Saturday, September 11, 2010

Conditions for the possibility of Procrastination

There is a moment, perhaps not exactly discrete, in which a lapse becomes so … well, lapsed, you start overlaying your now routine concerns over reengaging with the task with actually explaining the lapse itself. The predicament in this added layer, often associated with self-deprecating indictment (the shame, the self-blame, the negative identity labels) is that it extraordinarily prolongs the reengagement. How am I to extract of this lack, now so long in the making? we ask. In paradoxical circles of worry, we fantasize about the reuptake as well as the excuses, which take up as much energy as the would-be itself. It seems this happens quite often to us, unpleasantly enough. Segments of our lives are overdue. Some have gone, both literally and figuratively, to collection agencies. When it’s been that long, ‘just forgot’ doesn’t really cut it anymore. Lapses create ever-deepening trenches requiring taller and sturdier ladders, as well as more and more serious accounting until any narrative of explanation just seems ridiculous, such as justifying lateness in saying you got lost, in your own neighborhood.

Alright, as you may have guessed, all my musings on lengthy lapses do indeed have everything to do with this very enterprise of which you are now engaged, and haven’t seen in quite some time, entries which appear on this very blog. Just think of this entry as an exercise in merging form and content. Or, the act of embodying an idea rather than merely explicating it. This is the reasoning I came up with to lead me on my way out of my own lapse hole. I hope it’s a pretty good line. I philosophize in the transcendental tradition, which is to say, I look ‘to the conditions for the possibility of such’, or in more ordinary parlance, I look to what makes it possible for a phenomenon to present itself, for a phenomenon to be. This is much a cooler, Continental, question, over and above asking, what caused this lapse? There’s been at least a dozen movies viewed in the interim. Perhaps two dozen. Mundane, trivial details in the maintenance of the platform of my life, like freezer cleaning and oil changes have ensued. There’s been international travels and a wedding, completing graduate school and an internship, sending my most treasured away on a cross-continental move. In one sense I have been busy. In another I haven’t. This whole notion of being busy, anyway, has been a noted frustration in its conventional acceptability as well as a catch-all for opting out.

More on the phenomenon of busyness later. What I’m getting at is that anything felt worthy of doing is, simply, done. Feats of production have been accomplished in the most non-conducive and restrictive of situations. Where does that leave me with this blog and you, readers, with all of your own tasks which you sit upon, in a heap of pure intention? Let me at least explore a bit, probe around this lapse, in an effort to assess its preconditions, which ideally, will inspire an inlet to your own personal relevance, and lively dialogue in the comments.

Every lapse is a derailment from a former plan of action. Lapses deactivate what was once ongoing, perhaps even enthusiastic, activity; lapses stagnate a former intention. What inevitably comes to mind is the much discussed, great Fall from fitness and nutritional health Americans suffer sometime in February. Or perhaps late January. Lapses must be frequent, I must not be alone, as this struggle, many, if not most, certainly face. Statistics vary, of course, but my consulted sources cite a resolution failure rate of between 80-90%. Many a lapse has gone on. Many of these lapses are themselves recurrences, a whole layer cake of lapse.

There are shelves of time management strategies, goal-setting gurus, and 10 ways to be productive, useful, and back-on-track. Although I utilize this sector of the library, this is not what I am after here. I am after the phenomenology of the lapse, not the maneuvers to avoid them, assuage them, or fix them. I am after why they are even a concern at all. They are a concern because they are a phenomenon. They happen. As stated, frequently. It is that we suffer our lapses, as if from beyond, yet it was we who cared, sometimes the only being who cared, that we did x in the first place. How can we be so divided? Committing and opposing in our dissonance between intention and action? How can we fail the standards we ourselves alone crafted?

I planned a blog. I “didn’t find time” for five months. I can locate that derailment in resistance. A part of me wants to continue. A part of me doesn’t. The latter is a personally difficult acknowledgement for secretly, I want to believe that if I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything (thanks McFly). But the way of subconscious resistance is an internal battle waged between parts of oneself. What a wasted relay. I wonder, what if we channeled our various conflicting internal voices and motives into a united front? The darkened corner presence speaks to the one in center light who proclaims a beacon of hopeful willpower. I will do this! I will accomplish! The shadow speaks and negates all her showy stage antics. She says you don’t want this. It is futile. You have no readers. You hold no interest. No one cares to read your musings. Hell, no one can even locate your blog in the blogosphere in order to decide to not invest in reading your musings. I am writing on an infinitesimal shelf in the virtual cornucopia of words. You can spill all of your insecurities and even that won’t matter. Because they’ll remain unwitnessed. Why not continue my traditional private scribblings in journals, notebooks, on random receipt scraps and bits of napkin? At least then I could give up having to render my idiosyncratic symbolism into attempts at coherent communication.

