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April 22, 2024

Night and Me

By Dan Mulhollen

My father liked to work second shift during the summer. He'd arrive home around 11:45, grab a tall glass of iced tea, and spend the next hour or so sitting out on the front porch. He and my mother would talk, sometimes with the radio on low.

My mother would occasionally try enforcing a summertime bedtime hour for my brother and I, but this never lasted more than a night or two. Dad seemed to feel that the conversations we had were more important than some abstract notion of going to sleep and waking up at a proper hour.

The summer before I entered the ninth grade, my brother and I took over a friend's paper route while he went on vacation. It made more sense to me to stay up a few extra hours than to try to wake up at 5:30 am. While my brother returned to a normal (for our family) 1am bedtime after our brief career as paperboys ended, I continued staying up until 8am for most of the summer -- feeling it necessary to get back to a regular sleep pattern as September neared.

I'd sequester myself in the kitchen with books, music on cassettes, and a selection of pens, notebooks, and other writing instruments. Sometimes I'd drag out this huge Underwood electric typewriter my father had purchased at an auction. I wrote short plays, adventures based on my brother and his friends -- typical early adolescent vulgarity intact (anyone who thinks 13-15 year olds don't know every 4-letter word in the book either has amnesia, or had a very sheltered childhood).

Much of the time I'd just sit there thinking. In some ways it was a journey into my psyche impossible to take during the day. Years later, many of the ideas I'd come up with there would appear in short stories. I'd known I had some writing talent since the sixth grade, but it was during those summer nights that I truly started thinking creatively.

I could see places I'd never visited, walk through the dark, vaulted corridors of an English Manor (haunted, of course). I could imagine fictitious characters and know fragments of their life stories. And I could imagine scenes that left me so spooked, that I might have started browsing through a volume of an encyclopedia to calm down.

Most of my early writing was done at night. In the late 1980s, a neighbor gave me a large office desk his shop had thrown out. Immediately I began setting up a home office. In addition to the Apple II clone, daisywheel printer, monitor, and electric pencil sharpener, I added other office supplies (I've always been much better at setting up an organized workplace than at maintaining it).

This was something of a Golden Age for my writing. Often I'd go up there after midnight with a Thermos full of coffee and write until around 5:30. Then I'd take a walk around the block before going to sleep, a symbolic drive home.

The Internet brought an interesting discovery -- that the world is full of nocturnal folk. Perhaps it's the bond night people share, realizing you're not the only one who goes to sleep with the rising sun, or who wakes up with the crack of noon (if that early).

I find night people are often highly intelligent, creative, and more open about themselves than most. Many have learned that their deepest, darkest secrets are not that deep or really that dark. I suppose, like me, they have also taken that same inward journey one long summer night.

However the Internet can also cut into one's productivity. There's a joke that if you're up at 5am , having chatted all night, it stops being late and becomes early. Yet the night still sometimes works its magic. My first story posted on the Piker Press, "Of Horror and Pizzas" was written between 1am -3am one Wednesday morning this past summer.

"What do you do up that late?" my aunts would ask, shaking their heads. My father understood. And his love of the night is one of the most important things he passed on to me.

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-11-13
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