Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The four o'clock creeps

If you are under the age of 40, do not read this entry. It reveals a mystery. Or it tries to.

In the late 1970s, as I wrote about here, M. and I attended several of the Church of Wicca's Samhain Seminars, one of the earliest Pagan hotel-type gatherings in the United States, after Carl Weschcke's Gnosticons. (Their descendent is the United Earth Assembly.)

We were among "the kids." Many of the attendees were older, and a number of men were professional engineers with an interest in fringe and far-out technology. (This was the era of homemade biofeedback gadgetry, among other things.)

One speaker gave a presentation on extreme-low-frequency radio transmissions (ELF) and its possible effects on the human brain. "They" were testing it around 4 a.m., he said, not specifying a time zone.

"Don't you find yourself waking up around then, confused and depressed?" he asked the mostly middle-aged audience--or words to that effect.

I was a little puzzled, because I usually slept soundly all night. M. is a world-class insomniac, so it's no use asking her. "Four o'clock creeps" is her term.

Years passed, and now I understand. Waking at 4 a.m. and lying awake reviewing all the ways in which your life has been a total waste is a normal feature of middle age. Perhaps men are more prone to this affliction than women, but I have not carried out a study. I could be wrong.

I have been reading several books that run headlong into the same question.

Poet, novelist, and screenwriter Jim Harrison threw away a promsing academic career to be a freelancer, and after years of hard times enjoyed some major successes. But he was always on the edge of going over the edge, he writes in his memoir Off to the Side. Fishing, hunting, and periods of solitude helped keep him sane. After a lot of aphoristic writing (sample: "When a writer feels embattled, the next step is paranoia, which is only rarely justified."), Harrison concludes,

I don't feel an ounce of 'closure' about finishing this memoir. I'll just see how far this life carries me. . . . My life could have been otherwise but it wasn't."

If anyone ever asks me to write a memoir, I am going to steal that line: "My life could have been otherwise, but it wasn't."

Edward Abbey, who likewise was an overnight success after twenty years of hard work, wrote in his diary, "Trouble, trouble trouble. Except for sweet things like [his kids] Clarke and Rebecca, my life seems to me a dismal failure. . . 58 years old and I 've never learned to do 'anything practical, useful, sociable.'"

Abbey is quoted in another memoir, Doug Peacock's Walking It Off: A Veteran's Chronicle of War and Wilderness. The Veterans Administration says that Peacock himself is 100-percent disabled with post-traumatic stress syndrome from his Green Beret days in Vietnam. But he manages to write too, so what excuse do I have?


Blogger prairie mary said...

Interesting that several of us are or were recently reading Jim Harrison's memoir. it creeps up on a person -- any time. I've always waked up at 3 or 4AM. In high school that's when I did my homework. In my early years in Browning when I was sleeping with Bob Scriver (literally, not as a euphemism) but didn't want anyone to know it, I got up then and went home. For a month here I delivered the newspaper. Now it's cats. They think 4AM is a proper time to rise, check the yard, have a snack. Then we all go back to bed and get up when the world is bright at 9AM. At least that's what I do. And that's what the big blonde cat does. The little tortie takes a second prowl -- maybe a third. She's a very busy cat. If I can't go back to sleep, there are all these terrific blogs to read and comment on...

Prairie Mary

9:38 PM  
Blogger Poodlezilla said...

My husband has this! I kid you not! I now know that my soothing of him is pointless and ruins my night. I must now inform him that it is merely government tests and that he must ignore it.

Ah, now that's science!

6:00 PM  

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