CONFESSIONAL: On Procrastination
It’s midnight as I write this. If I want to bear some resemblance to a human being tomorrow, I should go to bed now, but why bother breaking the trend of sleep deprivation that I’ve set for the semester? Besides, how can I go to bed when all I have for a pillow is a stack of assigned books (portions of The Canterbury Tales, the entirety of Frankenstein, and selected works of a particular author from the densest collection of short stories I’ve ever encountered) to be read by class on Monday? I should have started this post this afternoon, or yesterday, or earlier this week when I wasn’t running around in a blind state of panic, trying not to let my internal screaming become external. But once again, I’ve fallen into the claws of PROCRASTINATION, which I didn’t think would make an attempt to smother me in an avalanche of readings andcreative writing assignments until later in the semester.
I’ve always managed to scrape through the semester, propelled by a wave of panic as motivation. But every now and then, I lose my footing while careening through assignments, and I end up falling flat on my face. About a year ago, during the Spring semester of 2016, I took American Literature since 1865. It was a delightful class with a stellar professor, fresh from graduate school with a PhD, and readings from Walt Whitman, the Harlem Renaissance, Sylvia Plath, and others. I was thrilled to death that I would be getting a break from the allergies sparked by exposure to the dusty old British lit that I had been reading for so many of my other literature classes. It was a simple class: do the reading, show up to class, listen to the lecture, and hope the professor doesn’t call on you for commentary because, hey, sometimes your brain is so fried that you can’t formulate a response beyond, “Yeah, I liked it, I guess.”
But then came the first essay. Three to four pages to do a close reading of a poem. I picked a poem from Emily Dickinson, a short piece about a dozen lines. A note about Dickinson: it’s hard to say what exactly she meant in her poetry, and it’s a bit too late to ring her up about it. Keeping that in mind, I thought that it would be easy to pick out an interpretation, any interpretation that somehow made sense, and slap together a short paper in a few hours. Even now, I’ll still try to validate my actions with only semi-valid explanations; I was trying to prioritize other more pressing assignments, or I work best under pressure, or I just needed to treat myself and take a break.
I waited to do the assignment until the afternoon before it was due—I had a little less than twelve hours to read through the poem, outline, and crank out a full draft. However, in complete disregard for my current actions, I wanted to wow the professor with an innovative and startling interpretation of Dickinson, something never before seen. Why bother with the obvious interpretation (it’s about Heaven!) when you can squint and tilt your head until it resembles something nonexistent (it’s about the freedom found in writing poetry!)? I stitched together my paper with a convoluted thesis, half-baked points, and poor notes on how to analyze the formal aspects of poetry. I ate dinner at my desk; at some point, I shoved my laptop aside and laid my head down for a short nap.
About an hour before it was due, I realized my error, and it was far too late to turn back. I could see my college career falling out of the sky, engulfed in flames. The procrastination-fueled panic I relied on for motivation had turned on me. I finished the paper and turned it in ten minutes before it was due. I was still sitting there twenty minutes later, wondering what I’d done.
We got our papers back in class about a week later. I sucked in a deep breath and flipped over the paper—B minus. I steeled myself and read through her comments. They poked holes in my points, pointed out inaccuracies in my analysis of the formal aspects, and knocked down my essay’s textbooks and stole its lunch money. Never try to face off in Dickinson interpretations against a woman with a PhD in American poetry. It didn’t hurt as badly as I thought it would, since I knew it was coming. Her comments were valuable input, and to this day, I hold her as one of my favorite professors.
So, my dear readers and writers-in-training: we consultants are in no way perfect. I’m not the only one with a confession; I’m merely the first in a series. Look on, learn from our mistakes, or if you’re more of hands-on learner, don’t be scared of making some of your own. Writing is a continual process, and we’re all still learning.