Monday, March 18, 2013

The Afternoon Belongs to the Sleepy

I heard a saying once: the morning is for God, the evening is for humans, but the afternoon belongs to the devil.

Whoever wrote this had a circadian rhythm similar to my own – bright and shining and preternaturally alert in the early morning, lapsing somewhat around 10 am but functional till lunchtime, then going to hell in the afternoon.

The afternoon: when things that have been left unfinished in the morning are visited on the weary soul like the returning curse of a bad fairy. The afternoon, when you become an existentialist. When the garden sinks into an endless trance, except for Ferdie, the kelpie cross from the flat around the corner who, tail wagging in delight, poohs on the generous grass of my front yard.

He knows he's not supposed to, so, lacking the moral rectitude of many in the canine world, he confines his doings to areas of the yard that are outside the sightline from my office window. Perhaps he is a kind of devil – his peculiar pale-rust coat and disconcertingly light eyes suggest this – but I know the impression is misleading because, after chasing him around the corner once, I got close and thought he was cringing until I realised he had picked up a stick in his mouth and was throwing it on the ground in front of me, urging me to play catch with him. Not a devil perhaps but certainly devil-may-care.

The trouble with afternoons is that they often mean deadlines, but I'll do almost anything to avoid having to send a completed job to a client at this time of day. What horrors of sloppy diction are laid bare, what ridiculous mistakes and omissions have been left unseen by my oxygen-depleted brain when something is sent off before close of business (ie 5 pm)?

Better to be ahead of the game, to have most of the thing finished by the morning – what a shining time to get things done! My brain is like a purring engine that's just been serviced. It runs smoothly with minimal noise. Small errors that escaped my attention jump out at me. Creativity is at its height. I treasure these few hours. They are the secret to any kind of success I have in my career.

The zombie-like nature of afternoons can be minimised by judicious planning. The trick is to reserve this time for things that require only small amounts of either mental or manual labour. It’s quite a good time for starting new work tasks – to freewheel a bit, do some basic research, produce creative insights and provide an extremely rough first draft, but not to draw all the threads together or supply rigorous logic. One non-professional task I like to do in the afternoons is weeding the garden – it's mindless and refreshing. Clearing out the email in-box is also a productive way to pass the time when blood-sugar challenged.

Since I started taking antidepressants there is an added complication to the afternoon. At around 5.30 pm I like to stop work and fling myself onto my comfortable old couch under the large window in the spare room. It’s the lightest, airiest room in the house and I can't be seen from the couch when I'm lying on it because of the upward slope of my front yard (but I can poke my head up and check for Ferdie's arrival).

It's a perfect place to read by the bright light of the late afternoon sun, except that, with the drugs in my system, between 5 and 6 is the time my mental energy is at its lowest. Yet when I close my eyes, hoping for half an hour of sweet oblivion, my brain seems to be trapped in a halfway house, too tired to think but not tired enough to sleep. It feels a bit mangy, a bit old, as if it doesn't know how to either turn itself off or keep itself on properly. TS Eliot wrote:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw.

He seems to have uncannily predicted the effects of Luvox on my early-evening mental state.

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