the rest of us were still asleep, brew herself a pot of tea, and enjoy the quiet. For many years, she wrote in a journal. Then it was yoga. Whatever the activity it was hers alone, and anyone who happened to wake up during her morning time was banished back to bed until she had finished (usually only an issue on Christmas, when my sister and I were itching to get to our presents). I never understood that, being more of a night owl myself. Mornings for me meant dragging myself out of bed at the last possible second, stumbling downstairs, trying not to fall asleep at the table while I ate my breakfast, and then rushing to get ready for school. Mornings were jumbled, drowsy, unmemorable. A necessary evil in starting your day. But to my mom, they were (and still are) sacred.
After I grew up and moved out of the house, my habit of staying up late - cultivated over years of midnight movies with my dad and staying up all night to finish projects the day before they were due - remained, exacerbated by the fact that I worked late nights at a restaurant, and as a result I didn't see many mornings unless I had an early shift at work (always torturous). Nighttime was when I felt most at home, those hours after midnight when the whole world slows and everything seems bigger, more meaningful, more mysterious. Those magical hours when everything you say or feel has power and may be the most profound thing in the world. I would sit in the cool, blue glow of my computer screen, my fingers flying over the keys as I forged transcontinental friendships and connected with my fellow night-dwellers. In fact, one of my most meaningful romantic relationships was conducted mainly via 3 am Gchats, as we navigated distance and shifting time zones, he pouring his heart out from the back of tour vans and the beds of hotel rooms and I from my bedroom in Wisconsin, wishing I was out adventuring too. But as much as I preferred the night, I would not say I was particularly productive. I spent most of my evenings watching Netflix, browsing internet forums, and chatting with friends, and if I tried to use that time and the big, heart-swelling feelings of importance that filled my chest during those endless nights to create something lasting, well, in the cold light of day it didn't look so deep and profound. In fact, it looked rather stupid. So what was the point?
Years passed. Occasionally I flirted with the idea of getting up early, seeing how the other half lived, but when morning rolled around, exhausted from another late night and dreading the prospect of emerging from my cocoon of blankets, I would inevitably hit the snooze button why my alarm sounded. Then I switched from a restaurant's dinner shifts to a "real person" job, the kind where you sit in an office from 10 am til 6 pm. Suddenly those all-night Netflix marathons weren't quite so sustainable, and while I didn't become a morning person, per se, I was at least managing to drag myself out of bed before noon, and bedtime scaled back from 3 or 4 am to midnight or 1.
The big shift happened when I began practicing tarot regularly. I noticed that I felt more connected with my cards early in the morning, before the day had truly started, and that I was more calm and prepared for the day if I took a few minutes to breathe and enjoy the silence instead of rushing from bed to train to work and back. Suddenly, my mom's ritualistic morning routine made sense to me. I started building my own routine, adding my own touches, sticking to it religiously until it became second nature. I became so dedicated to it that when I worked at the New York Renaissance Faire last year, I would get up at 5:45 every morning to ensure a hot shower and some peace and quiet before the rest of the cast emerged from their tents. I would sit on a bench in the woods and boil water for tea in an enamel coffee percolator balanced precariously on a one-burner coleman camp stove, laying out my cards on the damp, mossy boards as I soaked up the early morning sun and enjoyed the song of the birds (and the occasional feline visitor; some of the artisans let their cats wander freely, and I befriended many of them during those still, quiet mornings). My friends, fighting for every last second of sleep they could get, thought I was crazy, but it didn't matter. Even when I was so exhausted that I could barely drag myself out of bed, I stuck to my routine. When you're performing for 10 straight hours a day and surrounded by rowdy actors throughout all of it plus several hours on either end, you do whatever you must to take care of yourself. For me, that meant mornings alone in the woods, with only my mug of tea, my cards, and Mother Nature for company. If I had to sacrifice a few hours of sleep to get that time, so be it.
These days, my morning ritual looks something like this: I wake up around 7 am, except on days when I go running when I'm up by 6:30. I shower, put the kettle on to boil, then take my computer and head to my desk, which is in our spare room by the window. My corner of the room is covered in things that inspire my creativity - crystals; favorite quotes; pictures of the people I love and my idols; a painting by one of my favorite artists, James R. Eads; candles, etc. - and I always feel happy sitting there in the morning sun, with the fresh air and sounds of the neighborhood filtering through the window. Before I settle in at my desk, I light a stick of incense to help set the mood. Right now I'm alternating between lavender, nag champa, and orange blossom. I settle into my space and get everything in order while I wait for the water to boil, then it's back to the kitchen to brew a mug of tea, sometimes a full pot if I'm feeling especially tired. While the tea steeps, I sit at my desk and write posts for this blog, scenes for my scripts, essays for submission, even just good old-fashioned hand-to-paper journaling, if I'm feeling particularly introspective. It all depends on the day, my mood, and what I need to get done. When my tea has finished steeping, I add honey and pull out my tarot journal and one of my decks (also by James R. Eads). By this point, the incense has made the air good and sweet, and breathing deeply settles me into a deep state of calm. I shuffle the cards until three fall out, my message for the day, and record and interpret them in my tarot journal. Often, one of the cats comes to lay across my workspace, purring, demanding to be petted, and generally being adorable and getting in the way. Once I'm finally finished with my tarot reading it's time to pack up and get ready for work, feeling at least slightly calmer and more prepared to face the day.
This is certainly not as contemplative and still as the mornings my mom relishes or the ones I enjoyed in the woods last summer, but it's what's working for me at the moment. I have discovered I do my best work in the mornings, when I'm fresh. If only past-me could see me now. She wouldn't recognize herself. It's a struggle sometimes; I'm still working on breaking the habit of staying up later than I ought to, but I'm sure that will come with time. It's amusing to see how much I am transforming into my mother and, happily, how little I mind it. After all, she has always been the most productive of all of us. Perhaps I have found the secret as to why.