late night

hi readers and friends. just a note to remind everyone that the paid-subscriber version of this project has ended, and the free one will end, at least for now, at the end of 2019. I’m so sorry this letter has been absent for a couple weeks, but I still fully intend to send out free letters every week until the end of the year, and will try to make up the missing ones from this month here and there before I finish. also, I’ve made all of the archives public, so that everyone can go back and read any past essays they’d like. some favorites are here, here, here, here, and here (as well as the original halloween griefbacon here) speaking of which, here’s something I wrote last week in a more halloween-ish mood. there are a couple spooky season essays in my drafts that I didn’t finish in time, actually, so it might be spooky season here at griefbacon a while longer. but hopefully nobody minds.

I’m awake right now because I drank coffee too late at night. For once, our two cats are asleep. Usually, whenever I try to stay awake late and work, at least one if not both of them protests, insists on staying up with me, runs and yowls and tries to climb the walls, seemingly affronted that there could be something I want to do that isn’t sleep. Late night is a good time to think about selfishness, and I feel selfish, wishing the cats to sleep so I can stay up too late and soak in the loneliest part of the day. I consider, and then hate myself for considering, how if I loved fewer things, if I had let fewer things matter, then I could have late nights whenever I wanted, alone in the darkness reflected out the windows, the still middle of 3am like an undisturbed body of water, the cars on the street below like the silence of oars crossing an ocean slowly and alone.

Late night is a time for aloneness, a time to be alone. It is a time for pretending, for vaulting backward or forward into fantasy. With most of the nearby world asleep, with the day tucked away behind windows, under blankets and behind closed doors and slackened faces, the imaginary seems just as possible as the real. My whole life, with its errands and obligations, its places and things, its emails and bank accounts and showers and public transit, seems like something that exists only because I have chosen to believe very hard in it. I could put something else in its place with nothing more than thought. Everything remains unformed; everything seems possible. 

Late night is an alone time and it is when I can admit that I miss the sense, however false, of being anchored to nothing, including myself. When I lived alone, staying up late offered a seam in the day into which it felt as thought I might fully disappear. I often stayed up all night just so I could feel gloriously, glacially, alone, as though I had rowed out to the center of a large lake, far enough from every shore that I could see nothing around me at all. 

Most of what I actually did when I lived alone was be scared, at least at night. Living alone made me jumpy and superstitious, which is the same way I get when I travel alone or when Thomas is out of town for even one night. Being alone in a house is spooky for the same reason that being alone makes every imaginary version of oneself seem possible. Ghosts and night terrors, the face at the side of the road on the long dark drive through the country, are all potentials, all about our willingness to believe before evidence. The hopeful, privileged teenager about to start college who truly believes they can be anything they want to be is not very different from a person who believes in ghosts. Both are a lot like the part of my brain that thinks every small noise is a demon lurking in the bathroom mirror when I’m in the house alone.

All of these things are ghost stories, a belief in the unlikely, a willingness to overthrow the known and the documented for the outlandish and the hysterical, for the spiky, wanting things that get their claws in us late at night when no one is awake to fend them off, when nothing dull and pedestrian offers a counterargument. A wide open future is also a haunted house, full of things never seen before. What is frightening is what is possible, and late enough at night all the limits seem to slide back, and all guards seem to fall asleep on the job or go home. Anything is possible, here, this far out across the lake; anything could be right beneath us, coiled within the still dark water, as real as yesterday or tomorrow. We associate all-nighters with youth simply because our bodies can better stand the ravages of a jagged and irresponsible sleep schedule when we’re younger, but I think it also has to do with how both are about potential, the sense of a long stretch of time, curling so far ahead that its horizon is invisible. Both promise that any fantasy or nightmare could be made material, that ghosts could rise again, that anything imagined could be true and anything lost might still be found. 

The cats wake up and start making noise, which means I should go to bed. Daytime is a cold-water reminder of what is real; so are other people, and so is love, at least when it’s requited. Everything outside ourselves to which we tether ourselves is a reminder that possibility is in fact limited. The sun starts to rise. Thomas wakes up and shuffles into the living room and asks if I’m ok, and if I want to come to bed. Love, daytime, obligation, even the ground-floor needs of our own itchy bodies, all of it it is the light switch that banishes the monsters, that turns the haunted house back into just a home. I’ll probably never quite sleep normally, in the healthy way I know I should have learned years ago; I’ll probably always wonder if I would have been better if I had stayed alone, had made less space for more love, and remained crouched at my desk all night with nothing to stop me, the face in the window of the haunted house, all ghostly possibility.