the layers of my procrastination

the layers of my procrastination

Photo by Chance Anderson / Unsplash

Dear reader, I know what you’re thinking: I am a terrible procrastinator. I have talked for years about writing my book but as far as you can tell, there’s been no progress. I publish short stories and blog posts which tease at something bigger but end up dissipating like wafts of steam. Dear reader, you are right to criticize me, but what do you know of the depths of my procrastination – of the many layers which make it up?

It may seem like I’m merely avoiding the work which is necessary to write a book. But that is only the most superficial layer of my procrastination: it is one-dimensional and predictable. A close cousin to this procrastination is called laziness. It is straightforward to overcome and progress follows linearly; I must simply do what needs to be done. Put the clothes in the wash. Arrive at my computer and type. Bend over, tie my shoe. Then open the door, walk outside; seize the day!

Below that surface lies a more nuanced layer of procrastination – one that is wandering, creative, and in my mind, justified. I have a promising storyline for my book: two quixotic lovers board a spaceship headed for a distant world, their whole lives condensed into their backpacks. But there is a tragic twist, and one of the lovers dies suddenly, leaving the other alone to grapple with the vast unknown. It could be an interesting story, right? Except it’s just a skeleton without a heartbeat; the plot and characters lack flesh and qualia. To bring the story alive I need unstructured time, fresh air, the freedom to doodle at the margins. Far from laziness, this is a bet on serendipity: I sow the seeds for inspiration to emerge from my subconscious, hopeful as I sit down each day to write but never knowing exactly when it will appear.

The next layer of procrastination is cold and damp, driven by fear. I have been meaning to write something about a longtime friend; perhaps I will even include parts of her in my book. But she is a difficult friend, moody and fickle, and I am afraid to find out, through writing about her, that our friendship is even more complicated than I’d thought. This procrastination is not foreseeable nor linear because other variables besides plot are at play: my heart and her heart. Not only do I wish to treat her fairly – she might recognize herself in my story – but I also brace for the possibility that she, a talented artist with impeccable taste, might hate what I’ve written. Oh, dear reader, I'm preparing myself for the possibility that you will hate my story too! Like my first, lazy layer of procrastination, the best way out of this one is also through, but I must protect my heart along the way.

Alas, we’ve arrived at the core of my procrastination: that gnarly, writhing reptile which threatens to break me. It has been a part of me since I was little: an obscene fixation on details, both in my physical surroundings and in the thoughts which cross my mind. It is an insatiable itch, a quicksand in my brain. I’m editing a sentence and out of nowhere, the shallow scratch which I noticed on the wall yesterday calls to me; I am compelled to leave my chair. I go over to the opposite wall and stand inches from it, examining how its edges swirl into the concrete. I wonder how to fix it. Hovering above everything is my impulse to fix, to smooth, to get rid of imperfections; or, in the case of writing, to find the perfect word, to resolve all inconsistencies.

Thanks to my obsession I can produce character quirks, surprising rhythms in a conversation or endless permutations of a scene, borrowing from the mental catalogue of minutiae which I constantly update. But unlike creative procrastination, this reptilian sort is not planned but rather sabotages me, appearing out of nowhere. I have tried many things to soften it: exposure therapy, Freudian psychoanalysis, experimentally high doses of Prozac, meditation and yoga, and of course: imploring myself to be different.

It will not go away.

In the end I have settled on this: a dance between “effort and ease", as one of my yoga teachers used to say. Despite the uncertainty and torment of my various procrastinations, I have the capacity to dance. So I step through the one-dimensional, lazy procrastination; all it requires is a burst of energy and a little determination. I shimmy along the nooks and crannies of my creative procrastination, reminding myself to stay diligent yet patient. I take two steps towards the right, flinging my arms into the sky and letting my fingers twirl, cradling my heart with a bit of caution. Finally, arriving at the core, I take a deep breath and close my eyes. And then I continue to move. My hope is that in this dance I may stumble but not fall; shifting slowly but always closer towards the goals I have set for myself. And I hope, dear reader, that you will accompany me along this mysterious way – and that eventually, there will be a book!

This "musing" is a contribution to the 3rd STSC Symposium, a monthly collaboration from STSC's writers around a set theme. Our topic for this month is Procrastination.