Procrastination, guilt, and dread

Procrastination is weird. The more you put something off, the guiltier you feel and the more you dread it. It turns an ant hill into a mountain, every time.

And yet I still do procrastinate. Not always on purpose—sometimes I’m tired or my head hurts and my brain is fuzzy.

But that dread builds up just the same, no matter the reason something (usually writing) gets put off.

In almost every case, the dread and anxiety are worse than the thing itself. And the anxiety-induced migraine is much, much worse. The feeling of relief that comes from writing a chapter in my novel after not writing a word for a week is immense.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

But the whole cycle of dread-anxiety-relief is avoidable if only I could just do it. And I often wonder, “Why can’t I just do it? Why put myself through this, over and over again?”

Of course, part of the problem are the incredibly high expectations I set for myself, which basically amount to: DO ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME. Intellectually I recognize this is not possible, and I’m getting better at not equating the quantity of things I do with the quality of things I do.

Comparing myself to what others are doing is another culprit of my procrastination. I can’t possibly live up to what Person A did, so why even bother? Sometimes it absolutely is a competition, but most of the time, it’s really not, so comparing myself to others just causes unnecessary anxiety.

When I procrastinate, I often do “productive” things like search for freelance jobs or look on Craigslist for cheap garden stuff (you don’t even know how many free bricks I need to build my new patio!) or scroll endlessly through social media to find tweets by authors I love that I can respond to (networking, am I right?). Sometimes I even clean my house!

All these things are great and even necessary, but when I start doing them too much (read: all the time), I know it’s a sign I need to close Tumblr, put away the mop, and Do The Work.

Most of the time, The Work is writing. Sometimes it’s a freelance assignment or book review, sometimes it’s homework (or will be in a few weeks). It might even be making a doctor’s appointment—I am the worst at this (seriously, I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for over a decade and only this summer did I find a primary care doctor).

I try to pay attention when I start doing any of these activities, like when I get to the fourth page of “free” stuff on Craigslist, I ask myself, “Okay, what am I avoiding right now?” The answer is almost always readily apparent.

The solution, of course, is stop looking for free bricks, take a deep breath, and start The Work.

Boiling

Whenever I finish a big writing project, like a book, I feel completely spent and empty. The only things I can write for months afterward are flash fiction, (bad) poems, or blog posts. Sometimes only blog posts, and sometimes not even that.

I have heard other writers describe this feeling of being empty and raw, scraped clean from the inside, as if you are a carcass whose organs are feeding vultures and coyotes.

The sense of relief and accomplishment at having completed a project I’ve been working on for years soon devolves into panic that I will never, ever, be able to write another word again.

I know now, from experience, that this isn’t true. I will write again, always. It’s not a process that can be rushed. That only leads to frustration and unnecessary struggle. It’s better to wait. To think. Read. Play board games. Take the dogs on walks.

And eventually, I will wake up in the morning, and feel that urgency again. That burning need to get it all down on the page before it evaporates like smoke. Because I’ve always got something on the back burner, heat turned down to low.

But even on low, eventually the water boils.

 

Strange Fascination

I come from solidly working class people. We liked Garth Brooks and NASCAR. We prayed over each meal. We went camping. We hunted. We believed America was the best country in the world, and felt lucky to be born here. Those of us who were old enough to vote, voted mostly Republican.

As I grew up, though, my tastes diverged. In the beginning of my adolescence I discovered rock and roll and sleeping in on Sunday. I discovered black lipstick and The Sandman.

Finding David Bowie, then, was inevitable.

Click through for source.

Click through for source.

It happened like this:

I was working my way through the fantasy section at my local Hollywood Video. Of course, I eventually came to Labyrinth. I’d heard of it, seen merchandise at Hot Topic and Spencer’s, so I picked up the case and took it to the checkout desk, where a scornful teenager removed the red plastic lock and handed the DVD back to me with a sneer.

It was the kind of movie I enjoyed–dark, mysterious, with the air of a myth about it–but it was something more, too. I felt a magnetic pull toward Jareth, despite the crazy hair and obnoxious cod piece. The next day, on my lunch break at the Target where I worked part-time, I picked up the only David Bowie CD the store had: The Best of Bowie.

From there, I was transported. I read biographies and downloaded more music from Limewire, anything I could get my hands on. Everything about Bowie fascinated me. His androgyny, his alter egos, the range and variation of his music, the way he combined spectacle with art to create something transcendent.

All of the angst I’d been carrying around inside of me, all of the worry that I was somehow broken, destined to be miserable for the rest of my life, began to lift, the way a fog does when the sun rises.

Here was someone who had broken all the rules and come out wildly successful. Here was someone who had experimented–with sexuality, with drugs, with music, with art–and had found a new path outside of rigid gender roles and ideas of what music could or should be. Here was someone with many identities that shifted and changed and evolved.

David Bowie taught me how to embrace my difference. My weirdness. And to use it as a guide to create my own art, in my own way. I could like The Sandman and The Dukes of Hazzard at the same time. I could read the classics and discard their lessons, or find new ones in their old pages. I could wear black lipstick and fishnet stockings one day and jeans and a t-shirt the next. I could do all these things, and it was okay. I was okay.

David Bowie showed me what was possible. He gave me courage when there was no road forward, and I had to cut my own path. He helped me flourish at a time when it feels all the world is against you, is fighting to cut you down and flatten you. David Bowie helped me fight back, helped me claim my own space in this tumultuous, chaotic world.

And he has been there, all through my adolescence and my twenties, always showing me something new. Always opening up new possibilities, new delights, new conversations.

This is not an important story because it happened to me. It’s an important story because it happened to me, and thousands–if not millions–of others. David Bowie helped free the wild and creative person in each of us.

I think that as a teenager, I never sought out Bowie’s full discography because I never wanted to come to the end. I held onto that feeling of expectation, of discoveries unmade, of treasure to unbury. And now, even though we have come to an end of sorts, I cling to those expectations and to the knowing that as with any good art, I will never exhaust its possibilities.