Creature of the Night
by Jake Block
I crawl like a viper
Through these suburban streets
Make love to these women
Languid and bittersweet
I rise when the sun goes down
Cover every game in town
A world of my own
I’ll make it my home sweet home”
— Deacon Blues (Steely Dan)
Most people look at “night people” as a kind of aberration, I suppose. We can be awake in the daylight hours, but we never seem to quite fit in with the aesthetic. There’s something just not quite right… a little off… like a woman in a short, thin sundress, walking down a snow covered street. “Daylight walkers” seem just as out of place when they are dropped into a temporary night-time lifestyle, perhaps for work or a severe bout of insomnia. They function like they’re part of a dream, and if they have to be up, they spend most of the time in the house with the lights on.
When night people are up at night, they don’t usually bathe their house in light. They’ll turn on a light in an area where they’re working on something, but the rest of the house will be dark, and when, for instance, they have to go from one end of the house to another, it just doesn’t occur to them to turn on lights along the way. They know their way through the house in the dark and can function quite well that way. Most will tell you that they enjoy peering into the darkness of the unlit rooms around them. There are no monsters to fear in there.
Contrast that to the day person who will begin flipping on lights to ward off the darkness at the first sign of day’s fading light. The whole family may be crowded into a central room… perhaps the kitchen or living room… but all over the house, empty rooms are brightly lit. The father’s bellowing voice, complaining about every light in the damned house falls on deaf ears. Why invite the shadows inside? Confine them to the outer darkness, as the inside can be a safe-haven. Even after ages of evolution, we’ll still keep a night light softly glowing in our bedrooms to ward off terrors of the dark. The omnipresent television, left on while we sleep, serves to assure us that we are not alone.
Once I graduated high school, I spent most of my life as a night person, as a pre-military civilian, I took jobs with night shifts an stayed on them as long as possible, because, more often than not, the shift was paid a bit more than day shift jobs. Then, once I joined the military, and I spent my time learning the job, I was one of those rare and valuable people who volunteered for the grave shift jobs. There are indeed benefits in working the grave shift in a military, in that things are generally a bit slower, there are fewer officers and senior NCOs to get in your way and you had time to actually learn the job better. Slow times gave you an excellent opportunity to get into the books and study the regulations, so that you knew the why and how of the job, certainly, but these were also excellent study references for the promotion tests that could better your life in the military. Out of 20 years in the military, I was on the night shift for at least 16.
Unfortunately, more money is there to be made as a civilian in the day light hours, so from 1989 until 2002, I was a reluctant daylight walker, at least during work hours. It took me quite a while to be awake when I would much rather have been sleeping. It wasn’t natural for me. And it was such a relief, when I finally retired from the “working world” in 2002. Almost without missing a step, my body began to return to its nocturnal habits and it was a beneficial state for me to be in once again. Now that I am “a retiree,” I am again mostly nocturnal in my day to day life and find little need to interact with “day walkers.”
Culture plays a role in whether one be completely nocturnal, however and, while many things in larger populations are open 24 hours, rural communities offer far fewer opportunities for night time commerce. In this area, the only thing that is open for business here after 9PM are two local gas stations and the town’s McDonald’s. Strange, for a college town. Of course, if you REALLY need something, there is a 24 hour Wally World 20 miles away to the south, and 20 miles away to the north, as well.
It took some time for the locals to get used to the “crazy Yankee” in their midst. They weren’t used to someone, especially a photographer, who could be found wandering in the night, taking photographs…and in a cemetery, no less! Surely there was something foul afoot. Things are better now that I’m more well known to the police, but it wasn’t that long ago that they came upon me in the cemetery across the street at 3AM and, covered in the blinding spotlight, questioned me about the who, what, why and WTF of finding a man with a camera amongst the dead after midnight.
“HALT… who are you?”
“Jake Block, Officer. I live across the street.”
“What are you doing here?
“Taking pictures, Officer. I’m a dark photographer and shoot at night.”
“Why are you taking pictures in the cemetery?”
“Because it’s here.”
“OK. Just don’t disturb anything. The office will contact you tomorrow.”
“Make it in the afternoon, please. I’m a day sleeper!”
It’s good to know that I’m not alone! Many famous and creative people have been night people. That list includes Charles Bukowski (writer), Fidel Castro (revolutionary), Winston Churchill (British Politician), Bob Dylan (Musician), Glenn Gould (pianist), Samuel Johnson (writer), Carl Jung (psychoanalyst), Franz Kafka (writer), Fran Libowitz (writer), Marilyn Manson (musician), Mao Zedong (Chinese politician), Frank Meyer (philosopher), Barak Obama (American politician), Prince (musician), Marcel Proust (novelist), Joseph Stalin (Russian politician), Hunter Thompson (writer), J.R.R. Tolkein (writer), Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (painter), John Travolta (actor), Linus Torvalds (software engineer), Frank Zappa (musician), and Mark Zuckerberg, (Facebook founder).
I have always had a creative streak, whether it be in art, I did pen and ink, mostly, writing or photography, but my most creative periods have always been in the night time hours and, most specifically, between 1 and 4AM. If I am awake and trying to create something in the daylight hours, my mind has to contend with all of the things going on around me. The telephone, doorbells, need to go shopping, and overall fatigue that I feel during the daylight hours seem to slow down my thought processes and dull the creative urge. I find myself thinking more about taking a nap, than taking a picture, although I know that in some instances, the shots I want to take simply cannot be done in the dark.
And throughout my life as an “occultist,” I have found that most of the people that share those interests with me have been creatures of the night as well. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence. There is a coolness of the night that drives people like me indoors when the sun begins to rise, and its brightness stings my eyes. I sleep better during the daylight hours, when I can cool the room down and block out the sun with curtains. Only then can my body regenerate efficiently… and this too I seem to share with those of my night time world.
I will grant you that there are drawbacks with living a mostly nocturnal lifestyle, such as shopping for things you can’t find at the 24 hour Walmart stores, furniture stores, or service related businesses that generally cater to those of the daylight world. But the Internet with its instant access to most goods and services 24/7 can be just as convenient, although one has to wait for delivery in the mail. The inconveniences of commerce are more than made up by the quiet, cool and less populated world I love at night.
People sometimes laugh at the paleness of complexion we of the night time world often have. I prefer to call it my “moon tan,” and tell them that it’s not only fashionable, but much much less likely to scar my skin with melanoma! And I would rather walk with my love in the pale moon light than dance with her on a sweaty hot beach any day!