Procrastination Concrastination

I am an expert on my own procrastination. When I can’t write essays I write about not writing. I am not alone in this.

Somewhere in that sidebar over there is a little field that says “ask me anything.” It moves around a bit as one article or another tells me pinterest should be on top or social share buttons are most important but it is always there. I put it up there instead of the “contact me” form. I am notoriously terrible at listening to voice mails. But written questions I tend to answer.

To my great pleasure it became an easy source of job opportunities.

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I found that it (slowly) filled with strong responses to the blog. Some were grateful for my honesty.

Many were damning. And then apologetic.

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One even threatened my children. After that I dreaded reading them. Yet the prompt stayed up there (or over there if it has been pushed down.)

 

Earlier this week I received the following question.

I was quite pleased to receive it because it was neither about my children nor my underwear. Also it seemed to play in my head with a British accent. Which is always quite lovely.

I’ve been enjoying your article on procrastination, perfectionism and depression. I am in the final year of a journalism degree at The University of Sunderland, UK, and as part of my dissertation I am researching ‘hidden’ symptoms of anxiety and depression disorders – procrastination very much involved. I was wondering if I might ask you a couple of follow-up questions to your article, as part of my research?

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Kindest regards,

 

The logical thing to do would be to sit on this message for a week or more…but I don’t like to be predictable so I answered him RIGHT AWAY. I took some time composing my response so he knew that I was a serious individual capable of adding my voice and perspective to important research.
Sure. Just send the questions and the due date. 😉
I even included the winky face. I want you to note that a. I have disabled yellow emoticons on my phones keyboard keeping me hip and old school.  And b. there is no other way to ask about due dates on a dissertation regarding procrastination without a jolly self deprecating wink. (yes, something can be both jolly and self deprecating see above wink.)
Here is how he responded:
Whilst not trying to prove this either way in my dissertation, I am discussing whether procrastination itself is a symptom of anxiety, depression, or both – do you think it fits more as a symptom of one or the other (or both, or something else) and why?
As somebody who spends a great deal of time writing, so you have any techniques you adopt to avoid or recognise procrastination (and if so, what are they)?
You describe the arrival of the ‘panic monster’ – have you ever found that you thrive on this frantic mindset, and if so, would you say that sometimes procrastination might even pay off?
Have you ever found, during a period of procrastination, that your mind wanders to the ‘what if’s’ of a given situation, and starts to project possible, even far-fetched outcomes of doing/not doing what you’re supposed too? I’m talking here about projection (not the psychic, telekinetic kind!). Do you think projection is linked to procrastination, or is in itself a separate anxiety or depression based symptom (or, again, both.)?

Interesting questions right? But most importantly…no due date. Not one at all. I haven’t had a due date in life since the birth of my boys. Both of which I ignored. (The due dates not the boys) (Well not all of the time.)

How would I handle this? Would I possibly ask a SECOND time for the due date? Ha! Would I compose a thoughtful response right away? Ha HA! Would I….

Before I could even come up with a third option (which most certainly would not include waiting some super long amount of time until the work and worry of answering a few questions loomed large) he seemed to have caught his error.

Additional –  in response to query re: due date – if you could respond before the end of the working week that would be wonderful. My deadline is a little later, but that would give me time to draft and redraft (and procrastinate!) and finalise my paper. Thanks again,

Damn. But again with the s instead of the z. How British. Doesn’t finalising something sound lovely and possible whilst finalizing it sounds horrid? In any case I had until Friday. My flight was due to arrive in Denver Thursday at 1am. Which technically is already Friday but you know, lets call it Thursday. So I would arrive home by 2:30 and then sleep a while. Less than I wanted probably and then give myself an excuse to drive to the coffee shop and then banter with the cat sitting barista and then write this guy. It would be done by early afternoon which, if we didn’t take into account time differences, would give him plenty of time to procrastinate. Done. You might note that I probably could have DONE the work in the time I took planning WHEN to do the work. If you find that interesting you are not a procrastinator. That is procrastinating 101. So basic.

