Author extraordinaire Erin Morgenstern—and the genius behind The Night Circus—shows us those brief, unexpected times that elevate life into a mirror-shimmering otherworldliness that's still undeniably real. When It's 3 a.m.
I like to call it nighttime brain: the way your mind seems to function on a different frequency than it does during daylight hours—which can be good or bad but also can lead to unexpected epiphanies or experiences that wouldn't be the same at any other time of day. They say it's darkest before the dawn, but it also tends to be quietest, and the quiet lets you hear yourself better.
When You Experience Kitchen Alchemy
You don't have to be a chef or even a particularly good cook to experience proper kitchen alchemy: the moment when ingredients combine to form something more delectable than the sum of their parts. Fancy ingredients or recipes not required; simple, made-up things are usually even better. Apples made luscious with cinnamon and sugar and butter or fresh tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with sea salt. It tastes even better because you made it yourself.
When You Find a Kindred Spirit
When you meet someone new who instantly gets you, your sense of humor and your attitudes and your worldview, even if theirs are different—and you get them in return. You both talk and talk and agree and laugh and nod and yes, yes, of course you should get another round of drinks.
When You're on Page Number Lost
That wonderful stage during the reading of a book when you've taken enough plot turns to be thoroughly absorbed and properly lost. You're still a good ways from the ending, desperately curious to see what happens but at the same time dreading being finished and not wanting to leave. You look up from the pages and feel a bit surprised and confused that you're still sitting on a chair or on a beach or on a bus or a train, since, of course, you've been somewhere else entirely.
When You Receive an Unexpected Cupcake
Especially if it has cream cheese frosting. And sprinkles.
When the Veil Is Thin
It's said that All Hallows' Eve is one of the nights when the veil between the worlds is thin—and whether you believe in such things or not, those roaming spirits probably believe in you, or at least acknowledge your existence, considering that it used to be their own. Even the air feels different on Halloween, autumn-crisp and bright. You can wander out after dark, brushing shoulders with the walking dead of the zombie variety—but there are carved pumpkin lanterns to guide every lost soul home, just in case.
When You Haven't Quite Kissed...Yet
That anticipation-heavy moment just before, when the kiss is inevitable and your lips are so close but not yet touching. This is especially true for first kisses—but even better when that shivering anticipation carries over into subsequent ones weeks, months or even years later.
When You Extinguish Your Birthday Candles
Once a year you get a wish all your own to use as you please and you never need to tell anyone. In fact, it's a wish that's meant to be personal and maybe a tad self-indulgent—a hope-laden deep breath to cast over your candles and carry you into a brand-new year of living. (I like to think that the strength of the wish increases with the number of flames to extinguish...and that your wish is strengthened if you eat an extra piece of cake.)
When an Evening Involves Twinkly Lights on Strings
I'm a firm believer that lighting affects mood, and twinkly lights on strings bring something magical to occasions ranging from concerts to weddings, though I'm fond of using them as year-round home décor. There's a reason why they're sometimes called fairy lights. When the night is right, there aren't any strings at all.
Erin Morgenstern is the author of The Night Circus (Knopf Doubleday).