Friday, September 19, 2014

Procrastination Syndrome

Yesterday, I was procrastinating over an important writing job I needed to finish, but kept putting off, so I read old blog posts instead. I meant to correct one small typo on a piece I'd written on St. Brendan in the Faroes Islands, and then just get on with it. Some 14 hours later, I was still at it, revising—hammer and tong. It occurred to me as I utterly destroyed my bloggy bit on St. Brendan, that:
a) I really, really should've saved a copy of the first draft, at present, it's unrecognizable, and 
2) The joy of writing is having the temerity to turn a piece into a dog's breakfast, knowing that eventually I'll have to rewrite my way out to the other side—having uncovered all kinds of connections that wouldn't otherwise have happened, had I played it "safe."

(Sheesh, I can't even think linearly within any given system: a), b). I had to change points mid-stream: a), 2). What's with that?) Oh look, shiny!

Out of destruction and chaos comes... But now I have to really fix the demolished's all over the place.(Or at least hide it from the web crawlers). But I'm stalling. Again. Procrastination. Again. Shun's the operative word here.

So far, this morning, I've mopped the floor, organized my hair bands and postage stamps, shuffled piles of horizontal files, uncharacteristically hung up his clothes, I also uncharacteristically rearranged his closet, cleaned out old emails from three different accounts (not an easy thing as I'm an obsessive reader, and need to read everything before I delete it), I beheaded basil flowers, thus disturbing the leafhoppers.

I thought about those bugs, wondering how many of them we accidentally eat, without knowing it, and about making pesto with sunflower seeds because I'm fresh out of pine nuts and they're too expensive anyway. Pesto would the perfect last hurrah before summer's end. But I'm fresh out of garlic. Phew. Sidestepped that one.

Meanwhile, I've got one thoroughly garbled post that needs mending. Or nuking. And that other thing I was avoiding yesterday. And today as well. Apparently.

With that, I bring you, Dear Reader, a little distraction for our reading pleasure: an article from the Atlantic Monthly, on writers and procrastination!
Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators
The psychological origins of waiting (... and waiting, and waiting) to work. (Which is adapted from Megan McArdle's The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.)

See, I too am an inveterate procrastinator. This morning I posted Facebook messages to a classmate whom I hardly knew, and haven’t seen in at least four point five decades... we took a spin down an unpaved memory lane. I also marvelled with childhood friend Micaela who found a photo by Brett Weston, of her mother Rosalind Sharpe Wall, in Bixby Canyon. That's how I "met" that old classmate.

I talked like a pirate about John Malcovich's stunning role as Blackbeard the Pirate (Edward Teach) in CrossBones—sadly cancelled after one season. I suggest that you watch all nine episodes today, it's international Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arr and avast, ye maties! Teach invented the pirate flag. I bet you didn't know that.

I even rewrote a Peter Piper tongue twister on Adair Lara's wall... If Peter piper (shouldn't that be a capital P, or should I use commas?) picked a peck of pickpocket-proof pants, was he peckish for pound notes? It's all her fault. She shouldn't have posted that cool Instagram photo. My mind was off and racing like the ponies at Golden Gate Fields. What about California Chrome, anyway?

Yes, I do procrastination quite well. Layers upon layers, embedded so deep, that I can no longer tell which particular task I'm avoiding. Or for what reason. And who among us doesn't suffer from "imposter syndrome"? I've been faking it for decades. So far, so good. Do you think they know?

I agree with that author Megan McArdle that among writers procrastination "is a peculiarly common occupational hazard." I wonder what other foibles writers use to distract themselves from themselves.

For example, I wonder if the incredibly prolific Maria Popova of Brain Pickings ever procrastinates? What is Adair Lara's particular, peculiar anti-writing vice? Besides posting photos of her new pickpocket-proof pants. 

I know Eugene O'Neill liked to sharpen a dozen no. 2 Ticonderoga pencils to weapons-grade perfection before he arranged them just so, on a dozen yellow legal-sized writing pads fanned out on the living room rug. By then, it was time for drinkies all around.

