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Procrastination’s Purpose

Yesterday I cleaned out my freezers. Not just the one in the kitchen, but the big deep-freeze in the basement too.

How does this have anything to do with writing your book, you may ask? Ah, it is classic procrastination.

When faced with a daunting writing task, the first thing you always must do is find some completely unnecessary task that suddenly has taken on mammoth importance and tackle that instead of the writing work you are supposed to be doing. (In my defense it was getting to the point where you’d have to open the freezer from the side to protect defenseless toes from the kamikaze bricks of flying squash. Plus, was a bit tedious shoving and pushing and elbowing the peas and frozen waffles back in there whenever you wanted an ice cube.)

Now, WHY should anyone procrastinate in this way, and how could it possibly benefit a writer?

Procrastination, at its best, can incite the Productive Panic.  It works like this: after a day spent scraping dehydrated chicken breasts off the back wall of your freezer, suddenly you look up and it’s 3:00.  You’ve got exactly two hours until you have to pick up the kid, at which point all chance of work goes down the disposal with the frozen mystery stew and the shriveled cake from last Easter.

So you sit down and start to write something, anything, so that you’ll end the day by saying, “Hey, I accomplished something on my book today!” Instead of saying, “Well, I cleaned the freezer….”

Sometimes what you write in the Productive Panic is total crap. Sometimes it’s brilliant. Usually, it’s somewhere in-between. Bits of crap and bits of genius all rolled up together. Yesterday, what I wrote wasn’t that great, but it had the virtue of both being written, and getting me thinking about the new introduction or preface (I’m still grappling with which one) that I’m working on in a pretty productive and useful way. Would I have done more if I’d worked all day?  Maybe. But maybe not. Sometime’s there’s stress in the six-hour stretch of time that rebounds into massive unproductivity.  Sometimes it’s good just to take a quick pass at something. That’s what I did yesterday. And so today, I’ve got three pages of ideas to work with.

And, bonus!  Clean freezers.

@stewgad on Twitter

Hello to the blogosphere — (if anybody is still out there following this poor, lonely, neglected blog.)

Looking for more Stewgad Stories?  You can find the new, reduced, and probably not really improved, albeit slightly more recent, Stewgad Stuff on Twitter.  (http://www.twitter.com/stewgad) .

PHD via UPS

It came by UPS last week.  A thin cardboard box, no more than 1/2 an inch tall, and about 11X14.  I heard the big brown truck pull up outside my house and ran to the front door, standing there until the delivery guy put his hand on my door knob.  Then I whipped the door open and scared the living daylights out of the man.  But I was too excited, I couldn’t wait for him to ring the doorbell.  He handed it to me, and I smiled at him, a little shaky, and as he gave me the electronic tablet to sign, I told him, “This is my degree!!!”  He gave me kind of a half-grin, and said, “Yeah, I’ve been delivering a lot of those today.”  I thanked him, and walked back inside.  What for him was a routine, and a repetitive one at that, was the most momentous day in my intellectual life.  It was the arrival of legitimacy.  He didn’t know it, and perhaps couldn’t know it, but he had just delivered back to me a piece of my soul.

I sat down at the dining room table, pushed aside my laptop, stacks of papers waiting to be graded, and my toddler’s breakfast dishes.  I pulled the ez-open cardboard tab, and slid out a large white folder.  Inside it was a thick piece of paper, although it wasn’t as thick as I thought it would be.  It felt oddly insubstantial.  The page had my school’s name on it in large, gothic letters at the top, and then my name underneath it.  Then it had a paragraph about how I was now to be admitted into the privileges and rights that all holders of my degree have, and finally there was a shiny seal and some signatures.  That was it.

