There’s a time of night between sleep and consciousness when my brain runs wild. It’s a time where it feels like the world around me is wholly asleep, and it feels like I am the only waking person on this earth. It’s as if no one has ever even seen this time of day before but me.
For me, this time is somewhere between 4 and 6 a.m. It’s too early to get up and start my day, but not enough time to close my eyes again and get some meaningful sleep. I’m not exactly awake yet, because I’m completely aware of my real environment, but I’m not exactly asleep, because I’m aware that I might be dreaming. So, I lay in a state somewhere between dreams and reality, and go on the artist’s stroll.
What the hell is “the artist’s stroll?” Can you think of a more pretentious name for something? What is this, Hemmingway’s reject pile? For me, it’s the sensation of my mind being in a state of peak creativity: totally free from judgement or any kind of restriction. It’s a time where my mind is simply at it’s best, and it’s fixing my real-life problems for me. I swear, every answer I need to find, I can find in this state, if I only pay attention. During this time, I’ve thought up real solutions to actual problems at work—we need to build this to satisfy that company need; this feature is what that project is missing; here’s what I need to say during that meeting. I’ve solved relationship problems—here’s what I need to say to that person; here’s how I really feel about them; here’s the answer to that thing that has really been bugging me. Some of the thoughts that pop into my head during this state are way too abstract—oh so that is the meaning of life; okay now I fully understand the unfulfilled intentions of my great-great grandmother who I’ve never met, but I swear I’ve talked to (see, abstract, guys, I told you…); I know my purpose and I know how to move forward. This is even when the title of this post, the name for this state of mind, “the artist’s stroll,” came to me.
For me, the only way to capitalize on this time of night is to fully wake up and write my thoughts down while they’re still fresh in my head. More often than not, I’m too tired to fully wake myself up and I insist to my subconscious that no, I’ll definitely remember this when my alarm goes off in an hour, but I never do. I might remember that I dreamt up a solution or a great thing, and I might even remember the gist of it, but I never remember the details. And sometimes, even when I do wake myself up to write it down, the details are still too abstract to put into words, so I write it down as best I can and hope my brain can pick up on it later. Very rarely does my subconscious shout loudly enough to make me remember no matter what, but it happens. Usually these thoughts are delicate and fleeting, and I need to treat them with great care, or they’ll float away for good.
The greatest enemy of the artist’s stroll are distractions. Looking at my phone is a surefire way to ruin everything that just happened in my head, or even going to the bathroom can shock me out of this groove. So, I keep a notebook and a pen on my nightstand, and hope that my reach across my bed doesn’t spill the proverbial cup.
Now, it’s 7 a.m on a Sunday morning and the stroll is over. The sun is out, every car with a loud engine is driving below my open window (why can’t everyone in my building drive a Prius or something?) and the neighbors across the way are being woken by their kid screaming, like he does every morning. Maybe he’s just sad his artist’s stroll is over. Until next time, kid.