So the next day I woke up in full bitch mode because it was a travel day and everyone knows that a snappish family member is necessary if you don’t want to miss a flight. I barked orders about laundry ignoring all the shit I brag about about letting my kids do things on their own. I had really poor sex with my husband. To my credit this at least was following my own advice. Then I sulked through a breakfast with a friend while my cold kept me from having the best bloody mary in the world. I actually yelled at her about yoga pants. Yelled. She is the kind of friend I can yell at and she will laugh. Which she did. So then I did. So then I coughed because I had a cold (which I think I forgot to complain about already.) If you are noticing that I am bossing around my family while I am having brunch you are right. But I didn’t have the bloody mary so that is suffering ENOUGH.

So I dropped the kids at the playground and as I drove down my least favorite street in Vermont telling myself how naive I had been about its bad-ness (I now live 2 blocks from Colorado BLVD which could eat Shelburne Rd for breakfast) I tried to chill out. What was upsetting me? The cold? The travel (tin can, how do you stay in the sky) the sluggish children? no…it was answering the questions for that British guy. He makes it seems like such a little thing it can fit in an email but instead he wants me to come to some sort of understanding that has eluded me for 25 years and write it up for him by Friday! The nerve. Also- could I dig out my college journal, cause all of that stuff is in there. I’m pretty sure I can’t write at all on this topic without my original source material. There it is folks. I have created from my very own imagination an insurmountable task. I have now fixated on finding this journal which if it still has physical form is in neither of the two states I will be in between now and Friday. So that is that really. Done. Also, by the way, it doesn’t really matter if I answer these questions. I’m sure this British guy wrote to like 75 bloggers on this topic. Maybe it is all just a numbers game. Maybe he is tracking how many people respond to his query and that in fact is the data he wants. Not my words. So I could do nothing and be as good a data point as if I wrote answers. In fact it might even help prove his hypothesis (which although he pretends he doesn’t share it anyone who reads his email can see that he DOES think procrastination is a hidden side effect of depression/anxiety.)

So I’ll do nothing. That’ll be fine.Or maybe not. What if it isn’t fine. Maybe I can find someone else to write it for me. Someone who is approximately like me so he can have his quotes or whatever but I don’t have to provide them. That would be good. I’m sure I can find someone, explain the situation, have them write a response that would be similar to but better written than mine and let it go at that. Hmmm…let me make a list of writers who have some sort of procrastination issues.

My list includes every writer who isn’t Steven King.

Now I need to narrow the list to writers who I could access before friday. This is a smaller list, but somewhere in this list is my savior so it will still work.

At about this time Steve arrives to return a car we borrowed for our two weeks in Vermont. I hurry up. He won’t be much more than 5 minutes and I need to hit on a solution of who can do this other than me. Wait, what about Steve himself? He could sit at the computer and write something. Then I could edit it. Editing is much easier than writing (please ignore the fact that I never edit this blog- that does not contradict my statement, because I don’t edit anything I obviously know for a fact that editing is easier.) Steve is not depressed, does not procrastinate and is not a writer. But he MARRIED one. Thats enough to drag him into this quicksand with me obviously.

But no, this whole line of thinking has to stop because Steve is here to say that our flight got cancelled and we are flying from VT to Denver Friday. Fuck. a. I wasted half a day of being a bitch and now I might not have enough bitchiness left to get my family safely on the plane. b. now I couldn’t write back to this guy on Friday.

So I guess that means I can’t respond at all. Phew. That’s settled.

Except. Maybe I could do it Thursday.

Today is Thursday.

I could respond to him Thursday.

AKA Today.

This is a frightening word to the procrastinator. It is the second most frightening word. The worst?

Now.

A brief word about now. It is always now. always. See it follow you as you read this sentence. Now. Now. Now. It sounds sort of like a gun shot, doesn’t it?

So if you dread now, if now is scary, then that is not ideal.