O'Neill did not view alcohol as a performance-inhibiting drug. Nor did Steinbeck, Hemingway, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, or Styron. When novelists sober up, they usually dry up. Drinking is good for inhibiting the "imposter syndrome." There are sober coffee-table books, fergawdsakes, on writers and their favorite tipple.

I was thinking that writers' procrastination tricks might make for an interesting Brain Pickings column, but knowing Maria, she's probably already covered it several times over while procrastinating over her latest post. How does she do it week after week?

However, I have a quibble with Megan McArdle who wrote that:
Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A's in English class.
Not me! I really, really sucked at English. Speaking of grammar school, it could be that I'm dyslexic, or that Coach Harry Roche routinely threw erasers and chalk bits at kids who didn't have the right answer.
Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks.
Well, I do resemble that one—after I'd learned to read, that is. I stalled a couple years on that too. It wasn't until the end of third grade. I remember the day. I was so sick of seeing Spot run and Dick and Jane being such goody-two-shoes, that I read ahead the entire SRA reading library in self defense.

I read five years' worth of little glossy laminated folders on bats and echolocation, sonar, magma, and bee colonies within a year. Kids started calling me a walking encyclopedia, but I was never head of the class in anything—except art.

Mike Frank and Johnny Kaufman were great smart-asses, but they didn't become writers. They sucked at English, like me. They also had permanent eraser dust imprints on their foreheads. They never had the right answer. Former tennis pro Harry Roche had perfect aim. He never missed his shot. I was terrified that he'd find me out.

There were alternative procrastinational options. The drugs were pretty good in the 60s, and besides Janis Joplin lived on our road with Big Brother and the Holding Company, so we'd drop in for a spell, procrastinating over our homework. Home was a relative concept. As was homework.

What a long, strange trip it turned out to be. As in the Human Be-in with Timothy Leary. Yep, I was there. With my mom. Cutting school, procrastinating‚ again. My mom always said God Bless Timothy Leary as she tuned out. Those were the daze.

See, we all went to Lagunitas School District—that's LSD, for short. 'Splains a lot. Adair (Lara) Daly and her twin were in the smart kids' class. Harry didn't lob erasers at them. Adair automatically got A's in English classes. In college too. She was so good, she even ran off with my English teacher. Heady times. I barely passed English 1A. I was not a writer. Yet.

Yeah, Take another little piece of my heart. I became a writer at the age of 30, long after most kids graduated from grammar school. Can't exactly blame or credit any natural ability.

I got pissed off at Gary Snyder writing about my West Marin landscape all wrong and I took up poetry writing in self defense. David Bromige saw a spark in that divine chaos. And to his credit, he didn't interfere, he left me to it. I quipped: Would you trust a poet in your mouth? He said, Hey that's pretty good. Write it down. And so I did. One word led to another. So much for the imposter theory.

I was a stubborn bootstrap student, at best. But I did learn grammar AFTER I'd become a writer. It's vs its? Hadn't a clue, thanks to Harry Roche's missiles. But I did learn punctuation—eventually, through trial and error. I actually "hear punctuation." And I do like semicolons; em-lines are even better—all those dashes and interlocutions are written forms of procrastination all out of breath.

Deadlines are dreadlines. I am often paralyzed by the though of writing something that's for shit. But that doesn't seem to stop me. Failure is my middle name. But I keep at it. I can't claim that I find writing easy—that's why I do it. It's more like I can't help myself. It's an obsession, flip side of the procrastination coin. Or OCD.

When I write. I know fuck-all about "language, structure, and imagery. My mind wanders into distant meadows of thought. Gets lost on the forest of syntax (sin tax?), where the only way out is through. I've no idea what I've written —it's usually a wild sleigh-ride with no one holding the reins. I might get it, years later. Or not. But still I write.

Write on!

This post too, is a form of procrastination. I never did get those two writing jobs done. I rest my case. There's always another Monday.

The blog in question:
Sheep Islands: What about the sheep? Notes on the Voyage of St. Brendan

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