On Morbid Procrastination

What happens when procrastination stops being polite and starts being real?? Much like that voice-over intro to MTV's "The Real World" (which first few seasons had me spellbound in the 90s, even though I know I couldn't have lived anywhere with regular cable access at the time...), I ask myself this question. MTV asked it because they were interested in the "what happens" after the polite. But I'm asking from a different angle. I'd like to find out if there isn't a way to stop myself before the really real of procrastination cometh--before it becomes morbid. And I don't even care what happens after because, actually, there is no AFTER. Morbid procrastination is a state without chronology, just timeless anxiety, movement stalled.

Generally, procrastination can be pleasant, diversionary, leading to a mild build-up of tension that gushes out in a swell of activity that leaves one looking back, stunned, "I got all that done at the last minute?". That's the polite version, the one that seems like just another time management technique, if a less efficient one. Time exists in that version, kinda gently elongated...I imagine it looks like the droop or slump of a ribbon that is not pulled tight at either end, but hangs there with the slackest of tension. Pull it taut and voila--the ends can be tied to something snugly and it looks quite tidy. This is not the kind of procrastination I'm intereste in. It's the other kind, the impolite kind that grips me.

Morbid procastination is a desperate, homely thing. Its expanse has no drape or droop, but stays taut the whole time--however, not functionally taut. The two ends of the aforementioned ribbon aren't tied to anything in this case; instead they are pulled tight from some centrifugal (is that a misuse of that word?) force from the center of the ribbon itself--so it hangs there, taut and isolated, going crazy with inactivity. Willed inactivity. It makes no sense. This is the kind that I'm now experiencing, and have been dealing with for the past few weeks. But it's an old friend. Olds dogs, old tricks. This morning, however, I awoke and began to accomplish things. Off to a coffee shop with J., my bookbag fully loaded. I read a play and an interview for this midweek class and all by 12:10pm! What a nice accomplishment for a Sunday! That felt good--and yet, not good enough. Morbid procrastination jumped straight back into my lap like the comfortable creature it is the second I reached my computer desk. Read this blog and that, this hollywood gossip site (which I'd checked yesterday already), and really read through the full week's postings there. Was I interested? Not really. Curious? Hardly. Mobidly fascinated? No, just morbidly procrastinating.

Some (of my) Peculiar Signs and Symptoms of Morbid Procrastination

1) Despite an array of different types of work available to be done, from easy to demanding (and in need of being done, some immediate and others less so), desire to do nothing while thinking of what I'm not doing. Detailing the different types of work (grading, reading, admin work, class prep, writing, editing others' work, etc) and making lists of which ones I'll do when, but since this is a timeless state, the beginning of the "doing" of the list never atually starts. The endless list-making serves in its place, jaw clenched.

2) Long periods in which time itself means nothing -- 1:23, 3:05, 4:53, 7:25 all take on a rather alien aspect. Sitting at the computer (let's say) with a clock on it, cellphone right there on the desk with a clock on it, or even watching tv with the vcr/dvd player's clock and the dining room clock both in plain view--these are just numbers that have no more resonance than does the fact that the seasons are changing. Surely they are, for they must be. How this relates to me at this moment doesn't seem to be at all worthy of consideration. Yes, the dreaded comprehension is there in the back of the mind, like a finger gently stroking the roof of the mouth that disappears once you open your mouth to dislodge it.

3) Whatever chore needs to be done first--before beginning 'the work', it should involve having to go to the store, bank, post office, etc., before it can be begun. After that chore, the list of real work will be gotten to. But the store/post office/etc subterfuge will always bring a follow-up activity in its wake --call here and tell them this, schedule that-- that originally foreseen "return to" seems quite remote. Senseless to get to it now. And now is all there is here.

