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Pure Mornings for the DIY Elite

My best time to write is first thing in the morning--when it's just me, a chorus of early birds, and a caffè latte. The early morning hours are a magical time sacred to both hard manual laborers, like dairy farmers and my husband who loads airplanes before dawn, and "creative class" elites such as Fortune 500 CEOs and little old me.

I've read plenty of scientific evidence to back up my intuition that I write most productively when I am freshly rested and still emerging from dreamspace.

Editing draws upon different mental skills that sharpen later in the day, but that initial flow of ideas and motivation comes strongest before the dawn. 

This year, the beginning of my summer coincides with the creation of a new novel, so I am committing to a firm schedule of writing for one to two hours just after I wake up, depending on whether I need to go in to work that day. I'll try to get the whole first draft done before fall, when I'll split my time between writing new material in the morning and editing in the afternoon, before my daughter gets out of school.

Like most writers, I have a life outside of writing--mainly a day job and a family--so I have to take advantage of the opportunities that exist within a rigid schedule. And as the CEO of nothing but my own life, I am blocking out my writing time according to the optimal choices available to me.

Meanwhile, as an aspiring novelist, a headline about the "aspirational class" just caught my eye. One of my friends shared an article about a new book, The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class, about the new American elites described as:
Highly educated and defined by cultural capital rather than income bracket, these individuals earnestly buy organic, carry NPR tote bags, and breast-feed their babies. They care about discreet, inconspicuous consumption—like eating free-range chicken and heirloom tomatoes, wearing organic cotton shirts and TOMS shoes, and listening to the Serial podcast. They use their purchasing power to hire nannies and housekeepers, to cultivate their children’s growth, and to practice yoga and Pilates.
This paragraph fairly accurately describes me and some of my friends (maybe substituting TOMS for Birks and Chacos) until the last sentence. I have next to zero "purchasing power," certainly not enough for any of those services, because my husband and I have designed our life not just around consumption choices but around restrictions on what we are willing to do and how much time we are willing to spend to earn income.

We were both raised Catholic, but neither of us believes in monetary indulgences. We are suspicious of carbon credits, bribes, payoffs, and charitable giving as a primary measure of goodness. So instead of working long hours at soulless jobs that pay high salaries (as The Sum of Small Things reports that the top 20% of American earners does) and then turning around to pay "servants" to take care of our child and home and health, I work part-time (25 hours per week) for an organization that pays mostly in the form of karma points, and my husband and I care for our own family, our own home and property, and our own general wellness. We "bundle," as insurance agents like to say, things like fitness and lawn care by using an old-fashioned manual mower. Monthly gym and landscaping fees: $0. Our greatest expenditure is on groceries, and we keep that expense low by cooking from scratch as much as possible and minimizing waste.

Strangely, the author of Small Things, sociologist Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, lumps people like me, who live well on little income, into this "aspirational class," simply because we are creative and care about using our powers for good. According to the article my friend shared, however, the book isolates the "inconspicuous consumption" of services like premium health insurance and private schools that drive inequality and harm the children of poorer families. Welp, I guess my karma account is safe.

But should I still do high-class stuff that CEOs do if I'm not a CEO? Do I deserve "me time" and "self-care" if I'm not running myself ragged? The Catholics I grew up with revered martyrs and having the biggest "cross to bear." But I'm not Catholic anymore. I don't believe in the notion of shortening our time in purgatory by flagellating ourselves in life. And I don't believe life is a zero-sum game either. If I don't take advantage of the simple little blessings and opportunities in my life, it doesn't mean someone else will get them. And if I do, it doesn't mean someone else won't. In fact, it might just mean that I have more time, energy, and resources to share.

Paradoxically, some of the same folks believe that God rewards good people with money. And it's not just Catholics. There seem to be two big social myths that both "working harder, not smarter" and being rich are equated with worthiness. I reject both myths. I aspire to a fulfilling, creative life that is not burdened by scrambling for or managing wealth.

I believe there's something that is simultaneously luxurious and punk about claiming the lifestyle of the "aspirational" or "creative" class without getting rich. According to Currid-Halkett, when lower-income people get their grubby, work-stained hands on status symbols, those symbols lose their power as markers of class and drivers of inequality. But, like a well-crafted hardwood coffee table nabbed at a garage sale, those things retain their inherent worth to those who don't value social status over true quality of life.

This takes the pressure off me to "succeed" at my writing as measured in monetary compensation for my time at the computer. The act of spending time on a creative activity is itself a luxury, and it is legit punk to not care about whether you ever get paid for it.

So I'll be in bed at sundown all summer long (except around the Fourth of July, of course!) and at my writing desk at sunrise in the company of birdsongs, the remnants of dreams, and a mug of hot inspiration sourced from fair trade espresso beans, moo cow milk from the Quality Dairy corner store, and the half-broken-but-still-functioning Mr. Coffee four-shot espresso machine on my '90s tile kitchen counter. I will revel in my life of uncool luxury, appreciating the advantages I have to create my own kind of success. Then maybe I'll outline my next chapter over brunch. Call me aspirational.


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