A Writer's Aubade

I used to claim that I wasn't a morning person, but now, in my thirties, I've figured out I am indeed a morning person—just not a talkative one.

November 12 th 2010
"You make the outgoings of the morning and evening rejoice."
—Psalm 65, "To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. A Song."

I heard church bells. In the suburbs? Oh, it's my iPhone alarm. Why, God? I stretch out a clumsy hand to grab my phone in the dark and make it stop. I keep my eyes closed and try to remember why in the name of all things good and holy I decided to wake at 6:00 am. I adore the extra hour I usually get. It wasn't the prior night's wine . . .

That's right—I have a deadline to meet. Groan.

Photo: Jenni Simmons
Sunrise


I'm a new editor learning to balance that work with writing deadlines, and I'd be dishonest if I said I've mastered this with equanimity. That morning half of a long article awaited completion and polishing. It all came rushing back as the odd remnants of my dreams ran away. I forced my eyelids open and I regretfully unfolded my body out of bed, then crept to the bathroom, hoping my busy husband could sleep another hour or two.

I flipped on the low light above the bathtub. I'm a creature of ritual, and so are our cats: true to form, there sat Harley perched on the counter, waiting for me. I kissed his blue-gray head. Milo sat on the windowsill and gazed at the darkened backyard. I washed my hands with a slice of amber-vanilla soap, thankful for the warm, woodsy scent. I grabbed my morning pills and headed to the kitchen, the cats not far behind.

I passed our other cat, Lily, who was sound asleep on the couch. She didn't stir at first; she's deaf. But she must have an impeccable internal clock, because while I swallowed the pills and looked out the window to a motionless street, I sensed her sweet presence at my feet. I looked down; she looked up and meowed without sound.

I set the kettle to boil and turned around to see all three cats looking at me now, their eyes hungry. I prayed over the cats' victuals. Strange? Perhaps, but I once wrote a prayer based on a verse in Exodus: Bless our bread and our water and take away sickness from the midst of us. It seemed holy to care in the midst of my weariness for the felines we love, all of whom we rescued in one form or another. God rescued me and provides for me, too—such an obvious truth.

With my steaming mug of tea cradled in my hands, I climbed the stairs to my office and turned on the lights. As my computer booted, I opened the mini-blinds to a view black as calligraphy ink. But the sky quietly woke up, too. I had it in my head that this metamorphosis is slow. But if I wasn't looking, I could hardly keep up with the changing colours.

Black to indigo, one of my favorite hues; I stared, mouth agape.

A slightly lighter shade. I studied: just a hint of cornflower blue.

I turned to my computer and sighed at my untamed article, then started typing. But I continually peeked out the window to check on the sky, impatiently waiting on colour and shape.

After a few sentences, I could see subtle black outlines of our bottlebrush and pine trees, like pieces of papercut art, as if the leaves and pine cones were cut out of the sky with an X-Acto knife.

A car drove by on the street below, missing this humble light show. I heard a few more cars whiz slowly by, too—not disturbances to my writing, but brief sounds and signs of life.

The sky stretched and pulled off its darker covers to reveal periwinkle. The street lamp clicked off, knowing its place in the hierarchy of luminescence. The grass turned from black to green. Even a neighbor's concrete driveway looked soft, its wear and tear hidden by the morning hush.

I held my breath as that pure, rich, baby blue tiptoed across the horizon. The trees sprouted colour! The morning light in its fullness would soon appear, but I also knew the limitations of earthly time: I resumed typing. There were only so many hours in that day to complete the good work I was given to do.

And then, there was morning! Great is Your faithfulness, I marveled. Sunshine poured through a canvas of blue. Soft white mountains, dragons, and ships of condensation floated by, distracting me from writing and tempting me to daydream. I tried to attend to my assignment, but when I heard birds chirping and chit-chattering, I looked out the window just a little bit more.

Thanksgiving blend
Photo: Jenni Simmons
Thanksgiving blend


Now that the sky was awake, so was I. My husband stirred in the kitchen downstairs. I heard the glorious grinding of coffee beans, and that hopeful, earthy smell wafted upstairs. Minutes later, my door creaked open and he delivered French pressed coffee in one of my favorite stoneware mugs, and a honey-drizzled blueberry waffle with a side of scrambled eggs. A character on Caprica the other night said something like "The smell of coffee makes me feel as if each day is a new blank page." Indeed.

I read from a small Orthodox Psalter I bought from Eighth Day Books at the Glen Workshop in Santa Fe this summer. I ran my fingertips across the texture of pages inscribed with words of promise. I gazed at the red woodcut prints of the life of Christ and seraphim. I was spirited away back to the stark beauty of New Mexico, its breathtaking sunrises and a class every morning where I tried to learn how to be a better writer.

I shook from that reverie and opened iTunes for what I call "musical coffee": Radiohead's song "15 Step," Derek Webb's epic worship album Feedback, and a few rousing new-old hymns. I sang along, washing my written words with prayer and praise—a proper aubade, don't you think?


I'm well aware of the order of creation as written in Genesis, but if Adam and Eve had been created before light, and I'd been standing alongside my forebears sculpted from the dust of the earth and a rib bone, surely we'd all have been bug-eyed to hear the Voice merely speak and to see light. I've come to believe this happens every time I voluntarily (or involuntarily) witness a sunrise. Did He speak "light" to an instant, crisp sky blue, a canopy over the earth? Or was it a gradual lightening, as it is now, after the fall?

"The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world."

—Psalm 19

I used to claim that I wasn't a morning person, but now, in my thirties, I've figured out I am indeed a morning person—just not a talkative one. I write best in the early, quiet hours, and not just to scramble for a deadline. A sunrise is inspirational therapy for my psyche, which is prone to writer's block, insecurity, and all those vices I can't deny, with which I wrestle.

Photo: Jenni Simmons
Writing room


The dark silence of a morning makes me think of the Spirit hovering over the waters before God created light, humanity, and every beautiful thing in between. As the black sky changes from one colour to the next with a flood of golden sunlight as a finale, my words come forth from a blank void as well. The faithful change from darkness to light gives me hope each morning. My body may be weary, but my brain percolates.

The only problem is that I like to walk in the morning, too. I might have to take a notebook, a pen, and a travel mug of coffee and witness this light show outside one morning soon.

 

Jenni Simmons is the editor of the Art House America Blog, assistant editor and staff writer for The Curator, and a freelance writer of eclectic subject matter. She works in an upstairs room of her own while her drummer-husband, Johnny, teaches in their renovated garage studio. They enjoy practicing the art of hospitality in their suburban home, watching films and TV together, and taking long walks around the 'hood. They attend Church of the Holy Trinity in the historic Woodland Heights of Houston, in close proximity to Antidote Coffee and Kaboom Books, which Jenni tries to incorporate before or after worship every Sunday.

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