4) Masturbation becomes inordinately important -- even if there is no sexual tension felt anywhere in the body (this, of course, if there isn't a willing sexual partner at hand you can convince that you must have sex with now now now). Must think oneself into a sexual frenzy--if thinking won't work and no 'pressing need' can be manifested, then touching self. Suddenly, pressing need arises, and just as suddenly, the urge for ever more creative means and positions and fantasies makes itself felt. Well, why not, I have a little time here, and it will clear my mind. Does it? Reader, I ask you, does it? Certainly, it must clear it of *something*. That's the rub, so to speak--an orgasm-cleared mind in the grips of morbid procrastination is not a mind whose having-been-cleared status entails work. The masturbation ploy is even stronger for those who work (or should work) on weekends and have some other days when working from home is possible. It was long a joke in graduate school that having a desk 3 feet from one's bed is a dangerous recipe for a dissertation. Best to work at least some times in public, we always said.

5) Nail-biting to such an extreme that it would appear from the outside that feverish thought was grappling and making progress with some idea within. But no, the activity of concern is the nail-biting itself. So many hang-nails, so many little layers of nail tissue, appealing rifts snagging the tongue and practically begging for pulling, tugging, shredding. Why, one couldn't be expected to get anything done with nails in this condition, especially if it involves a keyboard. You can type and bite, but not very well. Best to read some news sites or blogs while chewing away. If the intense pain causing little flecks of blood on the keyboard gets too bad after awhile, you notice that somehow it has become dark, very dark and very night even; so it only makes sense to give the fingers a rest and let them recover overnight. Time to sleep.

6) People will kill themselves if you don't email them back. So-and-so wrote you--a quick scan of your yahoo or gmail personal folder tells you--nearly 5 months ago! And you haven't responded??? What if so-and-so is having a terrible crisis, what if s/he needs a friend? And what have you been? A selfish cow just doing your work and living your life and whatnot while not taking care of more important life aspects, like nurturing your long-lost friends by responding to trivial emails they sent months ago. And just remember how many people you know who have killed themselves and you regretted that lapsed game of phone tag or that last email not responded to in a timely enough fashion. So, emails all around. And with details. Make sure everyone knows you care. Then, what if you paid the bills? What a nice thing to check off the mental list. But then you see that the kitchen rug is filthy--why not do some laundry really quickly, since that doesn't interfere with work really. We're so lucky, in this day and age, that chores aren't really that chore-ful. And so on...when the list that is stuck in craw remains untouched, stiff, demanding.

So, you get the picture. All of this accompanied, of course, with either monkey mind or zombie mind, those bipolar twins spawned of the same inertia--morbid procrastination. They scream in your ear alternately: If only I could do everying all at once! If only I could nothing at all for a bit! *sigh* Inertia is the oddest type of suffering, filled as it is with anxiety that refuses to be recognized. It's an anxiety that demands to be called "chilling". Look at it from the outside, it almost looks relaxed. Oh, isn't it nice to be wearing a bulky old sweater some ex-boyfriend's parents gave you, with stains on your pants from breakfast, and unbrushed hair, hunched over your computer. What a scene of hard work, devotion, when the sun is shining right outside the window (and why not go on a walk, you lazy thing?), etc.. But really, it's a sly little onslaught of increased foreboding, a disproportionate sense of doom, the self-loathing column you claimed to have erased in therapy (but, like in an excel spreadsheet, you only made it invisible, hid it under some other column for a while, so it could come out at times like these with a glorious tally--just look at this!!!), and all of this because you aren't doing your work? Such bullshit. I mean, really. I mean, REALLY. And you wish you could say that with a posh British accent, disapproving but indulgent.

Indulgence is perhaps what the morbid procrastination needs to turn it into simple, non-pathological procrastination. Inasmuch as morbid procrastination has episodes that can be dispatched (altough I rather think it's more of a state one lives in for periods, even when it's not manifestly active, i.e., while you are teaching the class you actually did prepare eventually), quick and playful indulgence may be one of the only ways to contain it. Let's hope blogging about it is another.