My favorite time to write is in the middle of the night. Correct that: My favorite time to write memoir is in the middle of the night. Late, late at night, always between 2 and 5 a.m. It happens that I generally go to bed at about 11 p.m. and I seem to have a natural end of a sleep cycle three or four hours later, bringing me nearer to the surface from deep in my own unconscious. On nights when I’m upset or preoccupied with something—something I’m writing about, as often as not—I’ll often awaken so completely that, for an hour or two anyway, I feel as fresh as if I’d had a full night’s sleep. And my mind will have been emptied of all the clutter, all the noise, and nothing is moving in there except this one thing, this thought or this feeling that has compelled me from sleep.
In the stillness of the house, as I open my eyes to the blackness, I feel a small thrill. For reasons I can’t begin to explain, I feel good when I wake up at this hour of night. Calm and composed. This hour is mine alone. Not even my dog stirs when I peel back the covers and snatch my laptop before slipping out of the bedroom. Some nights I fix a cup of tea or a bowl of ice cream, maybe watch part of a movie. Others, I go out onto the patio and lie wrapped in a blanket on the chaise, staring at the stars and the way moonlight illuminates the hillside behind my house. If the sentences start coming, I go into the living room. Sitting lengthwise on the couch, my feet up, all lights off and my screen light turned to its lowest register, I get to work.
I have read that creativity involves, among other things, an overactive “default network” in the brain. That is to say, the web of neurons connecting various smaller networks across the brain, allowing local regions to communicate with one another and connect disparate thoughts and feelings. The default network is turned on when a person is daydreaming or otherwise unengaged, and tends to be more easily accessed by creative people than by others. I’ll be the first to announce that my default network is overactive. But the lack of activities requiring focus, the permission to ignore other necessary tasks—I think this is why the late nights are so luscious to me. I actually can’t go sit at my desk: it’s in the bedroom where my husband and I sleep. I can’t make phone calls, can’t go to the coffee shop either. And intensive intellectual work feels too cold for such dark hours. Anyway I’m too out of it for critical thinking. Lyricism is the only thing that feels possible. So I am without interruption and without judgment, even my own.
I write until I get it all out, until I grow tired again. Often I curl up on the couch and crash until the predawn light reminds me to go back to bed. Then I creep back in, momentarily wondering if my husband noticed my absence before returning to the kind of peace that can only be found in sleep.