Monday, March 29, 2010

Pulling All-Nighters Club

"Why do you think it is that I just can't get work done the normal way? Why can't I sit in my office desk chair from nine to five and get it done?"
I asked my therapist this a few weeks ago after practically falling asleep in my counseling session. I was recovering from a string of brutal late nights and all-nighters that were wholly unnecessary. Sitting in the comfortable leather therapy chair while drinking my complimentary tea, I tilted my head this way and that way, wondering if my therapist would say something about time management.
"What you don't account for, Susan, is the creative process. You are someone who embraces the creative process, so THAT'S why you cannot work a normal schedule."

Well... fuck.

If someone had told me back when I was going to summer school art classes that I was laying the groundwork for a future intimate relationship with Vivarin and building the skills that would one day require complex alarm clock games while 'taking a nap' from 2:45 AM to 4:45 AM, then I would have tugged on my mom's arm at the time and demanded enrollment into the Chess Club ASAP.

But, no, I am part of a different club. I am part of a club that, if you too are a member, you have an intimate knowledge the salty acid taste of Nacho Cheese Doritos and Coca-Cola at 3:00 AM on a Sunday night. You know the raw headache that submerges at 5:15 AM and eats away at the very bone of your eye sockets. You know the blurry distinction between clothing and pajamas when the day never actually 'ends.' You are part of the network of lonely, tortured, yet shining souls who scoff at traditional means for meeting deadlines. If this sounds like you, then you, my friend, are part of the Pulling All-Nighters Club.

Friends, I ask – Why do they call it pulling all-nighters? It's actually more of a pushing than a pulling, is it not?

It is more of a pushing, a forcing, a reckoning, a suffering. But not a pulling. Perhaps we will research the etymology of this phrase another time when we are not pulling an all-nighter together.

Pulling all-nighters is a tricky discussion topic. If we are not careful, we can tread into deeply embedded emotional issues. Right beneath the cocky surface of the all-nighters club is a layer of general self-doubt. You push any procrastinator (because that is who we are at our core, right?) into analyzing his reasons for waiting until the last minute resulting in working through the night, and you will find a complex web of excuses, exceptions, voodoo logic and anti-establishment thinking.

But, at the end of the day, why the HELL are we sitting up with our over-worked laptops when the rest of the neighborhood sleeps? Are we too good to follow the established patterns of the working class? Do we require a self-handicap in order to level the playing field so that we are not miles better than those nine to fivers (I am oddly tempted to call them 'Land Dwellers' – no clue why, but let's go with it – almost as though we have gills and they don't)?

Pulling all-nighters is not only an occasional habit. For some, it can become a Pulling All-Nighters (PAL) Lifestyle. How do you know if you are toeing the edge of a PAL Lifestyle? Well, for starters, if you have any 'Incompletes' left over from college and you are nearing your later 20's and beyond, well that is your back-stage pass to PAL Lifestyle territory. Have you been married over one year and you are still considering sending out Thank You notes but you are so past the point of what's considered appropriate that you just avoid the topic?

Yeah. You're in.

When I was in school, pulling all-nighters was an art, literally. I was a studio art major, and it was customary to break into one of the gutter windows of the art studio once the doors were locked past midnight. This was so customary, we decided to screen print it on our annual art t-shirt my Junior year.

Now, seven years out of college and wading my way through the adult work world version of the Pulling All-Nighters Club, I see that there are days when it feels the stakes have gone from a mere paint ball game (i.e. a religion paper due at 10:00 AM) to full-fledged gorilla warfare (i.e. multimedia all-day presentation due to out-of-state client with walk through at 8:00 AM). The emotions are surprisingly similar – in school you are slightly scared of your professor, in the work world you are slightly scared of your boss, and in both worlds, when you start to crash and burn, your bed starts to look like the hottest, hippest party place you have ever seen, yet your are NOT INVITED until your shit gets done.

This might sound snobbish, but one thing I can't stand is when I get into a conversation with a person who thinks he/she is part of the Pulling All-Nighters Club but who is really more just an honorary member. These are the people who are all like, "Yeah, yeah, Skittles and Mountain Dew, TOTALLY" but then you ask them if they prefer Vivarin or NoDoz and they look at you like you just offered up some Cocaine. Probe deeper and find out that these posers once stayed up until 1:00 AM to add on some final sources to their thesis.

The other night I found myself actually Googling "How to pull an all-nighter." I was feeling lonely in my plight and I simply wanted to read of other citizens of my club out there who have been to the Mountain Top and who have seen the light of day and the completion of the task at hand. I started reading 'How To Pull An All-Nighter' on wikiHow and I quickly became offended. The advice made me feel, well, marginalized. The article made it sound like all-nighters should be avoided at all costs. It made it sound like all-nighters are distasteful, unfortunate mistakes that we should learn from in the future. The article made me feel dirty.

