A few days ago, another student asked what time people woke up in the morning. My reply – “6 am” –was followed by gasps and cries of “why?!” And so I remembered I’d been meaning to write this blog post. There are multiple reasons why I crawl out of bed when it’s still dark out, from personal preference (I’m a morning person) to structural constraints (a lack of parking on campus). But my primary reason is to have morning time.
The alarm goes off, screeching from across the room. Sometimes, either when I’m getting enough sleep or I’m too stressed to sleep well, I wake up just a few minutes before my alarm, both impressed and annoyed at my body’s circadian rhythm. So far that hasn’t happened once this semester.
I force myself out of bed to turn the alarm off and typically don’t hit snooze. I conjure up some external motivation for not crawling back into bed: I need to get to the bathroom before a family member or roommate does; I was too slow to get good parking yesterday and today it’s rainy; or the sooner I get a kettle on the stove, the sooner I can have coffee.
Step 1: Coffee
I brush my teeth (and sometimes start the kettle while doing this), wash my face, and do my skincare routine. Next stop is the kitchen. While the water begins to boil, I prepare my coffee situation. Mug, tumbler for the day, pour-over with the steel filter, spoon, and ground coffee. Two scoops into the filter while I wait for the water to cool a bit because boiling water will burn your coffee – knowledge acquired as a result of my secondhand barista training (having coworkers who took a barista class and then shared their amateur talents with the entire office). When I feel like the water temperature is cool enough, an arbitrary decision, I take my gooseneck kettle and begin.
Making a cup of pour-over coffee by hand every morning is both slower than a coffee machine and yields far less of this caffeinated beverage. But I like to think tastes better and has positive effects on my mental health. Brewing coffee is probably the closest I get to a meditative practice. I pick up the kettle, take a couple of deep breaths, and try to clear my mind, usually of stressful thoughts or tasks I have to get to within a few hours. I don’t do this for any spiritual reason. I try to “clear my mind” because I’ve found that if I’m stressing out about something, I’m more likely to rush and mess up my coffee. And then it tastes bad and my day is off to a crummy start.
Step 2: Read
Hopefully, I end up with an okay cup of coffee. I take my mug to my desk, select a book from my little stack, and read while I sip.
“Morning reading” is a personal genre that’s a little difficult for me to pin down. I never read articles for class or my research, but academic work has made it into my morning time (Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist Thought, bell hooks’s Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center). I would say I never read fiction during this time but that’s not true either (Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, Human Acts by Han Kang, An Untamed State by Roxane Gay). Poetry is fair game too (Tracy K. Smith’s Wade in the Water made for a wonderful set of mornings, as did Saeed Jones’s Prelude to Bruise).
Most of the time though, I read nonfiction, either in the form of personal and/or political essays (Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Until They Kill Us, Sara Benincasa’s Real Artists Have Day Jobs) or instructive how-to-do-life type books, from literal life and career guidance (Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson, Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, How to Be Everything by Emilie Wapnick) to time management (168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam) to productivity (Getting Things Done by David Allen) to mental health (Widen the Window by Elizabeth Stanley). Basically, I read normal people books (non-academic) on whatever topics are currently interesting to me. Or whatever aspect of personal growth I’m working on. The only restrictions are that these books shouldn’t be too dense or intense, since I’m reading them first thing in the morning, but I’ve broken these rules too.
A good morning read differs for everyone, and what’s good doesn’t even remain the same for me over time. For something like two years, I read and reread The War of Art by Steven Pressfield religiously. But after starting grad school, I realized I didn’t need yet another voice telling me to get motivated and do my work. I had plenty of pressure to do my work, thank you. Instead, today I seek out non-victim-blaming books on stress management and overwork (hmm I wonder why), activism, and antiracism.
Finally, around 7am, I get on with the day: eat a little breakfast, get dressed, and head out into the stresses of the world.
Afterword (Do Blogs Get to Have Afterwords?)
I suppose waking up at 6am fits right in with the overworked, always hustling, never-any-free-time culture of academia (and capitalism). But I’d like to think that morning time is a little bit rebellious.
There’s an image that has stuck with me from Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. At one point, Sandberg describes a high-powered career woman who describes her morning routine. I only remember one detail: when heating up food or coffee in the microwave, this woman never chooses :30 seconds or 1:00 minute. She will only heat something up for 1:11, 2:22, 3:33, and so on. Why? Because pushing the same button three times is faster than pressing two or three different buttons on the microwave. This odd quirk is supposed to save her time.
And to this woman I say, what kind of world are you living in?
Is your life really so busy that you can’t spare half a second to press a different microwave button? As much as I try to reserve judgment, I was – and still am – horrified. But to each their own.
In my own world, I press microwave buttons slowly and take an entire hour to sip coffee and read books irrelevant to my career. I fight off the idea that this sounds like a luxury and tell myself that it’s just how I’m choosing to live.
Current Morning Reading
I almost always have multiple morning reads going at once. This is my current list, in order from “I’m pretty far in and will finish this soon” to “I’ve barely started this book”:
- The Book of Delights – Ross Gay
- Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive During Stress and Recover from Trauma – Elizabeth Stanley
- Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article – Howard Becker (feat. Pamela Richards)
- Linguistic Disobedience: Restoring Power to Civic Language – Yuliya Komska, Michelle Moyd, David Gramling
- How to Be an Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendi