Night Driving

Yesterday, I wrote about how we experience a heightened sense of emotion at night. Today, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite nighttime activities. Wink wink.

On Sunday nights, usually in an effort to stave off the blues, I like to go for a long drive and listen to music. I’ve been doing it ever since I got my license, and it remains one of my favorite things.

I figured out early on in my driving career, cruising around in my green 1995 Buick LeSabre, that being lost is largely a state of mind. I’d take a left even though I’d never taken that particular left before, and while it was a little unnerving, more often than not it led back to somewhere familiar. Since then, I’ve always reminded myself that as long as you keep driving, eventually you’ll get to where you want to be.

Still, I have a hard time articulating the value of night driving. It’s difficult to explain unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. Ultimately, it’s a source of catharsis, which grows out of the combination of factors I mentioned in yesterday’s post. I’ve always loved to drive, but driving at night is even better. There’s no traffic. You’re not rushing to get anywhere. Everything looks different in the dark. Your neighborhood becomes an entirely different world.

I have a particular route I use when I go driving at night, and it’s comprised mostly of places I don’t otherwise visit anymore. Past my high school, old friends’ houses, the local reservoir, roads I remember from when I was a little kid in the backseat looking out the window. It’s like I’m driving past a series of memories, little vignettes from earlier years.

Usually, this nostalgia actually causes me to reflect on the present. I think about people I don’t talk to anymore, which makes me think about and appreciate the people who do have a place in my life now. It’s very soothing and rarely fails to fill me with joy.

Travel and motion has long been associated with a calming, restorative energy. That’s why parents often take a crying infant for a ride in the car. When Neil Peart’s daughter and wife died, he got on his motorcycle and travelled 55,000 miles from Quebec to Alaska, then south through the United States to Belize. Because of this four-year journey, he was able to come back from the brink of moral collapse.

When you combine the night’s heightened state of emotion with the soothing qualities of driving, you get an incredibly cathartic activity. There’s a feeling of freedom and excitement for life. Everything’s beautiful. With an empty road, the right album, and nowhere particular to go, you can find great comfort.

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below!

The Power of Night

When I was little, I used to freak out if I was the only one awake in my house. Being alone in the dark is scary for a kid. These days, though, I’ve come to appreciate it.

If left to my own devices, I could probably become completely nocturnal in about two days. I love staying up late, and I could sleep until noon every day if my schedule allowed. I’ve never been a morning person and find the moment my alarm goes off to be excruciating. Those of you who blink twice and spring out of bed with a cheerful, “Good morning!”, please keep your voice down while I remove the welding from my eyes.

I do, however, have a certain affinity for the dawn. Getting up for it is hellish, but five o’clock in the morning is an incredible time of day. You just have to get to it. For me, that usually means staying up all night — and then sleeping in, of course.

People always allow themselves to feel guilty about sleeping late. “I feel like I wasted my whole day!” Or, if they’re tough, they’ll say, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” I never understood that line of thinking. For one, you’ll die a lot sooner if you don’t get your sleep, and two, all you have to do is stay up later. Boom. Hours regained.

I appreciate vitamin D as much as the next person, but I’ve always found nighttime to be preferable to daytime. There’s no traffic. It’s quiet. In the summer, it’s much cooler. You’re probably not rushing to get anywhere, so it’s more relaxing. You see things differently in the dark. It’s a different world. It’s a world at rest.

There’s also a special benefit. All of these qualities contribute to a sense of heightened emotion.

Have you ever noticed how emotions are way more intense at night? Whatever you’re feeling seems to increase tenfold. That’s because we are more likely to find ourselves alone with our thoughts at night. During the day, we’re all running around, doing our jobs, talking to each other, trying to get things done. It’s easy to suppress our emotions when we’re busy and have life to distract us. But at night, when the world slows down, and everyone is asleep but you, the only company you have is your mind. Your emotions become much bigger and more powerful because they’re being amplified by solitude. It’s hard to ignore them when everything else is so quiet.

Maybe it’s the introvert in me, but I value this time. It’s a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. You can wrestle with feelings, contemplate the unknown, or appreciate something or someone in your life. With no one around, you can give something your full attention. You can focus all your energy into a single thought or project. I’m writing this article at two in the morning, for example. It’s hard to find such opportunity during the day.

It works both ways, of course. Being alone in the dark when you’re happy can be liberating, but when you’re sad, it can be miserable. In either case, though, we should remember to take advantage of the heightened awareness the night provides. It’s a wonderfully cathartic environment. It’s the perfect time to get to know yourself a little better. To sit still, be quiet, and just think. Your mind might teach you things you missed while running around in the sun.

If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below!

The Band You Need to Know

Note: I’d been meaning to write this post for a few days, but it was Randy Murray’s Writing Assignment for January 13, 2012 that helped me get it done. Thanks, Randy!

Every once in a while, a band comes along and becomes the object of my obsession. Suddenly, their music fills my life and changes it for the better. I devour the entire discography, pour over their lyrics, and wake up with their songs in my head. This music is just… incredible.

The Long Winters are one of those bands.

Ironically, no article has given me writer’s block like this one. I adore this band, but I almost can’t articulate why. It’s hard not to resort to gushing about each and every song. This is music that keeps me up at night because I’d rather keep listening than go to sleep.

There are many things that make The Long Winters great, but for your sake, I’ll only pick three.

First, The Long Winters succeed at walking a very fine line, and that is being accessible without sacrificing depth. Rest assured, these are radio-friendly songs. Most fall in the three- or four-minute range, and they are catchy. But, that doesn’t make the band another source of shallow pop music. Rather, each song is a gem: small enough to fit in your pocket, but precious enough to take with you wherever you go.

Second, the lyrics. Lyrics are very important to some people, to the point where they can’t enjoy music without them. I’m happy to say that whether you’re a lyrics person or not, The Long Winters will speak to you. John Roderick is a master songwriter, and his lines are written for you, the listener. Somehow, he knows what you’ve been through. He knows what you’re feeling, and he’s felt the same way. That’s the only explanation for the honesty — the humanity — behind John’s words.

Finally, comfort. The Long Winters have guided me through heartbreak, lifted me out of depression, and made me realize that even in darkness, life remains amazing.

I’m reminded of a favorite quote by Aldous Huxley:

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

The Long Winters prove this fact. Over the course of their two-and-a-half-hour discography, you will discover many moments of musical catharsis. This is music that will have you singing along at the top of your lungs, whether it’s with a smile on your face or tears in your eyes.

I’m not going to tell you my favorite songs for two reasons. One, The Long Winters’ albums stand strong in their entirety. These are records that can and should be enjoyed from start to finish, and not needing to hit SKIP is a hallmark of any great band. Two, my favorite songs may not be your favorite songs. Music speaks to us in ways too diverse to mention, and only you can figure out what songs make you sing the loudest.

Truly, there’s no better time to become a fan of The Long Winters. Their last album, Putting the Days to Bed, was released in 2006, and John Roderick seems to be hinting that we might finally see its long-awaited follow-up this year. Furthermore, you can get The Long Winters’ entire discography on iTunes for less than forty bucks. A small investment for a lifetime of enjoyment.

I can’t guarantee you’ll love The Long Winters like I do, but I can promise you have nothing to lose. Your ears and heart, however, have everything to gain.