Personally, I find comfort in swapping all-nighter war stories with my immediate family. We seem to be a bit vampiresque in our ability to skip the dark wee hours and rock it into the following day (only to eventually crash and burn, of course). We are like the Cullen's family of the Twilight series. (Whoa, did I just reference Twilight?) We sit in the lunchroom and stare at our uneaten food and we are united in our secret weirdness. There is something so comforting when, for example, my brother can top me in his ability to weave a complex night of cat naps, international emailing, and complex spreadsheet work only to shower and make it to the airport with less than 45 minutes to fly three time zones away then change into a suit to begin working straight into the next day. I hear that and I am like, "OK, so I am amongst my people. This is in my blood."

The point my therapist was trying to get at with me is that there is room for embracing the creative, last minute, hyper-focused part of myself that cannot seem to get going until it is the 11th hour.

Deep down, I used to be proud of my work style. Lately, I am ashamed of it. How do you go from being a monkey in the wild (e.g. existing as an art student) to being a monkey at the Zoo (e.g. working in a corporate job)?

I am lucky enough to be in a fringe industry where I get to be one of the 'cool agency kids' versus one of the Fortune 500 employees. I admire those out there who are of my ilk yet pull off the Fortune 500 lifestyle because that is an even greater stretch than what I do. At the large American corporations, you have diligent MBAs arriving at 7:00 AM and departing at 4:30 PM sharp to pick up Jack and Jill from daycare or let Humphrey the Yellow Lab out to take a piss and go for a walk. Something deep down in me knows that this person I describe will never be me.

I spend a lot of time making bullet-pointed lists in my personal journal with minor aspirations such as:
  • Be in bed by 10:30, read half hour, wake up at 7:00 AM
I can go back years –years–in my handwritten journals and find this particular bullet point multiple times. I have never so much as made this goal a reality for seven consecutive days.

The reason I find it hard to accept myself as an adult in the pulling all-nighters club is because this habit is entirely dysfunctional and detrimental to others. God forbid if you are an all-nighter puller and your partner is not. In fact, I feel guilty to this day for the countless nights I had the lights on in my college dorm room while my roommate slept. Tanya, if you read this blog, I am really sorry and I hope you still have 20/20 vision.

I know I am not cool for having the ability to watch the sunrise and still show up at the office, bleary-eyed. I know that I should not be using Brandnewsourmilk to try to glamorize our little club we are part of (you know who you are). No, I think all I am is just a girl reaching out to you, an All-Nighter Puller, and I am giving you a little blogger fist pump. Because, let's be honest, we are who we are, and there will always be a little All-Nighter in our blood.

Now, off to make another pot of coffee...


  1. I used to (oh, who am I kidding, I still do in the summer) come home from work at 1 or 2, do whatever dishes were in the sink as silently as possible so as not to wake my roommate, shower, make a lunch and then pass out for 45 minutes before my alarm would go off and I would get up to do it all over again. I'm not sure why I feel as though if I don't have to shower in the morning I'm somehow saving myself time. Truth be told, it's probably because if I don't do it at night I won't do it at all.

    There came a point in my life, sometime last August, where everything had piled up so badly that I had to pull an all nighter trying to catch up from the previous four months of pulling all nighters. Figure that one out.

    Oh, and don't get me started on drinking whole pots of coffee....

  2. Oh Seeze! You seem to forget that I was also a master procrastinator, and was right there pulling the all nighters with you on oh so many occasions- trying to justify taking a "nap" at 2am:) It's not our fault that our brains are highly evolved adrenaline junkies, and refuse to settle for working in mediocre laid back and stress free conditions. Rather they insist the challenge and thrill of producing genius in extreme time constraints! I shall now liken our brains to coal... which after enduring extreme pressure will produce a diamond! ;)

  3. Oh my god, Teetan. I never write back to comments, but you just made my day.

    1) You actually READ this blog!

    2) You reminded me of our lives before becoming functioning dysfunctional adults

    3) Your little paragraph here is just so superbly written. I seem to have forgotten what a little Jamaican Gem you are.

    I promise to use some miles and come find you guys in San Diego when time permits. Say hi to Andy for me. Miss you, Roommate. You know me better than most.

    Love you,

  4. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree." Your dad was a primo member of PALC while having weeks to prepare for a mediation or presentation. Your mom became a member as she labored into the wee hours editing school news videos. Your brother became a member in high school as well as at the Academy. Is there a question as to why you?

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