I guess it is time to answer his questions. But see, I used the time to write about how it was time. So now there is no time. I need to have a re-do on the breakfast. This time I will not yell at my friend. This time I might have the bloody Mary. In fact if I think about it…skipping the bloody mary might have been the problem all along.

 

I went ahead and answered him. If you are interested here it is. I can already think of other things to say or things to say in other ways but the best way to beat procrastination is to just get working. So I did.

Procrastination Responses

Whilst not trying to prove this either way in my dissertation, I am discussing whether procrastination itself is a symptom of anxiety, depression, or both – do you think it fits more as a symptom of one or the other (or both, or something else) and why?

My gut says that procrastination and depression and anxiety are neither causes nor symptoms of each other but rather fruits of the same sad tree. I’d like to propose a branch of perfectionism which seems to be tangled together with at least the two that I have a lifetime of experience with…procrastination and depression.

Comparing the sensation of depression and procrastination makes them seem far from each other on the spectrum of suffering. When I am in the midst of a depressive episode I feel detached and numb. Nothing seems to have meaning or significance. Procrastination feels like the opposite. The job to do seems to have tremendous importance that dwarfs all reason. It is so important that I can’t get my mind or arms around it. I let it loom over me and that in itself makes it larger still. The similarity between the experience is that both take me away from normal function of life. When I am depressed I am doing very little. When I am procrastinating I am doing many things, just not one particular thing. I find both states to be exhausting. Neither my brain nor my body is working at a healthy sustainable speed, in one case too slow and in the other too fast.

I am not in treatment for anxiety, but my depressive tendencies come with a manic component as a result of my medication. My doctor and I do a lot of psychopharmecudical and therapeutic work trying to turn down the volume on the mania without dampening my ability to function on the lower end of my moods. When a project enters into my procrastination queue my response recalls the feeling of uncontrolled mania. Whatever I am focusing on at the moment is too important to look away from. With procrastination that leaves the “job” unattended. With mania that leaves all other parts of life out there as “other.”

When I was school aged I suffered from perfectionism. I loved spelling tests and multiplication tables because there were finite ways to be right, and also finite ways to fail. Outside of structured school work I floated in a sea of possibilities. Each essay, autobiography, diorama held the likelihood of being terrible. And by terrible I mean not the best. And by likelihood I mean guarantee. In an effort to avoid the feeling of producing something terrible (and at that stage each piece of work that I produced felt like a piece of my self out there in the world being judged) I would avoid it altogether. Then it would be too late. There would be too little time. So the reason for low quality work came from circumstance not authorship.

As somebody who spends a great deal of time writing, so you have any techniques you adopt to avoid or recognise procrastination (and if so, what are they)?

It doesn’t take much for me to recognize procrastination. If anyone (including me) has expectations for some physical output of quality (article, sewn pillow, tax report) my first line of defense is to procrastinate. I have three ways to deal with this. One is the technique of diving in. The other is living a life with few external deadlines, and the last and most effective one is realizing that my work product is not the same as my heart or my head.

Diving in. I can’t set a time to write a particular article. If I say I will write on Friday my entire week between then and Friday becomes clogged with worry about Friday. What I do do is set aside blocks of work time every morning. I work then. I don’t expect to work at other times. So when I get an idea or assignment I start it the very next available work block. No tip toes. Just dive in. Then I have to keep swimming. If I get out of the water patting myself on the back at my “progress” I might as well not have started. So I keep swimming. There is a big and obvious downside to this. Everything I attempt needs to be broken into pieces small enough to be done between 9am-11:30 am. This (amongst other reasons) is why I am not a surgeon, and why if I ever publish a book it will not be a beautiful narrative but broken observations

Choosing my battles. I am lucky to get to choose my work. I do not need to show up every day and punch a time card (although occasionally in my least clear headed times I imagine that might be a relief). I can say no to assignments that involve subjects that don’t engage me. And I can afford to lose jobs if I miss deadlines. For the most part I fit deadlines into the regular rhythm of my life. But it doesn’t last long. I have abandoned my weekly writing for websites. I can create a myriad of reasons, but the bottom line is my creativity is crushed by the regular expectation of an editor with space to fill. So I have very few deadlines in my life. We have family meeting Mondays at 6:30. Most of the time I make it.

