Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Nighttime has a history, in Morris and with mankind
Coborn's had a nice little niche in the Morris business community. Its round-the-clock policy was mainly responsible for that. Willie's is not inclined to go that way. Coborn's sold gas whereas Willie's doesn't. A definite "night owl" atmosphere could be felt at our old Coborn's.
Not only did Coborn's leave us, they left behind a rather decaying old shell of a building. It's not necessary to have the "no loitering" sign out in the parking lot anymore. McDonald's does keep that spot somewhat busy. But it's not like "the old days" when cars would zip in and out of that little hub with regularity beginning quite early.
Now we have Casey's going 24 hours. The 24-hour system has never really gotten a foothold in Morris. Businesses occasionally put their toe in the water in regard to it. The restaurant now known as DeToy's once did. The ownership was ambivalent, as it noticed that college students would come in, hang around and study, perhaps drink some coffee but not necessarily spend much money. Let's emphasize the words "hang around." I'd go there myself on nights when I was working late. I'm reminded of the well-known painting "Boulevard of Broken Dreams."
An interesting kind of consciousness can take over in that kind of situation. More bad than good can happen. The mind works slow and can turn contemplative.
Approach to sleep in olden times
There was a time in man's development when we'd wake up in the middle of the night and not just to go to the bathroom. Pre-industrial man had a different sleep pattern from today.
Reading about it makes me sort of long for those olden times. It seemed we could withdraw from our worldly cares more easily.
We learn that even nighttime "has a history." A Virginia Tech history professor name of A. Roger Ekirch has probed this. Professors can be very useful when they unearth information like this. We can come up with theories as to why we feel so stressed and overburdened today. We are contradicting a long history of sleep habits, habits that seemed natural and kept us on an even keel. Ekirch has learned through extensive probing that our ancestors slept in two distinct chunks each night. A character in "Canterbury Tales" decides to go back to bed after her "firste sleep." This first sleep began not long after the sun went down and lasted until a little after midnight. We'd then wake up for an hour or so, to be followed by the "second sleep." It was a routine as common as breakfast once.
The "nightscape" was indeed different in the days before gas and then electricity. Research shows that in the "early modern" period, Europeans lived in two worlds. The one familiar to us was ruled by light and the rules of society. The other was marked by anxiety and fantasy and brought a sort of dreamy kind of community feeling. Darkness had its terrors and dangers. Darkness was accompanied by a sense of mystery. Being inside was not total insulation. Candlelight spelled some fire danger. The stability of church and civil authorities was tested in the blackness of night. We teetered on chaos.
Ekirch is the author of "At Day's Close" which focuses on the 16th through 18th Centuries in Europe and the North American colonies. He notes that darkness afforded "an attractive freedom." People slept differently, he discovered in poring over reams of documents. "Their circadian patterns had not been altered by the persistence of light beyond sunset." Another nugget: "Lighting has altered the state of our biology as well as our society."
A doctor said that between the first and second sleep was "the best time for study and reflection."
Ah, life before the days of LEDs and wall sconces seemed to afford a generous share of unstructured time for contemplation, which perhaps we're crying for today. Yes the light bulb was a miracle. Old-timers have told me the biggest miracle to have ever blessed man was rural electrification. I'm sure the impact was enormous and beneficial. How many of us, though, would like to enjoy a greater quality of rest during times designated for that purpose?
Don't you smile thinking of a sleep pattern marked by two distinct chunks of quality repose at night? Isn't it fascinating to think of that break period at night where one would rise and perhaps tend to some gentle business? Research shows people would sometimes visit neighbors at that time!
Ekirch researched for 16 years. He came out with a groundbreaking research paper in 2001 and then his book in 2005. He went through diaries, medical books, court records and literature. People talked about their "first sleep" and "second sleep." We even learn of this in Homer's Odyssey. Ekirch learned that the references began to disappear in the late 17th Century. Improved street lighting had an influence. Also, that contemporary bugaboo (how I view it) of an increasingly time-conscious sensitivity to efficiency. Efficiency is fine so long as we do not get obsessed by it.
As a futurist, I sometimes think that our obsessions will come crashing down when we have a major economic collapse in the U.S. or (probably) worldwide. I say "when," not "if." I think it could happen soon. We will all have to learn to concentrate on the essentials again. Maybe we can all slow down to where we can withdraw more when the sun is down, at least to withdraw from the kind of harried lifestyle that has marked the beginning of the 21st Century.
Wouldn't it be nice to simply engage in repose longer? Wouldn't it be nice to awaken in a non-stressed setting and then return to slumber? A sleep psychologist says that night waking is "part of normal physiology, and that trying to sleep in a consolidated block may be damaging if it makes people anxious."
Ekirch learned that by the 1920s, the idea of a first and second sleep "receded entirely from social consciousness." Another snippet: "Many sleep problems may have roots in the human body's natural preference for segmented sleep as well as the ubiquity of artificial light."
Going to Coborn's late at night may have been a contradiction to our natural biological patterns, yes. That is, unless we made the trip in between our "first sleep" and "second sleep."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org