Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

How Much Of A Procrastinator Are You? (09/15/04)



Featured writer: D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards



Contributors this month:
Betty Winslow
Charlene Bunas
Chuck Kensler
D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards
Dan Coshnear
Jane Merryman
Marilyn Petty
Marlene Cullen
Terry Law


How Much of a Procrastinator Are You?

by D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards

That old maxim, "Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow," was once my motto. I really had my own interpretation: "Never do ahead of time what you can wait and do, on the date it is due."

Procrastination and I are old friends. In my college years, I made quite a career of it. To fulfill an assignment for Miss Fidelia Abbott's freshman Creative Writing class, I once wrote a one-act play in pencil (in 1937, yes!) and copied it in ink (yes, yes!) in one hour. Grade: "A."

During second-year French with Professor Shields, I sat up all one night on the marble floor (ouch!) of our dorm suite bathroom, reading, "The Three Musketeers,"—in French, of course. Then, after changing clothes and having breakfast, I went to class and wrote a report on the book, — in French, natch. What Grade? Why, "A," of course. (Did you think I was stupid, or something?).... What's that—what did you say? "What was the story about?" "Oh, at this point I have absolutely no idea!"

Those experiences got me off to a good start, and procrastination has many aspects. I have a long history of designing and making my own clothes and of getting especially inspired by the prospect of an invitation to a special party. Many years ago, I once spent the entire hour-and-a-half drive from Royal Oak, Michigan, where we lived, to Ann Arbor, madly sewing, by hand, the hem of a new "cocktail" dress I was just finishing. My husband, who was driving, was upset by all this frantic last-minute activity and wondered aloud how I was going to get into the outfit once I got to our destination. That was easy. The party house was an old-time mansion, complete with a large "cloakroom." Once inside that haven, my coat went onto a hanger, my arrival dress came off, and the new dress dropped over my head with a swish. Triumph again for procrastination!

Of course, I have wondered from time to time whether I might have better results if I didn't get myself into so many adrenaline-pumping situations. Amazingly enough, the Searchlight and Signal Flares list of questions of the month has stimulated me to write as many as three months' worth of answers AHEAD OF TIME. This has resulted in my feeling incredibly smug, from time to time, but have I done any better job?

D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards sits at her computer in Santa Rosa, California, admitting she really feels great when she is pumping adrenaline and actually hates to give up her addiction!

How Much of a Procrastinator Are You?

  by Betty Winslow

Ummmm, I don't know. I'll have to think about it later. Can I get back to you on that? Maybe next week - if I can find time...

Betty Winslow, Bowling Green, Ohio, procrastinator extraordinaire.

Charlene Bunas



Here I go, here I go," said the rabbit as he jumped in the hole and appeared at the other end, a grown up hare, raring to go. "Go where?" asked Alice.

"Wherever," replied the big eared sophisticate with an air of eminence. He appeared to have been born with momentum genes and had no patience for those lacking such inheritance.

Alice was intimidated and felt she didn't measure up to his importance, intelligence, and sense of urgency. She pondered how pitifully she measured up to not only the hare, but to the rest of the animated world as well. On her darkest of days, she even threw in the lowly plant as her superior.

This above-average fair-to-attractive blond considered how dull, how boring, how uninteresting she was as a person, as a writer. She fretted. She agonized. Her cogitation served her well; it cemented her to inaction. "Not a good thing," her incarcerated friend, Martha, would write from her own personal cell hole in Massachusetts. On personalized stationery, Martha wrote and quoted yet another guruess, Laura, as in Dr. "Now, go do the right thing."

Action, any kind of action, is the beginning of the end of procrastination. Had Alice baked some heart shaped cookies she would have discovered a personal strength and sense of accomplishment. If she had cleaned a drawer or pulled a weed, she would have felt a Spring's sprout of energy. Once the energy is sparked, the flame burns in every space. "Pick up your pen, Alice, pick up your pen," her writing wizard, Natalie, prompts. "Write a word, not a sentence. Write a sentence, not a paragraph. Write a paragraph, not a thesis." In other words, "get out of the hole and therefore you grow."

Growing is all in attitude. So is unsticking stuck. It is done with toddler steps and should be done while wearing a helmet; there's less damage in the fall.

So I buckle my helmet, pick up a pen and dig myself out of the writer's hole. I warm up with a word, a sentence, a paragraph. I feel dull, uninteresting and old but then I remember that I could cement myself in a cell. The alternative is action. I celebrate my life by writing.

Charlene Bunas, Santa Rosa,

Chuck Kensler



I meant to respond to "How much of a procrastinator are you?" a little earlier. But, you see, I decided to jot down "put off" words and use them as a spearhead to craft my response and easily meet the September 15 deadline. Well, I did okay but misfiled my list under PROCREATOR [an easy to make mistake because as you can see they both start with the letter P].

