March 6, 2020, by Jem
I Tried My Hand at Nocturnal Living
Three weeks ago, I saw an owl sleeping on a branch in the light of day. Various factors made me raise my palm to my face and ask,
“Why don’t I try my hand at nocturnal living? Why don’t I, like this owl, shut my eyes to the sun and live by the moon?”
The key factors that prompted my consideration of nocturnal living were:
Sleep — noise-wise, my neighbours were mice by day, and oxen by night.
Vulnerability to contagion – I believed that day was where all the world’s surfaces were painted with germs, and that night was where this vile paint peeled away, where germs slackened their grip and fell from banisters, from door handles, from whatever they’d been clinging to, and the world became pristine again – in the clean world of night, I would be safe from microbial interference.
And of course the stars had something to do with it — I felt that I was too familiar with the sky of day and had, comparatively speaking, spent little time with its starry counterpart. I wished to get to know the stars, to gaze at the fascinating spaces in between them, and to apologise to the smooth moon for favouring the sun all my ignorant life.
It has been three weeks since I went nocturnal, and I’ve grown pale and bleak-headed.
I have discovered that:
- There is nothing fascinating about the spaces in between the stars; it is like staring at missing teeth.
- The moon is not smooth but lumped.
- I am ill. I don’t know how, but I am.
- My curtains are bad curtains. Light tears through them and singes my eyebrows.
- My neighbours sing. During the day, they sing. Scales. Songs would perhaps lull me to sleep, but these scales – rising and falling, rising and falling – have driven me hallucinogenic with anger, and I have roared things at the wall, roared that they never sang when I was diurnal, so why now that I was nocturnal, hm?
I have noticed also that I have not been able to attend my degree. The one consolation has been this:
There is a professor whose office hours curiously begin at 8 am on a Wednesday and, with my 9 am bedtime, I have been able to drop in. He teaches Civil Engineering, whereas I study English, but my encounters with this learned professor have been vital from a psychological point of view – my weekly social needs have been met, by the skin of my teeth, via conversation strained out of my pointing to book spines on his shelving and saying the word ‘Summarise’.
The only other encounters I’ve had in these weeks of endless night have been with wolves, and they have only met my spiritual needs.
This Wednesday, I knocked on the professor’s door and there was no answer. He had changed his office hours. I could hear the light ring of aluminium against china. He was eating muesli behind that door.
‘Brutus!’ I cried, ‘Now I have nothing!’
In the morning corridor, I listened to the echo of my cry and knew that I could not go on like this.
Today is my first full day in weeks, and I feel returned. My skin is ghostly, but the sun is bright, and I have spent this afternoon lying on the grassy slope that curves up from the banks of our lake… it is wonderful, just lying down on the Spring grass in my warm clothes, whilst tilting my pale face to the sky, as though offering Helios – that great God of the sun – a dinner plate in exchange for vitamin D.
To conclude, I tried to sleep by day and live by night, but I know now that it is a game best left to badgers, owls, and bats. Let them have their fun. They know what they are doing. We oughtn’t ever imitate. So hear me when I say this:
Do not try your hand at nocturnal living, unless your hand is a claw.