The fine art of procrastination


I’m a freak: I love school.

Okay, I’ll qualify that. I don’t loveschool per se. I actually believe I hated school in most of its incarnations: elementary was hell, high school was hell (and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or not to be trusted), college was hell, university was … okay, I loved university, but it had its own hellish elements (staying up all night, pounding out essays and lab reports with 20 minute power naps in between drafts created a certain sleep deficit that I believe I’m still trying to work off).

But I do love learning. And so, with the advent of the MOOCs (massive open online courses) through various websites such as Coursera and edX, I have become a learning junkie.

Sort of.

I’ve mastered the art of failing classes gracefully through the fine art of procrastination. I forgot, apparently, that the reason I had to pull all of those all-nighters in university was that I will put everything off until The Very Last Moment.

For example, I’m currently enrolled in this one course on Coursera, Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, as presented by Eric Rabkin via the University of Michigan. This was a course that I told myself I was going to stay on top of. The reading list is interesting. Rabkin is a pleasant and intelligent lecturer. And yet, here I am, 24 hours before my first assignment is due, and I’ve still to finish my reading for said assignment.

I’d love to say I haven’t had time, but that’s basically a lie. The assignment in and of itself is simple: read a specific edition of Grimm’s Household Tales (the 1886 Lucy Barnes edition), and write a brief essay about a theme found within.

When I say brief, I mean brief: 270-320 words. I’m not even sure this is a page. For me, overly verbose me, this is like, a paragraph, maybe two. (This is not really evident in this blog, where I find myself reverting to newspaper writing, with flashy, short, grabby paragraphs in an attempt not to lose my reader; academic writing is another beast altogether.)

So instead of reading this text, I’m binge-watching The Leftovers on HBO On Demand, washing dishes, doing mountains of laundry, running errands, calling friends who I haven’t spoken to for an era, writing this blog …

Why the aversion? These stories are easy reads, gruesome and glorious. The text I’m using has gorgeous illustrations (done by the translator’s husband, Walter Crane). The themes are plentiful. This should be an enjoyable experience.

I have two theories. The first is that I’m completely freaked out by how brief this essay is, but that isn’t as important as the second: the deadline. I started reading this text before the course even started and I had nothing but time. As a lifelong procrastinator, there is nothing that stops me in my tracks quite like a distant deadline. Tell me that you need things done in hours, not days-weeks-months.

Even at this point, 24 hours to go, I’m telling myself that I can easily complete this assignment. I’m probably about a third of the way through the text, but I can probably plough through it in a couple of hours. Then 300 words? Pfft! Child’s play! I’d better clean the bathroom; I’ve got nothing but time.

But then, reality will set in, and it will be just like when I was eight years old and had to make a diorama of a castle for school. In my head, this diorama was awesome. Working gates, meticulously constructed from Lego, set into a facade made from cardboard, onto which I’d draw each individual stone that made up the face of the castle. A moat. Little people in each room, doing medieval things (G-rated medieval things … like sitting in thrones and baking bread and jousting). So an hour before my bedtime, I pulled everything out to get started. Drew the facade of the castle. Cut it out. Realized it looked wrong. Drew another. Cut it out. Still wrong. Suddenly realized that I COULDN’T DRAW (still can’t; I peaked at eight)! Ah! What was I going to do? I only had 40 minutes left before I had to go to bed. So I tried to build a gate with my Lego. Couldn’t get the damned thing to a) look right, or b) work. I had 20 minutes left. My dad poked his head in, saw what I was doing, asked about it. And then, the usual chaos that surrounds big school projects ensued. First the parental freakout that I left this to The Last Minute … again. Then the “What are we going to do?” panic. Then the “Figure it out,” thing that my parents seemed to always do so they could teach me to take responsibility for my actions.

My diorama sucked. I’m pretty sure my classmates made fun of it. My teacher probably was horrified. It ended up being the Girl Guide cookie by-the-case box, with some holes cut in it for doors and windows and some crooked bricks drawn on one side. Clumsily constructed cardboard walls collapsed inward on a barren inner castle. If I wanted to do a diorama depicting what a medieval castle would look like today if left to moulder, I’d have hit the nail on the head.

Did I learn my lesson? Absolutely not. Because here I am, 25 years later, writing a blog entry and not a 300 word essay on the consequences of dishonesty in Grimm’s tales.

I think I’ll just wash those dishes and fire off a couple of emails and then tackle the essay. Or maybe I should write a few pages of my own stuff first, just to get the juices flowing. Oh, and I saw the perfect picture on Facebook to go with this post; I’d better go and find it (there it is at the top). Also there’s some laundry to put away. And I meant to bring my neighbour some of those squares I baked last night. And there’s slideshows of Grammy  outfits to look at. And …

Books This Post:

*(Incidentally, I never did this paper: read a few more stories and then got caught up in vague day-to-days and watched the deadline blow past me. And then put off posting this entry for two days because … I did. Procrastinators unite!)


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