That essay is not me. It took a long time to realize that my perfectionism (which I feel is the root of my procrastination) derives from the idea that any piece of work of mine that exists needs to reflect all of my values and my value. That is a huge expectation to have. Too huge for a second grader. Too huge for an essay. Once I realized that things could suck and I would live I made some progress. Not only did it improve the feeling of drowning while trying to work but it also improved the work itself. It turns out trying to reference everything on the planet and be relevant to everyone is impossible. Saying one thing to one person was easier. Then if other people are interested I might say something else some other time. And even if I end up saying lots of things to lots of people gathering them all together does still not make them me. So its OK if those things suck. Just like me they will suck sometimes and not others.

You describe the arrival of the ‘panic monster’ – have you ever found that you thrive on this frantic mindset, and if so, would you say that sometimes procrastination might even pay off?

The panic monster (as I referenced in my original post) is not my creation even if he does keep me company. He is a concept and drawing that borrow from Tim Urban of the blog Wait But Why. I thrive on his arrival in the sense that I would NEVER DO ANYTHING if I am in procrastination mode and he didn’t arrive. I need to be scared to get going. It is a little different when it is depression rather than procrastination. Here the monster is carrying my life preserver. I have had to teach myself not to like the frantic mindset. It has taken a while to realize that it is simply the flip side of my depression and even though I feel supercharged and powerful I am neither. When I am down I am almost literally so. I have compared depression to drowning from the inside out or being buried not so alive. Often when I emerge from that state I fly too high. Being able to breathe and see and hear is so strong that I feel untouchable. The trick is finding the middle of it all. For a long time I felt that I needed that fear to work at all. Now I have realized that I can live and work between the ups and the downs. It is tough to remember and practice it, but it happens sometimes. I don’t think that procrastination has ever paid off. There is not a single case where the work that I produced couldn’t have been better researched or edited if I didn’t spend 90% of my work time finding ways not to work.

Have you ever found, during a period of procrastination, that your mind wanders to the ‘what if’s’ of a given situation, and starts to project possible, even far-fetched outcomes of doing/not doing what you’re supposed too? I’m talking here about projection (not the psychic, telekinetic kind!).

I had an ongoing joke with my college roommates. This was in the days before cell phones when five of us shared a phone in our suite. Before I would answer the phone (which I would always do because-hey-procrastination) I would call out. “Its your econ professor he is calling to say stop studying he decided just to give you an A on the exam.” Or “Hey Debi don’t write that semiotics paper- your professor has decided it is all a construct so everyone gets an A.” It was a running joke but a piece of me always believed that if I suffered long enough on one project I would end up with an instant A on another. In graduate school my father got sick and I commuted back and forth for 4 hours twice a week between school, work and his bedside. I ended up taking an incomplete that term from a professor who had appreciated my work the semester before. I met with him to go over what his expectation were to turn my “I” to an “A” (perfectionism again) He told me he would email his assignments. The next day I received his email. It said: Don’t bother doing anymore work, I have given you an A for the semester and the year. So that one came true.

Do you think projection is linked to procrastination, or is in itself a separate anxiety or depression based symptom (or, again, both.)?

Is there a way to feel anxious without projecting a negative outcome? I really don’t know. I don’t live in the world of anxiety the way I do procrastination and depression. In the depths of my depression there is no projection at all. Nothing. Procrastination requires a lot of thinking to get started. Meaning if you think the procrastination will start…not the work. If I just get going on an assignment I rarely imagine either great or horrible results from the work. If I am invested in the outcome I am much more likely to procrastinate. Procrastination is caring…too much.

 

 

What a long strange trip it’s been.

What I used to thing wool looked like.
What I used to thing wool looked like.

There is a fair chance that not a single one of you will weave through the trip I have below. It is my trip. But it is also my blog. There are times when I think I am writing about something personal and it seems to resonate with you…so I invite you to join me in the journey I took between 4pm and 2am yesterday/today.

