The phrase, burning the midnight oil, has always fascinated me whenever used not because it talks about a time before electricity is being used for nightly chores, especially writing, but because of the imagery that the phrase provokes. In my head, I see a small roughly made desk with an uncomfortable chair set in front of it for the one who wishes to sit and to use it to write. Sitting in one of the corners is a glass lamp with oil sitting at the bottom and a thick wick floating in the oil and protruding up at the top with a delicate glass protectively cupping the part that would be lit first. The glass is already slightly blackened at the bottom and around the very top from being used so often. Late at night, someone will enter the room and make their way to the desk, sit down in the hard chair while they pull out a match, strike it, and light the distinguished oil lamp, the light causing shadows to bounce around the room as the person opens a drawer and pulls out paper, ink, and a quill.
It then makes me think about how far we have come from those days of literally burning candles or oil lamps for writers and others to use so that he or she can see their paper as they write letters or their future books or paperwork that hadn’t gotten done while at the office to notebooks, inked pens, and computers sitting on beautiful wooden desks with a comfortable chair and ceiling lights or lamps that sit on the desk that uses electricity in order to light the room and the screens or notebooks. No more oil lamps or burning candles, just a light bulb with electricity flowing through it in order to shine light on our projects as we work deep into the night and early mornings.
And as all of these thoughts race through my mind, I pick up my cell phone and grumble as the numbers show me that it is either late at night or super early in the morning and that I have been tossing and turning yet again. My mind begins to think of the strangest topics when I should be asleep, plaguing me so much that I can’t sleep until I either get up and fix the issue or get out of bed to do something to take my mind off of these bizarre random thoughts. Whether my mind makes me think of old sayings that provoke creative imagery like the one I had described earlier or about a new story idea, an old story idea that I have been working on, or one of the thousands of other ideas that run wild in my head. Or if my mind decides to torment me with how the day went and could have gone better or how I could have changed something that I had done or said in the past. Maybe my mind has decided to cause my sleep to travel further away from my grasp because of everyday stressors that haunts us all and seems to haunt us even more so in the wee hours of the night. Whatever the topic, many a night I have found myself wide awake beside my husband as he snores away and while my daughter sleeps peacefully in her room that sits across from ours while my mind races from one topic to the next quickly, sometimes even faster than the Flash himself.
I lay in bed, squeeze my eyes shut, and I try to quiet my mind by creating a “dream” that I would love to be apart of but only sometimes will this help me calm my mind down enough for me to be able to fall asleep and enter a dream, whether the one I forced my mind to think of while I tried to fall asleep or a different one all together. On those nights that this strategy doesn’t work, I will quietly climb out of bed, close the bedroom door so as to not disturb my husband, quickly check on our daughter, then head into the living room and turn on the light to sit on the couch to either read a book, watch something on Netflix while I work on my story (I write my stories all out in a notebook but I’ll talk about that in another post), or I will go into our office and type up one of the stories that has been waiting for a while to get into the computer. I may not have an oil lamp while I am working but I can definitely say that I am burning the midnight oil.
What are some of the ways that help you combat these late night/early morning thoughts that keep you from attaining sleep? Do you rise from bed and do other tasks to help tire yourself out? Do you burn the midnight oil?