I sat there holding that piece of paper in my lap and I wept out a giddy little laugh.  It was suddenly real.  Apparently in the months since August, nobody had called the graduate school and told them it was all a big mistake and that I should never have been admitted after all and all that coursework I did was of course inadequate and I my defense wasn’t good enough and all of those errors that still remain in the submitted text clearly disqualify me for this thing oh and by the way you didn’t pay a fee back in 1999 so it’s all over now.  Apparently none of those things happened because here it was, in my lap.

My Ph.D.

It was real. And it was mine.  My name was right there on it.  Printed in black ink.

Right after I had submitted my dissertation, Spousal Unit said that for him the stress of the whole experience fell away slowly over time, kind of like a shedding.  I’ve been shedding bits and pieces for the last few months.  But it’s not natural yet — and I’m still stressed.  It took 15 years to create the stressed out energy that pushed me through the process, and that’s not going away overnight.  Every now and then I’ll be cooking or eating or reading or walking with the Gadlet and I’ll think, “Oh shit! Stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW and get back to work on your dissertation!”  But then I remember I don’t have a dissertation to work on any more.  It’s done.  And then I take a deep breath and shed some stress, feeling a bit of my anger, my pain, my fear, my armor, my sadness fall away.

But I still wasn’t sure it was real.  Until last Tuesday when a nonchalant UPS guy in doofy brown shorts who had clearly talked to 150 other overjoyed overwrought dissertators that day brought vindication in a small, white cardboard box.

Blurg: Gadlet Conversations

Yesterday Afternoon at the Beach:

Stewgad: “Hey Gadlet, tomorrow Dada is going to take you out on a Very Big Boat and you guys are going to sail around in the ocean and look for Dolphins.”

Gadlet: “No no Pat Pat Dolphins.  Dolphins Wild. (pronounced Whydld.)”

S: “Yeah, you’re right.  Dolphins are wild.”

G: “Elephants Wild.”

S: (surprised at this turn of conversation.)  “Yeah, they are.”

G: “Giraffes too.”

S: “Yes, Giraffes are wild.  What other animals do you know that are wild?”

G: “Yeah.”  (Her standard response these days when she doesn’t know the answer to a question.)

S: “How about Tigers?  Can you pat tigers?”

G: “Noooo.  Tigers wild.”

S:  “Yeah.  How about Lions?”

G:  (Giggles.) “No.  Lions wild.”

S: “What about kitties?”

G: (Very Seriously) “Kitties wild.”

S:  “Really?  What about Nana’s kitty, Shiloh?  Is Shilo wild?”

G:  “Yes.”  (kid’s right, that cat’s pretty intense.)

S: “How about doggies?  Are doggies wild?”

G: “No.”

S: “You can pat doggies, can’t you?  Do you pat Nana’s doggie, Buddy?”

G: “Yes.  Pat Buddy.”  (Pause.)  Doggies happy.”

S: “You’re right, kiddo.  Doggies do generallly seem pretty happy.”

———–

This morning, Beach House, 6:35 A.M.

Gadlet:  (Having been extracted from her Packnplay by that soft touch, Spousal Unit, she walks over to the bed where Stewgad is trying to sleep.)    “Mama.  Restaurant Please.  Eggies.”

—————

Red Sauce

Note to self:  when feeding penne with red sauce to toddler at lunch, do not leave nice jacket draped over the chair next to her high chair where she can pat it and identify it as “Mama’s!”

Two?

Yesterday I took the Gadlet to a bakery to buy a gift for a colleague and while I was there bought the little G a cookie. (A Lemon Sable, to be precise.) She loved it, and devoured it right there in the store. When she had finished it, she looked at me and said, “Cookie?” I said, “No love, only one cookie today.” Then she got this really thoughtful look on her face, and then said, “Two?”
Clever girl. I had to laugh. And then explain that cookies were a special treat and only came in divisions of one.

Gadlet Blurg

Last night at dinner, I gave the Gadlet some applesauce. She looked at me and said, “Applesauce. Happy.”
I asked her, just to clarify, “Does it make you happy to have applesauce, sweetie?”
She said, “Yeah!”