At 4pm I watched Tim Urban’s TED talk. For those of you who don’t know or read the blog Wait But Why I offer you the gift insight, humor, and research in the form of that link. Such level of examination is rarely seen outside of graduate school. But before you think its all boring let me tell you that Tim is a major procrastinator, so his signature style of stick figure stream of consciousness lacks the pretension of the Phd.

I recommend the blog post on procrastination over the talk, but some of you are auditory learners so do whatever you wish.

Assuming that a fair number of you will never click that link allow me to bastardize it in a  too long paragraph. Tim’s TED talk was about procrastination. August Tim said yes to the talk that was set in the calendar for February. At the time August Tim had no idea how much he was screwing over January Tim. Life experience and a career catalyzed by illustrating and writing about procrastination might have given him a clue but August Tim was busy with stuff like ice cream. The Sept, Oct, November Tim’s were similarly engaged so the end of the year rolled around and  December Tim was PISSED off. He was the one that was supposed to be memorizing the talk to “Happy Birthday” level of familiarity (that shit takes TIME) but the talk hadn’t been written yet. Just when he was going to get down to business the instant gratification monkey showed up. (Now this is Tim’s image and isn’t the same analogy that I would use but damn would it take time to come up with my own.) In any case the monkey shows up and gets December Tim busy with all sorts of things in the dark Playground. He needs to use Google Earth to REALLY study India. Every inch of India needs to be reviewed from a birds eye of about 20 feet. The procrastinator knows that a deadline is looming, casting its ever growing shadow over the playground. Yet it isn’t until true career meltdown or major personal embarrassment is at stake that the panic monster wakes up and shuts down that monkey. Freed from the playground the procrastinator gets to work on his editing/thesis/TED talk. Then he miraculously gets it done in 3 /minutes/hours/days We all know that the quality of the work could have been so much better if he had started early…but…next time. The second half of the talk (which I could totally tell had been prepped and “memorized” two days before he took the stage) talked about a life of procrastination. This is distinctly different from a lifetime of procrastination. In a life of procrastination things are not in a dark playground, they are simply dark. There are no specific projects and deadlines to ignore…in fact the monkey/monster cycle comes as a bit of a break from full time procrastinating. Tim tells of thousands of readers that email him to describe their pain. Their shortcomings. Their total sense of worthlessness. These are the feelings they have when their instant gratification monkey takes a nap and leaves them awake and alone with their thoughts. That is a state that those of us with a procrastination life try to avoid.

From 4:30-5:00 I listened to a patriots podcast and matched numbers in another nail biting game of 2048 (6 x 6 survival mode.)

At 5:00  I ordered pizza to be delivered at 6:00 when Steve was due to return from skiing.

At 5:28 Oliver told me the pizza had arrived and he had signed for it.

At 5:28.35 I asked if he had tipped.

At 5:29 Oliver ran down the car before the delivery person drove away.

From 5:29- 5:32 we practiced figuring out 20% and enjoyed our dinner and each others’ company.

From 5:32- 5:50 we passed around a mechanical pencil and graph paper and sketched what we would want in our dream  media room. Oliver focused on proportion and drew what I am pretty sure was a set of midcentury modern Eames chairs. Leo drew an indoor trampoline. I sketched the chase for the heating.

At 5:50 the boys went to the playground (light) and I tried to keep from going to mine (dark.)

At 6:00 Steve came home from skiing and was so tired that we barely spoke. When I went upstairs to watch election coverage (reason we would benefit from a media room…I might choose to watch TV somewhere other than bed.)

At 6:05 Steve was in his PJs which on many days would have beaten me but I had put mine on at 4:00.

