I usually wake up around 4am. That is, the alarm goes off at four. I lay in bed for a bit, but I’m usually out in the kitchen by 4:15-4:20ish. Bruno usually prepares coffee the night before, so all I have to do is press the “on” button. I chug two glasses of water. I take vitamins.
And, then, I grab a mug of coffee. I set an hour timer on my phone. I sit on the couch. I open a book and read. I do not read Rousseau. I do not read anything related to my Ph.D. I read whatever I damn well please. I’ve been doing this for over a year now.
After I took my Ph.D. comprehensive exam I had a really hard time with stress, like more than normal. Like I have mentioned before, stress manifests itself physically for me so I had high blood pressure, an ulcer, insomnia, and panic attacks. Not to mention, comps was not exactly the highlight of my graduate school experience. Pressure may be a privilege, but I have never been at my best when the stakes are high.
I missed reading for the sake of reading. For the last four years, I mainly read only what was required for class or for a paper. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I read for school. I would not be doing this if I did not truly love it, but around comps I reached a point where I could not separate the fear of failure with reading political philosophy. I feel much better now, but I do not think it would have happened if not for my daily reading habit.
Knowing that I would likely not get it done in the evenings — that is typically “Bruno time” — I began getting up an hour earlier. I began with re-reading the Harry Potter series which I have not read for years and years despite being a favorite. It was comfort fiction, like eating my mom’s chocolate chip cookies or taking a warm bubble bath. I continued from there to Mischka Berlinski’s Fieldwork and then Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. I re-read favorite classics like Stendhal’s The Red and the Black and discovered new one’s like Anatole France’s The Gods Will Have Blood. Somewhere I had forgotten that I’m someone with lots of interests, not just Rousseau. Case in point: The hot topic of books I read last year was on explorers and conquerors of the Amazons last year (this one on Theodore Roosevelt and the Amazon River is on my shelf now. The obsession continues!).
As the year has passed, I have actually transitioned to reading books more related to my field. Right now I’m reading Homer’s Iliad for the first time — I know, I’m practically an uneducated barbarian. I have two books on liberalism and freedom of religion that I’ve started and yes, sometimes, I even read Rousseau — but only the autobiographical works and Julie!
The benefits of reading in the morning have been practical as well as good for my mental state. It is hard for me to drag myself out of bed to work out or to work really. I have tried to start writing right away in the morning and I just don’t like it. I like easing into my day not rushing into it. That I get to reward myself by getting out of bed so early in the morning with some coffee and a book and generally just some quiet time to myself usually means that while I am slow at getting out of bed, that snooze button is almost never pushed.
And by the time I do go for my run or start writing or whatever the morning has planned, I already feel replenished not only from a good night sleep, but a good book too.