If it's not too late...if you would cut me some slack...maybe let it slide a little...if...sorry...extend the deadline...sorry...seem to be caught in some kind of holding pattern...seem to be in the eleventh hour every hour...anyway, I didn't quite get around to my writing yet...but here's my list of words.

Procrastinator's Nebulous Tomorrow or Putter-Offer's Words: postpone, default, dilly-dallying, linger, poke along, loafer, put in cold storage, dawdle, drag, drag one's heels, laggard, evade, delay, shilly-shally, stall, hold off, put aside, goldbrick, neglecter, unpunctual, blow-off, foot dragger, stooge around, disregarder, shunt, sit on one's butt, do-nothing, give the runaround, neglect, dodger, goof-off, hang fire, piddle-diddle, waiting game, malingerer, idler, shirker, abeyance, laxity, call a time out, forestalling, deferring, shelved, pigeonhole, late, waiving, table it, suspend, mark time, let stand, put on ice, it's a waiting game, ignore, adjournment, play for time, tardiness, put on the back burner, protraction, tread water, avoid, later alligator, hang back, drawn-out, belated...behind schedule...extended...past due...

...sorry, a last minute thing just came up...will send you the rest of the words later...

Chuck Kensler, Sebastopol, CA: Retired engineer, apple knocker, winegrower, and skribbler.

How Much of a Procrastinator Are You?

  by D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards

That old maxim, "Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow," was once my motto. I really had my own interpretation: "Never do ahead of time what you can wait and do, on the date it is due."

Procrastination and I are old friends. In my college years, I made quite a career of it. To fulfill an assignment for Miss Fidelia Abbott's freshman Creative Writing class, I once wrote a one-act play in pencil (in 1937, yes!) and copied it in ink (yes, yes!) in one hour. Grade: "A."

During second-year French with Professor Shields, I sat up all one night on the marble floor (ouch!) of our dorm suite bathroom, reading, "The Three Musketeers,"—in French, of course. Then, after changing clothes and having breakfast, I went to class and wrote a report on the book, — in French, natch. What Grade? Why, "A," of course. (Did you think I was stupid, or something?).... What's that—what did you say? "What was the story about?" "Oh, at this point I have absolutely no idea!"

Those experiences got me off to a good start, and procrastination has many aspects. I have a long history of designing and making my own clothes and of getting especially inspired by the prospect of an invitation to a special party. Many years ago, I once spent the entire hour-and-a-half drive from Royal Oak, Michigan, where we lived, to Ann Arbor, madly sewing, by hand, the hem of a new "cocktail" dress I was just finishing. My husband, who was driving, was upset by all this frantic last-minute activity and wondered aloud how I was going to get into the outfit once I got to our destination. That was easy. The party house was an old-time mansion, complete with a large "cloakroom." Once inside that haven, my coat went onto a hanger, my arrival dress came off, and the new dress dropped over my head with a swish. Triumph again for procrastination!

Of course, I have wondered from time to time whether I might have better results if I didn't get myself into so many adrenaline-pumping situations. Amazingly enough, the Searchlight and Signal Flares list of questions of the month has stimulated me to write as many as three months' worth of answers AHEAD OF TIME. This has resulted in my feeling incredibly smug, from time to time, but have I done any better job?

D.Jayhne Wilson Edwards sits at her computer in Santa Rosa, California, admitting she really feels great when she is pumping adrenaline and actually hates to give up her addiction!

Dan Coshnear



Uh oh, late on this one.

How Much of a procrastinator am I? I'll come to that shortly. Let's look at the studies. Procrastination defined here as "the substitution of activity 1 (A1) for activity 2 (A2) when (A2) is something which ought to be done and soon and which has been deemed by the subject as either boring, unpleasant or really stupid, whereas (A1) is deemed enjoyable, relieving or ritualistic/neurotic (Grunebaum 1978). Further it is useful to distinguish between two primary forms of procrastination, (P1) wherein the activity which ought to be done (A2) is imposed externally, i.e. "Susan" (S1) "says you better change your oil," or imposed internally (P2) as in "I ought to give some thought to my procastination now." (Sicklovitz 1982). Measures of procastinaton vary with experimenters but for these purposes let us first divide our study sample into (P1's) and (P2's) and then examine activity pairs (A1's) and (A2's) identified below and select as our criteria the time (in minutes) the subject (Coshnear 2004) takes to abandon (A1) and begin (A2). (see chart below).

(P1)

1)(A1) = eating expensive cheese, and (A2) = changing my oil .......25 minutes

2)(A1) = reading Harper's with a nice glass of Shiraz, and (A2) = washing pans .... 5 minutes (but they're already soaking!)

