Tag Archives: procrastination

Curled up and reading …

Old aquifer

Old aquifer (Photo credit: SomeHoosier)

This month, I have spent many hours reading when I could have been writing. I have decided to think of this as a recharge of the creative aquifer rather than as procrastination. One of the books I read, The Art of Procrastination by John Perry (here’s an essay version of it) pointed out that delaying action often reveals that circumstances would have changed — and changed such that the work one originally set out to do would have been for naught. So waiting can lead to greater efficiency.

With that in mind, I have been waiting for my recharged aquifer to bubble up with a brilliant idea. Or any idea.

Pink nail polish.

Pink nail polish. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While I have been waiting I have been spending 15 minutes a day on a “one good sentence” — a practice from Verlyn Klinkenborg that is slowly unearthing stories about my grandmothers and their nail polish or lack thereof.

I do not paint my fingernails, ever, anymore, though I spent the better part of years 13 through 19 supporting Revlon’s production of elegant little bottles containing “candy cane red” and “pink angel wings” glossy polish. My toes still receive occasional attention from paid professionals who not only can see where they’re applying polish, but also have those fancy jetted footbaths that I pay to dunk my tootsies into.

As a teenager, painting my nails was an all-afternoon activity, usually a Saturday afternoon before a date. I’d douse a cotton ball in foul-smelling, acetone-based polish remover and rub last week’s polish off, file my tips, apply a base coat, wait for it to dry, apply the colored coat, perhaps twice, again waiting for it to dry between coats, and then seal it all off with a “top coat” that was always guaranteed to be un-chippable but that chipped within 48 hours.

English: Stephen King signature.

English: Stephen King signature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I now look back on those afternoons as wasted time. I could have been practicing my writing, accumulating rejections like Stephen King, who shares in his marvelous book, On Writing, that he hammered a coffin nail into his wall at a tender age (14? 15?), leaving the majority of it exposed, and hung all his rejection slips from it. He had filled one and a half such nails before receiving a note from an editor who was willing to work with him on a piece — not a flat-out acceptance, if I remember correctly, but a “this has enough promise” acceptance. If I had done that perhaps I’d have more published by now. And my nails and lungs would not have been exposed to the now-we-know-they-cause-cancer fumes of those pretty red and pink bottles and that polish remover.

Twenty-twenty hindsight, an annoyingly true truism.

But I obviously didn’t have the ambition King did. I didn’t do write and submit aggressively when I was in my teens, or my twenties, or my thirties. I picked up a bit in my early forties, but now I’m creeping up on fifty and panicking that my remaining brain cells won’t be up to the discipline of creativity, even tho’ I’ve finally figured out what I need to “practice” a writing discipline.

Furthermore, one of my light-a-fire-under-my-writing-butt techniques, eavesdropping in coffeeshops, wasn’t working for me: I’ve not been hearing very well for a couple of years, and now this seems to be getting in the way of my writing. So early in January  I went to an audiologist for a hearing test. Result: the mechanics of my ears are just fine. Better than average. My problem is that my brainstem, the part of the brain that processes sound, and separates different frequencies from each other, is beginning to decay. Damn!

PICEANCE BASIN, SEMI-ARID RANGE LAND - NARA - ...

PICEANCE BASIN, SEMI-ARID RANGE LAND – NARA – 552551 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And as I moped about, post-hearing-test, my writing moped, too. Oh, poor us, woe is we. I am a dry patch of arid land upon which no creative blossom shall ever spring forth. Etcetera.

The difference this time is that seventy-two hours into my despair-fest, I realized: I have been here before. It is January. I have been blue in January for the past four years. I should just shut up, read some books and wait for February.

Tomorrow is February first, and I am happy to report that altho’ my brainstem is no longer able to separate the hiss of the milk frother at Bollo’s from the urgently-spoken-but-two-tables-down details of a night of misguided passion, the aquifer beneath my arid land has been recharged by my all-out feasting on books. As Nick Hornby says,

“Books are, let’s face it, better than everything else. If we played Cultural Fantasy Boxing League, and made books go fifteen rounds in the ring against the best that any other art form had to offer, then books would win pretty much every time.”
(from  The Polysyllabic Spree: A Hilarious and True Account of One Man’s Struggle With the Monthly Tide of the Books He’s Bought and the Books He’s Been Meaning to Read)

And so to my desk, for lo! decaying brainstem or not, books have recharged my aquifer. Here are some of the words that rained on my arid land:

“The stewardess had disappeared and the passengers began a slow liturgical wail.” — Joy Williams, Dimmer (a short story)

“In mid-mass at the point where the sermon is delivered, the young priest walks to the lectern and reads announcements. He reads them badly. His voice is high and blunted by feedback. He syllabicates the names of the recently deceased and sounds like speech recognition software. In him the congregates see either the future of religion or a confirmation of the wisdom of clerical celibacy. Imagine, they think, if he had children. Picture the IQs.” — J.T. Barbarese, “Politics” Poetry, July/August 2012.

