(By Anita Mathias. This was published in The Style Page, The Washington Post, 16th September, 1997. )
Exercise first thing in the morning, my fitness instructor says. The discipline will spill over to the rest of the day. It jump-starts your metabolism, so that you burn more calories, whether you read or cook or nap. And if you wake early enough, you can walk on the golf course.
Pray first thing in the morning, the radio preacher thunders. Jesus rose before the dawn to pray to his heavenly father. Pray before phone-calls and mail and frustrations jangle your spirit; pray while your mind is clear and tranquil, and you can hear what the Lord God has to say. The plug of prayer connects you to the power you need for the day.
Write first in the morning, my professor advises. The only way to learn to write is by writing. And that way you’re sure you’ve done it. Your unconscious is closer to its dream state early in the morning. It can fly. He quotes Goethe: “Write at dawn, skim the cream of the day, then you can study crystals, intrigue at court, and make love to your kitchen maid.” Trollope rose at 5:30 a.m. to write; he wrote seventy books. Hemingway rose at six, wrote till midday, and then had fun.
But read before you write, the teacher adds. Books come from other books. The rhythms of your favorite writer will throb in your veins; they will pulse through your writing.
Study your dreams which offer you the wisdom of the unconscious, my therapist suggests. Your dream of arriving late to a party you’re hosting, arriving after the glutted guests couldn’t care less about you, is an admonition that you are working too hard. You are missing the party of your life. Record your dreams first thing in the morning. Delay ten minutes and you forget the dream; its details blur.
Do difficult things first thing in the morning, I note at the brown-bag lecture, “Organize Yourself.” The longer you delay, the tireder you grow, the harder seems the task. “Procrastination makes easy things difficult, and difficult things impossible.”
The alarm shrills at five a.m. The dog wants to go out. The coffee must be brewed. I must brush my teeth and wash my face and comb my hair. I must be quiet, or I will wake the baby.
Voices sound around me, mentors and tormentors. Drink lemon and honey the first thing in the morning; it purifies the blood. Pray, exercise, read, write, record your dreams–the first thing in the morning. The world comes at me. I duck under the comforter.
I wake, much later, to the baby’s first cry. I write this the last thing at night.