Lately I’ve been waking up to the foot of snow infesting Madison at around 4am. Why 4 am? I have no clue. Well, I have a clue, but not why 4am. But it’s one of my favorite things on earth to wake up early in the dead of winter.
One of the conditions for me being creative is silence. But in general I love silence. The stillness and loneliness of being in a room with no lights on except for the street lights filtering yellow into my apartment is not just cozy, it’s reassuring. I live in a world of stimulation all the time. It’s not just the usual digital stimulation that we can all easily avoid by turning off the screens, it’s the cacophony of cars and trucks racing by my apartment and early morning dumpster pickups that crash bottles into the dump truck.
6am silence is one thing. It’s a calm with a scattering of life walking the streets and cars going off to work in staggered fashion. The sun has come up and turned the white landscape of snow slightly blue and the dirt ravaged snow looks black. At 6am, waking up means waking up with the rest of humanity in the city and the connection that can be felt when realizing this fact while being removed from the sound of the population. For a sunday morning, 6am means a longer day, one with less stress and fewer requirements and all that really matters is how many cups of coffee remain in the coffee maker. 6am is a time to meditate and welcome the day that will come soon enough if I begin to read.
But 4am. Everything is still. Being winter there are no birds chirping or even an animal skittering across the ground. An occasional car will pass by but somehow remains silent in its solitude. The world is quiet and the only thing that can be identified are lawns covered in snow and icicles dripping from the roofs. At 4am, the city is still asleep. Peaceful is not a word that I would use to describe such a situation. Peaceful is a word that I reserve solely for relaxation. Waking up at 4am is energizing. There are no people around, not obligations, nothing that needs to be done for hours until later when the rest of the world wakes and expects me to do work. The word is solitude. Solitude from all life. Around my apartment the only thing that says that people inhabit the city is the browned and blackened snow piled by the side of the road. But there is no one around, no life around, nothing but me walking around in my robe drinking the first cup of coffee of the morning still yawning slightly from waking early, but filled with a strange energy that comes from being left all to one’s devices. It is the only solitude that one can find in a moderately sized city, the only way to find a reprieve from the sounds, the chaotic energy, the frenetic movements of people moving from A to B using the same sidewalks gerrymandering their ways around one another. 4am is free of all of that. I could walk the deserted city and find nothing in the still black sky and a refreshing cold that frees me from the comforting warmth of 70 degrees that at times is as warming as it is oppressive.
4am, a time to do whatever I want. It is freedom. The world doesn’t begin for another four hours and I can do whatever I want, play however I want, think and act in ways that make sense only to me because it is 4am and there is not a soul to judge or even care what I do. My little apartment above a waxing salon becomes a cabin in the woods removed from society and the use of electricity is the only thing that I allow myself.
4am in the summer is refreshing and exciting because the sun will soon be up and venturing outside will be a walk through undisturbed urbane nature. Walking along the lake will only consist of the sound of the waves lapping and the sun rising above the hill in its differentiated hues. Birds will chirp and I will find it warm, and peaceful. But peace does not come in winter, only solitude, hours and hours of loneliness and wandering half naked through my apartment with coffee mug in hand not thinking not doing just simply existing in an unintentional zen state of mind.
I woke at 4am this morning and there was nothing. I spent some time in the kitchen with a mug of coffee in my right hand just wondering about whatever with thoughts coming and going without any connection and forgotten as soon as they drift out of my mind. Thoughts were of no consequence, forming rational arguments for doing things in the day or against them were nowhere to be found. Just the transom that comes and goes as the mind still searches for something to do, but without any consequence to be derived from winning a mental argument. Nothing was done. While the city was waking up at 6, I had done nothing. Not accomplished nothing, but simply done nothing, no TV, no Facebook, no reading, just nothing. Thoughts start to disappear after a while and this becomes easier and easier to do until all that is really thought of is the taste of the coffee and whether another sip is in order. As easy as it might sound to do such a thing, for hours it is more difficult when the buzzing confusion of the streets filters in and the stop lights create a punctuation in car traffic.
Instead, 4am gave me time to be nothing, to just exist.