I respect tradition. Normally. Once in a while tradition should be disputed. The other day I was reminded of the seventeenth-century aphorism, “The early bird gets the worm.” As a lifelong struggler against literalism, I had to get over the bird and worm part, and was thinking early meant, well, early. This, combined with even earlier saying “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man [sic] healthy, wealthy, and wise,” convinced me that early did reference waking. And these saying require some revision. I’m an early riser. I don’t get many worms and although I seem to be mostly healthy, I’m certainly not wealthy, and many would question my wisdom. So why do we encourage people to wake up early? The fact is most people stay awake late.
I’ve noticed a few things about early rising. One is that I can get a lot of creative work done with no interruptions. My last three books were mostly written between three and five in the morning. (The royalties, however, never even approach the cost of the materials required to write them, so strike the “wealthy” part of the equation.) I’m ready for early meetings at work. I can think of six impossible things before breakfast. But. (There’s always a but.) Afternoons are my evening hours. I lose my focus and dread late (i.e., after 3 p.m.) meetings. As my family is beginning their fun part of the day, I’m heading to bed. I can’t do evening meetings, clubs, or hobbies.
So why do I do it? For one thing, I can’t not do it. I awake early as a matter of biology. Over the years it’s slipped back from about 5 a.m. to 3:00. I remember being a child at sleepovers at a friend’s house and waking early, watching the sun stream through the blinds, wondering when somebody else might wake up to play. In college it was an advantage to get to the showers first. As I professor I did my research before the duties of the day took over, preventing any real progress. None of this, however, has made me wealthy. I do have to admit that I could probably get worms, if that were something I desired. I see animals out and about when I’m jogging during morning twilight. There are likely worms about too. I’m usually awake before the birds. And this has made me question traditional wisdom. Of course, I don’t claim to be wise, either.