Sometimes I am accompanied by music from WFMT, Chicago's last remaining and splendid classical-music station, though I turn it off if the music becomes too dramatic, thereby interfering with my reading and my sense of a day's calm beginning (not much Beethoven, no Wagner, and scant Richard Strauss permitted at this early hour). I hope no one will think me nauseatingly sensitive if I add that I used to be joined by a striped cat, now dead, named Isabelle, who, after I fed her, sat beside my book, always on my left, demanding no attention, content to be nearby and to look elegant. During baseball season I turn on an AM station at 5:13 to get the previous night's scores and, while I'm at it, the weather. No phone rings; I generally do not turn on my computer, allowing e-mail, and hence the outside world, to invade my morning. For the same reason, I wait until 6:30 or so to go to the door for The New York Times, in which I turn first to the obituaries to see who has been taken out of the game. I could still be sleeping— a pleasure I do not slight—but I really am happier awake.
I am happier awake because I am a man who has long been on a schedule. What put me on this schedule I do not know, but on it I have been for most of my adult life. I waste money, food, energy, and doubtless much else, all fairly lightheartedly, but I do have a bad conscience about wasting time. Not that I don't waste plenty of time, too, gassing away on the phone with friends, looking for excuses to take me away from my work, indulging in magazine-reading binges, taking long lunches. But wasting time abed I cannot do. If I sleep as late as seven o'clock, even on a weekend, I feel the day is lost.
As for this unwritten schedule, I'm not, please believe me, madly intent on achievement, keen to produce fifty books before I die or determined to earn 20 percent more this year—every year—than last. I'm not in competition with anyone, living or dead. My schedule is entirely self-imposed. It calls for my getting something useful done every day, and useful, for me, means writing two or three or—if the planets are in perfect alignment—four or five decent pages. When I read years ago that Thomas Mann, a prodigious—and famously slow—worker, settled for a page a day, this petit Chicago bourgeois was much impressed by that haute Baltic German one. Of course a page a day, knocking off only on Sundays, means a respectable-sized book a year.
I began getting up early not because of conscience or because of the intrinsic pleasures that doing so has subsequently come to give but because, as a man then in my middle twenties, married, with a house full of children, dogs, cats, and other livestock, and working at a full-time job, I found that was the only time I could get any writing done. So I began waking up at 5:00 A.M. After splashing cool water on my face and revving myself up with coffee and cigarettes (in those days not yet considered death in the afternoon), I staggered over to my old Royal Standard and began tapping away.