At 6:30 Oliver came into my room where I sat with the TV on election coverage, my phone on 2048 (6×6 survival mode) and my laptop open to Facebook. The monkey had me all set up without the need to think at all. Oliver said to me “I am really surprised that you like that game so much.” With GREAT effort I lifted my head from the screen to meet his blue eyes. “Like it?” What is this child talking about? Then I remembered that his life is not the dark playground and the things that he chooses to do are things that he likes. This seems incredible. In a life of virtual leisure I do very very few things I like. Which brings us back to the monkey. He doesn’t care if I like the distractions he throws at me. He just wants to keep me busy. I have dabbled in enough books on mindfulness, awareness, and the power of now to realize that all of this mind numbing screen time is designed to keep me from waking up to the world. For now I have to get the 2048 tile, then 4096 and on and on. I can explore that other stuff some other time.

From 6:30-7:15 we have a great time discussing inflation and our National Debt. That sentence may be the least believable one I have ever written but it is true. Leo has proposed a global currency chase where we print more dollars to pay back out debt then quickly change US currency so we don’t flood our own market. As soon as other counties catch on we can change again. I imagine field trips to the Denver Mint would be more exciting. Right now the best part is standing on the stair that is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level. Oliver is involved, trying to explain inflation using a gallon of milk (clearly not organic), but Leo is down his own rabbit hole designing coinage. Steve is contemplating all of us through the tired eyes of a day skiing. I wonder if they would like The Big Short.

From 7:15-9:00 We watch the voice. I continue to match numbers so really I just listen to the Voice. (Its a good show for that.) Actually I listen to Leo who keeps a constant patter going about how much he enjoys certain backstories (his term) how funny Blake is, his preference for Christina over Gwen (Christina can really sing, Gwen cares only about outfits which is NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THE POINT OF THE SHOW (emphasis his)), and reviews of the battle round performances that are so stream of consciousness that I have to take his word for it because I can’t hear a single note of music. I can’t imagine where he gets that tendency.

By 10:00 everyone is asleep and I am lying in considering Tim’s talk while I work with my various screens. I am thinking specifically about the stuffed procrastination monkey which as a Patreon patron of Wait But Why I received as the most menacing holiday gift ever. Actually I was able to choose between he and the panic monster. But the panic monster scared the shit out of me so I picked the monkey and handed down Leo the gift of instant gratification. Which is an externalized representation of what I had already shared with him in genetic code. In any case I am thinking about the monkey and how for me he is no so much about keeping me from working as he is about keeping me from thinking.

By 1:00am I have an unfamiliar resolve. I’m going to take down that monkey. I’ll show him. I think. He can’t stop me from thinking. The fact that the monkey is me is not lost on my but I DECIDE not to think that. I send out this thought for consideration. I felt better after I wrote the post on drowning. True. That is a totally true statement. But I don’t FEEL the feeling  as I think the sentence. I have given myself that line to think the way I might script dialogue in the fiction I always imagine I will write. I realize how many of my thoughts are like that. Narrated lines. Sure they are in the first person but it has the feel of a movie made from a John Irving novel. The hapless character thinks she is living her life as she chooses, but only the narrator knows her motivations. I am the narrator. I insist to the John Irving monkey. “Just match your numbers sweetheart,” the monkey soothes, “spend a little time with the Patriots Podcast and unload the dishwasher. You like the dishes. They are so pretty. Or chips. What about potato chips? I bet you would like to get yourself some salty crispy chips.”

That asshole is so infantilizing. I think. This is not even close to the first time I have called myself an asshole. I am watching ELECTION coverage. I yell at him. That is something people in control of their lives do. “I was just going to say that.” The monkey answers. “Look at you, so together, watching election coverage after facilitating a conversation about inflation with your kids. What a grown up you are.” Why are you saying you? I ask the monkey. Wait. Why am I saying you? (Even if I don’t figure anything else out I might have uncovered the meaning behind the title of Tim Urban’s blog) You and I are the SAME. We are the SAME person. You are just a monkey because Tim drew you as a monkey and you are John Irving because he came from New England just like me. I am Anna Irving and I like bananas.  See? You can’t script what I think and distract me with shiny objects.