These comprise the barely audible ground upon which I sit down to conjure an entry, shakily, in this project of blog writing. I suspect the quality of this ground as the, or at least a, factor in my lapse. Because the fact is that I do intrinsically enjoy the craft of writing, an entry’s evolving demand to produce a structure readers can inhabit, the working-through of coiled up, often pre-verbal, ideas until they are rendered intelligible. The search for the precise word that embodies the feeling of the concept. I’ve been a writer since I was young. My elementary school teachers had to place upper limits on page lengths for creative writing assignments, not page minimums they coaxed out of other, more reluctant, students.

The paradoxical and annoying lapse. That nagging voice, “well if you love it sooooo much…”. There’s a notion that we hate work. The fantasy of intention, that exciting burgeoning of a new purpose, is the sumptuous cake without the calories. When we get in the thick of it, it just takes too much energy expenditure to want it anymore. In this appraisal, we entertain thoughts and quit at the first sign of sweat. I have a friend who is into “fake hobbies”, in that she gets pumped about a project, invests in needed materials, spends a giddy day in the activity, and then lapses on that hobby indefinitely. My blog turned into a fake hobby. Lapses plague our potentials.

The phenomenology of lapse, however, makes me wonder if we are crowding our lives to the point where lapses create needed room, they, the off-site storage chambers for too much stuff we do with our time. Perhaps we put aside endeavors in a revolving juggling act. Perhaps my cycling robbed me of my writing.

This takes me to a passage from a William Bridges book I’ve recently read, the author and workshop leader on life transitions. “I had moved to the country partly because I had been infatuated with Thoreau’s Walden and its story of living a basic life, close to nature. The heart of that undertaking, he had written, was to simplify your life. Simplify, simplify, simplify! he wrote. In retrospect, I can see that although I thought that this was what I was doing, I was really just trying to add simplicity to my life. In addition to all the old things I had been doing, I started heating the house with a woodstove and chopping wood for fuel and raising as much of the family food as I could and reusing everything over and over. Of course, my life grew more and more complicated in the process” (The Way of Transition, pg. 10). Okay, so if this is the case the quest to leave the lapse unindulged will be about unlearning and undoing to clear an area, to purge in order to make room. The movies are going to have to go.

I invite and encourage you, my readers, to muse on lapses and provide the stories of your own lapses with which to investigate {for the phenomenologists – to move through the ontic lapse toward the grounds for a lapse}. Oh wait. The reminder comes in around the edges of the last sentence, as I type out the period at its end: Don’t kid yourself, there are no readers.



Anonymous said...

that last line?

...not true. :)

thank you for sharing.

TONIN mckelvey said...

Great to hear! Any responses to my musings on lapse?

Надежда Αντιγονη said...

I have procrastinated enough on writing about this, so here I am. Interesting that you mention "fake" hobbies. In case of fact, most hobbies are fake hobbies. Most meetings with people are fake meetings. We portray ourselves as doing more than we in fact do. There is nothing wrong with fantasizing about doing some creative activity and then discovering that the fantasy is not what it seems. Its like a movie when someone has to do a dole task and the montage makes it look fun and fast. That is the point of a fantasy, to take the unpleasantness out of something. That is why it can only exist in fantasy. Thus i fantasize about, say, running for miles in the desert. But in fact my fantasy desert doesn't have real heat, real thirst, it has thirst which is not thirsty and heat which is not hot. It is the very appearance of heat and thirst. Thus we dip our toe in and quickly run away.

The notion that pure will power alone is needed to achieve and unpleasant task is bullshit. In my job, for example, I have to do things which I find exceedingly odious. But why do I do them? Is it that I will myself to do it out of concern for the GOOD? Is it that I want my pay check? No. Those thoughts do not enter my thinking. Instead it impersonal, it is simply task to be done to maintain the normal order of my life. Hence why we are reluctant to leave work. I may hate my job, but I at least know how to do it.

This leads me to the notion of existential choices, the type of choice that forces you to follow through in some way or another. The choice to go to war, for instance. The type of choice that leaves you existentially involved with the consequences. Hence the fantasy of Supertramp. Going into the woods and burning everything to live like a wild man. Fantasy without the real. I think that the essence of lapse is that we don't want what we fantasize. We want to fantasize about what we want. A fantasy made real is alloyed by the real. It is no longer fantasy and thus it is no longer desirable.

I will write more later, on to school work.