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.

To my white friends and family

You are all good people. You love your family and your friends. You love your country. You work hard and you deserve all the good things you have, and then some.

I understand that when someone—anyone—accuses America as a whole or white people in general of being racist, you feel offended and defensive. You feel like you’re being singled out and attacked for the actions of others.

That’s not you, you think, and for the most part, you’re right. Maybe you have some biases and prejudices (I know I do), but you give everyone a chance. You recognize that every human being on this planet is a person with rights just the same as yours, even if you don’t always agree with that individual’s actions or lifestyle.

Here’s the thing, though. We live in a country and culture that has systematically been oppressing and killing people of color since Europeans began settling this continent. We killed off entire tribes of American Indians. We kidnapped Africans and enslaved them and tortured them and worked them literally to death. After slavery ended we moved to share cropping, which kept black people poor and destitute. Then came Jim Crow, in which state governments denied thousands upon thousands of blacks the right to vote. We had the Ku Klux Klan and endless lynchings.

Supposedly the Civil Rights movement stopped all that. But look around you. We never moved past Jim Crow, we just changed the rules. Now we lock up black people (and the mentally ill) in record numbers. We shunt them into housing projects, away from the “nice” neighborhoods. We call them lazy and violent.

And yes, when I say “we” I mean you, and I mean me. No, we did not participate in slavery. No, we were never members of the KKK. No, we’ve never lynched anyone. But we vote. We speak. We stand by while our black brothers and sisters are drowning in poverty that’s a direct result of the way our society has always treated them as less-than, other.

I’m not trying to make you feel like a bad person, and I don’t want you to feel guilty. You are not a bad person. You are a good, strong person and I love you. Guilt isn’t going to make anything better.

Instead, I challenge you to look at history and understand how we’ve come to this point. Recognize the pain and violence that white people have inflicted on black people since before the United States was a country.

We don’t demonize all white teenagers because of the few who have killed dozens of people in school shootings. We don’t demonize doctors because of the few who’ve negligently let people die.

Recognize these things, and then look at your fellow countrymen with empathy and compassion in your heart. Declaring that black lives matter is not an implication that your life matters less. It is, instead, a declaration that black lives matter as much your life matters. We’re all humans. We’re all Americans.

We cannot change the past, but we can change the future. We—you, and me—we can listen to what black Americans have to say. And even if we don’t agree, we can acknowledge their point of view and feelings as valid. As valuable.

We can listen, and we can learn, and then we can act, together, to make this a better place for all of us.

Voice

All around me, people are declaring loud and clear that other human beings with different genders, sexualities, and religious beliefs are not, in fact, human beings. That they are less than. Different (in the worst way). Other.

There’s Orlando. And the scores of black men being killed by police for no reason. And Trump. And Christian religious extremists. And Muslim religious extremists. And all the wars and shootings and murders and violence that has come before.

Some days that hatred forms a large enough wave that it bowls me over and the only thing to do is cry. I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that sometimes, I’m scared. I’m scared of the people who would take away my rights as a human being, who would try to control me and limit me. And I’m afraid and sad for those whose rights have already been taken away, or who never experienced them in the first place.

But I have a voice, and I will use it.

I am scared, yes, but more than that I’m tired. I’m tired of men harassing me in the street. I’m tired of senseless violence. I’m tired of making less money than men. I’m tired of having my reproductive choices taken away by rich men who will never, ever have to make those same choices. I’m tired of xenophobia and homophobia. I’m tired of us versus them.

You can call me unrealistic. Idealistic. Crazy. Naive. Foolish. Stupid. Think of me what you will. I don’t have power, or money, or much influence. I don’t have physical strength.

But I do have a voice, and by the goddess, I will use it.