But of course the monkey me can. And almost all of the time does. Games on the iPad, walks with podcasts, falling asleep with the TV on. Monkey me limits the amount of time that I can think. And when the thoughts come they still seem to come as if they are composed.  I have often said (so often that it shows itself as the scripted line that it is) that I can only think through talking or writing. It might be that I only let myself think when I am talking or writing. I am protected by a meta level of reflection that keeps me from falling in. In the midst of being a narrating narrator I stumble across the line. Falling In. That wasn’t what I was supposed to think. Fuck thats scary. If I am afraid of falling in I decide it might be beneficial to give myself a push.

At 1:45 am I turn off the TV. I plug in my phone, watch, iPod, laptops (So many screens the monkey tells me waving his hands.) and set them on my bedside table. I lie back on my horrible pillow and wait to fall in. I am thinking about the Patriots trade. I take several breaths like I did at the zen center but I don’t actually want to silence all of my thoughts, just my monkey chatter.  I want to hear the rest of my thoughts and I even want to feel them. “NO YOU DON’T” screams the Irving monkey. “BANANA.” This time I don’t yell back. It’s OK. I’m going to be OK. And I am talking to myself this time not to monkeys and not to narrators. For a moment I approach a state of otherness like I am on the verge of sleep, a drug trip, or orgasm, about to lose control and I pull myself back up. This is scary. Yes. It is scary. I tell me. The monkey is away from this precipice jumping up and down screeching agin about the Patriots trade, they got rid of Chandler Jones for a second round pick. I wonder what the value of that pick is. Could we package it with another pick and get the first pick of the second round and tell Goddell to go to hell? Hey there. Let’s deal with that tomorrow. For once I am procrastinating the procrastinating. Come back to this. Lets see what you have been so afraid of. I edge closer, gently sending away thoughts of whether or not the kitchen light is on, what the traffic will be to get to volleyball, whether or not the new accountant emailed me back. WAIT. NOT. The new accountant did NOT email me back. I clearly need to deal with that. It is the ONLY responsible thing to do. But it is 1am so my only choices are sleep or check out that huge dark area beyond the cliff.

Cliff it is. I peer over and it is as if everything inverts. The earth that I was standing on is up at the sky and the sky is down here in the pit. It seems like if I fall I will be falling up. I am still on the edge, not sure whether to let go and I have a stomach turn like gravity is changing and I only think one word. This thought is different from the others. It comes from inside and out. It is not think like a line of dialogue but huge and wooly and it is the air I breathe. It is both full and empty and shocking and familiar. Everything is this word.

Loss.

I scramble back, away from the word. I don’t want to feel how it can consume me. How it can be me. From back here on the earth it is less scary. It is weird even. I have a bountiful life. My father has died, some plans have never come to be, some money is gone but I have everything I need. And more. I have more than I need and even enough to share. The monkey looks at me mockingly.

Maybe I was wrong. But I know what I felt and I know how I act. The frantic academic life of my teens, the sex and drugs of my 20s, the six business start up and shut downs of my thirties, the comfort I can offer Volunteer boards, and Steve and friends and kids but never myself. The distraction of the mania and the defeat of the depression equally good at keeping me from spending any time with that wooly word. All of this scrambling and scrabbling to stay away from what? From where? This here? The monkey is jumpy again. “C’mon.” He says. “We are going to go play a game in this big comfortable bed over here.” “You don’t want to go there.” “You shouldn’t even look over there.” You can’t stop me. I tell him. You can’t stop me. I tell me. It is 2 am and I am going in.

This time my stomach doesn’t flip quite so much. I am surrounded but I am breathing fresh air. I am stroking the dark wool. It feel soft. I am soothing it. It’s OK I tell the part I am making smooth next to me. Somehow I know it is Leo. It is Leo at 4 years old afraid that he hasn’t been invited to the party he himself imagined. That’s alright I tell him. He squeezes my hand with too chubby fingers.. I am at my own table. There are treats. So many treats that I think it must be a trick and I start to feel sick looking at them. There are wings and fries and full on candy. There is nothing subtle on that table. Next to it is the vegetables. They don’t look very good either. You’ll still be here tomorrow I tell the treats. I am not telling you NO. I am telling you not now. They don’t talk back…they are food after all, but I guess that they understand because I feel less sick. Which doesn’t make me drawn to the vegetable table either. I am focusing on sending a breathe of air into my belly. Letting it draw my attention to my stomach. It is not screaming back at me. It is neither full nor empty.

