Late Night

After a poor night’s sleep last night, I am still awake at 11 p.m. Not because I can’t sleep, but because I don’t want to. Because at 9:30, I suddenly felt like getting some things done, like drilling some screws into a bench I’m repairing and laying out the new fabric I picked up today to see what it wants to be.

And yes, I did the dishes and started the laundry too, because why waste a perfectly good spurt of energy when there are things to do?

I’m thinking of my mother, who was a night owl. She would fall asleep in the chair watching evening TV, right around 8 p.m., reliably nodding off with a lit cigarette in her hand, which I would often rescue and put out before it killed us all. If I tried to wake her and tell her to go to bed, she’d object: “No, I’m not tired,” or “I have something to do.” She’d nod off again, and I’d go upstairs to bed.

In the morning, I’d find that she’d been up painting in her studio, the room above the garage vacated by my brothers. I could smell the oil paint when I’d step into the kitchen, and know that she’d found her way up to her easel and taboret, to the over-sized shirt (her painting smock) she used to cover her clothes. Her creative energy surged at night. I remember waking one Valentine’s morning to find she’d made each of us a special heart-shaped sachet and hung it from our doorknobs.

I have a notebook next to my bed full of things that occurred to me at 4 a.m. that I wrote, eyes half-open, by the light of my book light. Fragments of ideas, whole ideas, paragraphs, character outlines. Four a.m. is when creativity surges for me, which is why I didn’t sleep much last night.

My mom was an artist of considerable talent, and she’d painted and drawn during my entire childhood. She never let it lapse, always maintained some kind of studio in the house. The saddest one was down in the basement corner, where there was zero natural light, but she’d cobbled together some shelves and strung up some kind of lighting and worked long into the early hours.

I was a fan of her watercolors. She had a deft hand with landscapes, sweeping hills and waterways with gestures I could never quite understand. And her pen and ink drawings bore her signature edge, an incisive quality I’d know anywhere. When she talked on the phone, sitting at the kitchen table and leashed to the phone hanging in the corner of the family room, she’d doodle these perfect little lines of loops and hash marks, whatever shape she felt like, for line after line. The loops were so even and perfectly spaced, it looked like a tunnel. She was building technique, teaching herself hand control. Sometimes I try to doodle those lines like her, but I’m not an artist, and I don’t have her control.

Maybe it was a handwriting technique exercise. She had the most beautiful handwriting. I’m not sure. But it seemed she doodled every time she sat at that table.

her doodles were much better.

She would have loved the kind of freedom of movement and time that I have now. When she was my age, I was nine years old, and she was a long way from independence. She’d dreamed of moving to the Southwest and living the artist’s life, but didn’t live long enough to realize that dream. That is one of the saddest things about losing my mother when she was such a young age (64); she had so much planned that she never got to do.

And here I am, in the middle of the night, with an apartment all to myself–my first place!–and nearly all the time in the world to write and, just for fun, sew. Other than my work at the music and arts centers, the only demand on my time is my sweet dog, who wants only to wander out onto the deck and sniff the air, and romp in the woods with me, and sleep on my feet.

So, Mom, it looks like *I* got your wish. It’s only been a week, so I’m still adjusting. But I think I’m going to like it.

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