34 Past Midnight

Jeffrey Cheung

A young man sits, staring into one of the two monitors that occupied his dark wooden desk. Littered across his desk are various loose bits of paper, coins, BASIC acrylic paint tubes, brushes, two tall glasses and half a cup of tea that had long lost its steam. One of his speakers is faced towards the wall, pushed there by the disarray on his desk while the other is obscured behind a various boxes and jars. On top of his computer tower is another mess of papers, all sticking out in different directions. To speak frankly, although the desk was, in actuality, rather spacious a claustrophobic person would never sit anywhere near it.

Only the light from the monitors and one dim ceiling light lit the desk. It was dark, past midnight but he was still up and awake. Nighttime was the best time to work. The world is quiet and there is no one to distract you from your work, except for the occasional sibling on a trip to the lavatory. Although usually easily distracted and lax, at this moment he sat there and worked in fervor. He had his headphones on his head, but there was no sound from them; the music program had crashed a few hours ago. His eyes shifted from one monitor to the next and to the illustration board in front of him with a nearly completed painting. The work has to be done, he thinks to himself. Occasionally he glances at the window, making sure that the first light of dawn has not yet arrived. Seeing as it was still dark, he continues painting while checking the references on his monitor. Even though there are still many hours before the sunrise, he worries, after all incompletion would most definitely spell doom after all.

Raising the cup to his mouth, he notices that it had already chilled down to room temperature. He quickly gulps it down, not one to waste all the energy that it offers. Still it wasn’t satisfying, the tea was meant to be drunk hot after all. Well, now’s as good a time to get a new cup of tea as any, he thought. Working overnight is tiring and taking a small nap is not an option. He tried that before, vowing to nap for an hour but always he would find himself sleeping as if in a coma. Yes, tea was a much safer option. Still hopped up from that last gulp, he moves energetically to the kitchen and boils some water. In the meantime he puts a tea bag and sugar into his cup. One scoop. Two scoops. Three scoops. At those times, he likes his tea rather sweet, though quietly laments about how he’s sure to get diabetes from doing this one day. Still that’s the only way he can survive through the night. Sitting back at his desk with a steaming hot cup of tea, he continues to work on his painting. He fidgets more, an effect of both the tea and also of the deadline that’s drawing ever so closer.

Breathing a sigh of relief, he manages to clear the task just moments after the sky outside started to lighten. There isn’t anything left to do, and there was at least an hour and a half to spare. If he does nothing now, he might fall asleep, so for the moment he keeps himself occupied with some games until it is time to leave the apartment and make his way to the subway. On the subway, he stands up regardless of the number of available seats; if he gets too comfortable he could fall asleep and miss his stop. Although it is embarrassing to have his knees partially give way occasionally when he dozes off while standing, at least that jolts him back awake and prevents him from missing his stop. The assignment has to be handed in after all.

Discussion Questions

  • Why would somebody want to read this piece (the “Who cares?” factor)?
  • Can you clearly identify the author’s intention for the piece?
  • How well does the author support the intention of the piece? Cite specific details that support or take away from the author’s intention.
  • Is there information missing from this piece that would make its intention clearer? What else would you like to know?
  • Does the author portray herself as a round character? How does she do this?
  • Do you trust the author of this piece? Why or why not?
  • How clearly does the author establish a sense of setting/space in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • How clearly does the author establish characters other than the self in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • Did you learn anything new from reading this piece? If so, what?
  • Are there particular passages with engaging language/description that stood out to you? Describe the appeal of these passages.
  • Would you read more writing from this author? Why or why not?



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Teaching Autoethnography Copyright © by Jeffrey Cheung is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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