“The ending is a tragedy in miniature, but it is flicked away, like a cigarette, and life drifts on.” — Anthony Lane, “Critics Notebook” The New Yorker, Aug. 27, 2012

“India vs. Pakistan is a cricket match for any fan of sport. The rivalry is unmatched. I do not have an equation. but I can tell you watching India vs. Pakistan is the nearest thing we have to watching a gentleman’s nuclear war where one side fires a missile it explodes there’s a huge mushroom cloud a lot of people die and then it is the turn of the other side.” — Paul Kavanagh, “Cricket” in AnnalemmaIssue Nine.

[to be said in whiny voice]: Can’t I do that later?

I have just spent twenty minutes playing mahjong, my distractionary online game of choice. There are many others out there, some even arguably related to writing, like WordTwist and Boggle but I like mahjong. I start by telling myself: three games, play only three games. Then four. Then, well, how about ‘til top of the hour. Then, I almost win so maybe just ‘til I win, ‘cuz obviously I’m on a roll!

If I were in Vegas and had a wad of cash I would rationalize myself out of both aforementioned wad and into several trips to the ATM machine. As Jeff Goldblum’s character says in The Big Chill, can’t get through the day without a good rationalization.

FLYLady’s organization system (I swear by it, tho’ my version is a loose adaptation of hers; Laura Benedict, a thriller writer, actually credits FLYLady in the acknowledgements of her first book), if you buy into it as I have via the calendar and stickers, you know there’s an “antiprocrastination day” sticker. I have placed this sticker on my calendar exactly once in the past three years, thinking, why bother, my house is reasonably tidy, I’ll get to all that other stuff when I can.

public domain

And we save these because ...

When we needed more space in our utility room, however, I stumbled across not one, not two, not three, but FOUR bottles of antifreeze, three of windshield washer fluid and TWENTY cans of paint, which I‘ve saved “in case I need to touch up the walls.”

OK, first of all, I never touch up my walls. I wait seven years then ask for my birthday gift to be hiring a painter to cover all the dirt with a fresh coat of paint. And frankly, after seven years with the same color, I change it. I will NEVER use this paint.

Could I put this stuff into the dumpster? Or did I need to take it to the dump and pay extra for hazardous waste disposal? Could I wait for a  “toxic waste pick up day” through my Town? Ugh. I needed to research my disposal options. Blerck. Screeching halt.

I needed an antiprocrastination day. I knew I needed an antiprocrastination day. I didn’t want to need it. I … put it off.

Then, we reallyreallyreally needed the extra space in the utility room, due to a home improvement project. It was no longer an option, it was a necessity.

Image by tonx via Flickr

Inspiration!

I put the sticker on my calendar and the day of, drank a Lot of Coffee before digging in, tackling not only the various bottles of various fluids of various toxicities, but also identifying the outgrown shoes, t-shirts, books, and kid debris to be given away.

I finished most of it and planned for tackling the rest of it.

I get this way about my writing, too. The pitch I don’t make, the phone call I delay, the story I don’t polish in time for a contest deadline.  Why have I not put the antiprocrastination sticker on my writing calendar?

I think because that means developing a new habit. I have plenty of blinkin’ habits, my gawd, my muse squawks, give me a BREAK, I’m tired of the work it takes to do the work! Didn’t you say writing was fun?

But effective work – even creative “work” – takes forethought to be done well, and maintenance to keep it heading in the right direction. Which isn’t to say one shouldn’t pause and assess that direction on a regular basis.

Image via Wikipedia

Doesn't she look like she needs a pick-me-up?

A friend and I are contemplating the development of workshops on “nurturing the muse” – exploring writing as both a self-reflective tool and/or as creative expression. For the first time in many years, I find myself excited, anxious, uncertain, and nervous — a teenager on her first date. Will anyone else want to do this (eg, will anyone like me?!). Do I have the ability to provide leadership to such a group? Do I want to do this?! And back to “what is the point, Shakespeare did it better” of the last post.

[If you have psychological training, insert your favorite theory here. And/or — check out this great post by the Communicatrix about the “resistor.”]

Image via Wikipedia

Life's speciality: the curve ball. Sometimes accompanied by dog spit.

My gut says I’m going to try it, though, because life’s nine innings are looking short, here in what I think of as the top of the fifth of my probable-span of years. And the pitcher keeps throwing curve balls (like, giving me two baseball-crazed sons when I know I placed an order for kids who would prefer the sports one can play with a gin-and-tonic in hand. Croquet. Badminton. Scrabble.)

Long story short: I have no excuse — no one does – to delay whatever project I imagine I’ll get to “someday.”

Take an hour to assess whether or not your project(s) is(are) still important to you. Those twelve mini stockings I was hand-stitching  for the twelve days of Christmas, when my kids were two and five? Not ever gonna finish that project.

The short stories about evil? I still think about those regularly.

I made a folder to collect those ideas in, and I’ve INKED in three days in the next quarter to look at that project. Whole writing days, five hours. I will use the Freedom program to limit my internet aka mah jong access and honor my commitment. [If you haven’t heard of Freedom, check it out. It truly liberates me from the tyrannical joy of the internet.]

Get out the stickers or markers or pens (not pencil, it’s too easy to erase) and give yourself one day a month for antiprocrastination efforts. Do NOT put this off!