3)(A1) = digging finger in ear, and (A2) = comparing car insurance premiums .....7 hours

(P2)

1)(A1) = contemplation, and (A2) = cardiovascular exercise ..... 142 minutes

2)(A1) = browsing sock drawer, and (A2) = calling that guy about his windshield .....142 minutes

3)(A1) = pretending my pencil is a rocket and making rocket noises, and (A2) = revising recent story....142 minutes

No significant conclusions can be drawn (Coshnear 2004). But there's no reason not to try based on these and other findings (Grunebaum & Sicklovitz 1988). In sample (P1) procastination can be reduced by 14% with verbal prompting, aka nagging. And in sample (P2) verbal prompting produced no significant change and felt very silly. However in sample (P2) subject (Coshnear 2004) was able to significantly reduce the time (in minutes) it took to abandon (A1) and begin (A2) under the following circumstances:

1)When he was really sober and thought about dying

2)When he thought about going to jail or dying.

3)When he thought about dying.

Dan Coshnear ponders the complexities of life in Guerneville, CA.

Jane Merryman



Okay, so I waited until the last minute to send this to you. I still don't call myself a procrastinator. I used to live with a world-class-with-a-capital-P procrastinator and I know how annoying and destructive this trait can be. What I do is nothing more than prioritizing. A well-known time management counselor advises: Sort to-do's into four piles—important and urgent, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and none of the above. My fellow Capricorns and I don't do things that aren't "worthwhile," so I'm an inveterate sorter. "Sleep on it" is another strategy that can't be classed as putting it off. This is more like waiting for the muse, listening to the oracle, or hoping to bump into synchronicity. As writers we can't deny that a certain amount of wisdom comes with "drawer time," and that can be applied to life as well as to our scribblings. I have come to believe that we shouldn't think in terms of "breaking" habits. What is needed is to establish a new habit to preempt the old one. I'm working on applying the rule, "If it can be done in two minutes, do it now." I try to do this with everything, including the kitchen sink. Never realized it before, but there are so many things in my life that just can't be done in two minutes.

Jane Merryman prioritizes in Petaluma, California.

How much of a procrastinator am I?

  by Marilyn Petty

Once, I nearly signed up for a J.C. class that guaranteed an end to the scourge of procrastinating. For $30 and three Tuesday evenings, I would get a workbook and handouts that promised to put joy back in a life squandered by this insidious affliction. Unfortunately, I let the registration deadline pass. In fact, I postponed perusing the bulletin until it was too late. It was over before I ever began. I am a master at procrastination, Scarlett O'Hara my mentor, her "I'll think about it tomorrow" my mantra.

It is gratifying to know that I am not alone, that even academia acknowledges the need to educate those of us who put off what we could do today until whenever. I don't know if the class went forth. Given the nature of us procrastinators to whom it appealed, it is possible that nobody got around to registering, leaving an empty classroom and all of us, as usual, clueless, floundering in a world of annoying do-ers who get things done at the appointed time.

Alas, it is too much to think about right now. I need to lie down with a cool cloth on my forehead and think about it tomorrow—or the next day, or maybe Sunday. I can hardly wait to get started.

Marilyn Petty, Santa Rosa

Marlene Cullen



First of all, you gotta love how Susan invited us to answer September's Searchlights question:

"'How much of a procrastinator are you?' The deadline has been extended to Monday, September 20 to accommodate the dawdler in us all."

I don't have a problem with procrastination. But I do have a memory problem. The fact is, and this is a true story, I bought a cassette tape to help me with my memory. I keep forgetting to listen to it.

My husband bought a tape on procrastination and he keeps putting off listening to it.

Between us we get nothing done but we don't care because we don't remember what we wanted to do.

Marlene Cullen continues to tell questionable stories in Petaluma, CA.

Terry Law



How much of a procrastinator am I? Well. Uh. How long do I get to answer? Do you mean not getting to the important stuff? Or boring stuff like making the bed? Do I have to give an honest answer?

Lord Morley famously said: "The difficulty is not to tell the truth but to get it believed."

Please believe I don't procrastinate. Procrastination is bad for the health. Rushing through preliminaries to get at the urgent, I cover myself with cuts and bruises from peeling or yanking or shutting things too fast, or trying to catch the bandaid litter before it floats out of reach. Delaying the deadline makes the heart pound, the tummy roil, the hand shake, the nights restless. I rise up resolved to act, pay up, get it all done before I have another bout of shakes, cuts, bruises, nightmares.

If you can't believe I'm all caught up, can you at least take me at my word I have nothing hanging over me? If not, then please remember it needed a steady hand to write this.

(Or did you mean just the bedmaking?)

Terry Law lives in Bodega Bay, CA. Contact her: klaw@neteze.com

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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