Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

Rare is the morning that my life requires that I wake much before eight. Not being much of a morning person, I find the day goes better if I allow myself to wake up naturally, rather than jolt myself awake with an alarm.

But a speaking engagement yesterday required a very early call. I was to be at a Pittsburgh hospital to give a talk about a documentary I produced. Starting time was seven, and so the night before, I back-timed the morning.

I’d have to leave the house by six; no, better make that 5:45 in case there’s traffic. Shower, hair, makeup – that’s another 45 minutes. I was already at a 5 a.m. wakeup and I hadn’t even figured in the 20 or more minutes required to put on and then take off five different outfits.

And so I set my alarm for 4:45. Even setting the time on my phone felt menacing.

Would I be sure to wake up?

When I worked in television, several weeks every year I would fill in as anchor on the very early morning newscasts. To be on the air and properly prepared by five required that I arrive at the station at three-thirty. Do the math on that and you realize I was setting an alarm for not too long past midnight.

Although I enjoyed the work, those weeks were a fog of anxiety. Would I, in the throes of REM sleep, turn off the alarm and go back to sleep, blowing my deadline and leaving an empty anchor chair come showtime? Twice, in my 2 a.m. stupor, I turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. Once, I even dreamt that I was awake and dressing and driving to the station. When I finally did wake up, it was terrifyingly late. Let’s just say it was a bad TV hair day.

That was before cellphones, and the alarm was an actual wind-up clock. Eventually I graduated to a digital clock with a snooze button, but even with that technology, I knew I was the kind of sleepy person who would test her own resolve and keep hitting the button.

Must be nice to be naturally a morning person. The farmer, for example, is up by five every morning, as most farmers tend to do. By the time I mosey out for coffee around eight, he’s already been to the gym. I suppose I could turn myself into a morning person by shifting my day forward a few hours. But that would require bedtime at nine-ish, and that would take away the best reading hours, between nine and eleven.

My cellphone allows me to set as many alarms as I want, and so the night before my early appointment this week, I set five alarms, spaced at 5 minute increments. I turned off the first two and returned to sleep. By the third, the alarm were irritating enough that I couldn’t fall asleep again. I was up by 4:55, dressed and out the door in plenty of time.

But as I drove to the venue, I worried that this might all be a dream – that I had silenced all the alarms and was not dressed and driving, but back in bed, having jilted a roomful of people.

I slapped myself on the cheek. Good, I was actually awake.

Arriving a half hour early, I found the auditorium was already filled with people attending a different presentation. It had started at six.

I don’t even want to think about what time those people had to wake up.

Beth Dolinar can be reached at

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