I am a procrastinator, and maybe you are too. We are everywhere. Did you know that Charles Darwin took twenty years to write "Origin of Species"? Experts refer to the time between his voyage on The Beagle and the publication of his masterpiece as "the incredible procrastination."
My husband Gary -- sound asleep in the photo above -- is what is known as a pre-crastinator. He finishes assignments ahead of schedule, which according to his defective internal clock, is finishing on time. He loves order, punctuality, regularity.
I love those things too. I also love Tom Selleck, Barry Gibb, and Andre Agassi. But they're out of reach for me. Unrealistic.
Facebook is not out of reach. There it is. Click! I'm logged in and what the heck is my brother's best friend's wife ranting about? Whooo boy, she's off her rocker. Gotta go check Snopes and see if she's perpetuating yet another myth... .
... Yup! She is definitely spreading lies. Gotta inbox this thread to my sister...
Sorry, I got a little distracted. Back to the matter at hand.
Because I write a blog and send a newsletter every Friday, you can imagine our Thursday nights. They're fraught. The procrastinator vs. the pre-crastinator.
And before you accuse me of airing my dirty laundry, let me assure you that everyone knows about this tension. My mother called me to chat today and when I reminded her that I needed to sign off to write, she clucked, "Oh goodness, it's Thursday. Poor Gary."
Like Gary is the one who will be guzzling coffee tonight.
On some level, I get it. Every Thursday he comes home from work, thinking that somehow the blog will be done. And when he realizes, no, it's 7 pm, I don't have even a basic structure mapped out, and instead I am diligently vacuuming the family room, he gets stressed on my behalf. I'm a beetle on my back that he can't bear to watch.
So every week, he has these unrealistic expectations. Every week, I disappoint them. Every week, his disappointment disappoints me because, really? For someone who likes regularity, shouldn't he appreciate how reliably I procrastinate? How customary it is?
Gary remembers the first time he became aware of our differences.
We were seniors in college and I had a 15-page paper on King Lear looming. Four years as an English major had burned me out. I couldn't look at my typewriter without feelings of disgust.
The night before the paper was due, I finally buckled down around 10 pm.
Twelve hours later, I showed up at my class, red-eyed and victorious, my magnum opus in hand. You weren't there but let me tell you, it was creative, masterful, a true capture of King Lear's essence like no English major had ever attempted before at the University of Illinois.
The professor took it off my hands. He looked at it, turning it front to back. "What is this?" he asked.
I am embarrassed to say how hurt my feelings were at the time. "You don't like it?" I asked.
"It's a painting," he said.
"Of King Lear!" I crowed.
I can still hear his gigantic sigh.
The professor was probably a pre-crastinator. He was no Stalin though, and I got a one-week extension. Plus I got to keep my painting.
To this day, when I'm writing, I hate it. Not the individual words on the page, though I hate them too, and delete them like the weeds they are. What I mean is I hate the process of breaking thoughts apart to figure them out. I hate the experimentation required to build a structure. I hate the complexity of fitting images to text. Ugh. Hate.
As Samuel Beckett famously said, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness."
To ease my hatred, I become perverse. I rebel. I do stupid things. Waste time. Alphabetize the spice drawer.
Much is made of the downside of procrastination. Tim Urban of my favorite blog, Wait But Why, likens procrastination to an "Instant Gratification Monkey" that takes over the steering wheel of a "Rational Decision-Maker." Urban believes that procrastination is not optional. It is something procrastinators don't know how not to do.
I agree. In the 3.25 years I've been at this blog, I've devised a couple of techniques that help me foil my Instant Gratification Monkey. Sometimes, I write bits and pieces on my phone while doing something else like laundry or driving. I'm still procrastinating so I'm happy, but I'm also chipping away at my weekly deadline.
Or I'll fix myself a large iced tea and then not allow myself a bathroom break until a rough draft is complete.
But right now, it's 12:57 am and I can't think of a way to end this sucker. Poor Gary is still up, yawning hugely. Nothing has changed.
Photos by Renn Kuhnen.