Now I am at Thanksgiving with my father. He is alone at the table, too bright lights shining on the uncleared place settings with congealed gravy and picked over bones. “You left me here.” He tells me. His eyes are big, the anger that kept his engine running is gone. “I am alone.” I know dad. I answer. I’m sorry. And I do I leave him at his table and I feel sorry and so so sad. But it isn’t too much sad. It is not loss with a capital L.

Some of the wool is smooth from where I have been stroking it as I walk around. Beyond it tangled mountains rise up and I can hear distant crying. I can’t go there now. I haven’t made a pathway. I can only see the things right in front of me. I know there are Losses threatening far away. Losses of human rights, clean water, losses to big for me to name. My breathe is stuck. It is not going past my chest. There is no air going in. I stand still with the pain and then it passes. I roll my shoulders back but instead of focusing on stretching the tight muscles of my neck and scapula I send my attention to my breastbone. I don’t even recoil at the word breast like a ten year old. I lift up and out for the first time not thinking of my skeleton but of all of the fear I am holding there. The fear of impotency. The fear that I can’t fix things. The fear that makes me turn my shoulders and myself in. The part of me that needs 2048 to keep from thinking. It is simple. In this moment I know that. I am absolutely right. I can’t fix anything. I can’t change whatever is going on in those mountains over there. All I can do is stay right here with my eyes open, my chest open, and feel the fear and the failure. So I do. And it hurts. After a while I allow my eyes to close.  And then I sleep.

Pro-crastination

I’m sitting at my lovely round claw foot table (second to tubs in my claw foot love but only just) surrounded by evidence of my procrastination.

Prompted by a note from my CPA (you can’t put it off any longer, I need the answers to 2010 tax questions NOW, and did you see that Patriots game last night?) I have spread win win, household, home sale paperwork, insurance stuff, and more heart palpitation causing stuff to the far edges.

I am helped by Emmy who bats the pen to the ground, walks over the keyboard where the computer is open to Quickbooks May 2010, and then settles in my lap, directly on top of the bank statement I am referencing.

My original tax extension was legit. I was missing some fancy alphanumeric form that I needed, and needed someone else to get for me. However the time between March 14th when I filed the extensions and NOW, 12 days before the taxes are finally due stretched on with NO TAX WORK AT ALL.

Steve is on gchat holding back his cursing as he re-provides me with rental income and mortgage fees that he had entered neatly into his spreadsheet in February. The fact that he is traveling later this week so I am solo is probably working in my favor. He seems to virtually bite his tongue as he interrupts whatever important aerospace stuff he is doing to dig up numbers like $740 in quarters from the laundry.

Its odd that someone who is early for EVERYTHING can also be a procrastinator. In fact I seem to operate firmly on either end of the spectrum. Either jumping into things quickly and splashing around to figure it out, or waiting until the last POSSIBLE minute, to maximize my stress over what could be an easy task. These taxes will take 3/4 hours (plus the time I am typing about them now) but the amount of fretting I have done (without any progress) since March is easily 20x that.

I have a new app coming out. Patience. Where you use its randomized timer to put off things that you are itching to do immediately (calling your ex, eating a brownie, buying a third grey cashmere sweater.) I designed it during the summer when I was taking on way too many projects, starting things without seeing them through, and other fun but ineffective practices. Now that it is fall, and I am focused on weaving these threads together into something real  I am MUCH more excited for the sister app Procrastination. Maybe I would be posting now about the AIA conference in two weeks, or my completed presentation for the DC trip, instead of the taxes. That I haven’t finished.

Are there things that you procrastinate?

Are we a procrastination nation? Sometimes it feels that way.