This is an essay I wrote during an all-nighter for a Freshmen Writing Seminar at Cornell in 2002. The professor was not impressed, but I got a kick out of re-reading it today and thought others might enjoy it too. This thing really brings me back to freshmen year in Court Hall…
As I sit here, at 2:00AM, with nothing but the sound of my keyboard keys clicking, and the cool breeze blowing across my neck, I begin to wonder how much more pleasant my night would’ve been had I not decided that a karate match with two of my suitemates would be the appropriate activity at 9:00PM. Granted, blasting “Everybody Loves Kung Fu Fighting” and jumping around the study lounge throwing wild kicks was far more amusing, but the difficulty I’m now having in keeping my eyes open gives me an inkling that maybe my time could have been used a bit more wisely.
If there’s something every student learns the hard way, it’s that time management consists of more than writing out “lists,” creatively doodling in the day planner and sticking yellow post it notes all over the monitor; it’s actually carrying through that’s the hard part. As my friend George—having spent another four ungodly hours doing Latin, uttering all the random declensions: “amicus… amici… amico… amicum… ami… a, who am I kidding”—comes in and collapses, face down on my floor, I begin to wonder if maybe we’re doing something wrong. It then slowly dawns on me that it’s what we’re not doing that is wrong: that is, homework, studying, sleeping, eating, and all the good stuff my mom yelled at me for.
Speaking of yelling, some hall mates a few doors down are now having their game of “penis” (where the goal is to have 2 people, one at a time, say the word “penis” slightly louder than the previous until they’re too embarrassed to continue) culminate to a screaming finally; ah, the nighttime sounds of Court Hall. Err, right, back to the topic on hand. Actually, perhaps that’s the problem—every little thing, whether it be study lounge kick boxing, a thought provoking game of “penis,” or simply ignoring the collapsed Latin student on your floor to see which one of you will crack first and start laughing—just about everything seems more interesting than homework.
Maybe it’s that my door is open… always open; at least the “Cornell Policy Book” is being put to good use as my doorstop. Or maybe it’s that I can’t stop making three dimensional structures out of the collection of pennies on my desk; I am an engineer after all. Anita adds “maybe it’s just me, standing here and talking, watching you type this essay.” Yeah, that’s got to be it. It’s all Anita’s fault. Everything.
Or perhaps it’s that I keep conducting “research” of procrastinology; a few minutes in the study lounge talking to Adrienne, Nabil and Ian has given me much useful data: for example, 10 minutes can vanish in just a single blink; Nabil can be exceptionally funny at 2:30AM; clocks put fascinating thoughts in my head, such as “this essay is due 11 hours and 55 minutes.” Jeremy informs me that, “your arithmetic sucks—you have 10 hours and 55 minutes.”
And that’s the main symptom of procrastinitis—not until some critical time limit is hit, for some 1 day, for others 1 hour, do the diseased show any visible signs. Then, all at once, the panicking and frantic rush to do everything begins. Side effects include sweaty palms, trembling hands, extreme irritability, lack of sleep, lack of food, lack of bathroom breaks, lack of synonyms and, of course, the caffeine addiction. But if you order now, we’ll not only double your order of ProcrastiNot, we’ll even include the caffeine IV for free!
Sounds of drunks, wandering the streets at night, filter into my room; some guy, singing “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” much akin to the sounds of a dying cat, prompts me to get up and shut the windows. As I do so, I can’t help but notice the picture of modern art lying on my desk—the famous Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol. Nothing more than the red and white can with black text reading “Campbell’s Condensed Soup—old fashioned vegetable made with beef stock,” but revered nonetheless by critics of modern art. Perhaps, procrastination is an art form too—knowing exactly how much time you can waste to put yourself in the perfect situation, where the pressure is on, the clock ticking, but the work is getting done—that can be classified as nothing other than the work of a master, even if considered as nothing but ordinary laziness by those who can’t appreciate our talent.
What everyone can appreciate, however, is that procrastination, in moderation, does allow us to maintain at least a small level of sanity. Few things are as relaxing as sitting down in the middle of the day, taking a deep breath, and realizing that you have to do absolutely nothing. A kind of mental clarity arises, much akin to the feeling of taking a deep breath after swimming underwater for a long time, that truly rests the soul and calms the mind. Granted, it’s almost always ruined by the sad realization that if there’s nothing due tomorrow, then there’s surely twice as much due the day after, but for that one moment, life is sweet.
Democritus told us that “actions always planned are never completed.” For example, I planned to do this essay Wednesday; now, it’s technically Friday. Provided the Sobe Green Tea has as much caffeine as my twitching eye would suggest, I’ll hopefully have this done before sunrise. But how did I get here? What earth shattering event could’ve prevented me from carrying out my well devised plan?
That would be sin number 5, sloth. By nature humans are lazy; or, perhaps more specifically, everything in nature is lazy. Lightning always takes the shortest path to the ground, objects at rest will remain at rest, there are even whole branches of mathematics devoted to researching optimum control—in other words, the quickest and easiest way to do anything. Human beings will do everything to avoid doing anything—which is why procrastination may be the most contagious disease known to man. As of today, there is no known cure.
And perhaps the most ironic part of all is that laziness can often make one do more work: we’ll spend hours searching the entire house for the remote, just so we don’t have to get up to change the channel; we’ll contort our body in every direction to reach a dropped item on the floor, but would never dare to get up and pick it up; and we’ll always wait till the last minute to do anything, consequently taking twice as long due to sheer exhaustion and being over whelmed. And sadly, procrastinitis does have one more serious side effect: extreme nearsightedness. Once infected, we live only in the present, being able to see but a few feet beyond our noses. As the brain attempts to block out the assignment at hand, every little detail around us becomes vibrant and engulfs our attention; even turning the dial on my watch and listening to the therapeutic clicks as the titanium bezel rotates manages to steal my attention for a few minutes. The real decision with procrastination, if we ever get around to actually figuring it out, is whether the pleasure of now is worth the headache of later.
If I hadn’t been so “busy” watching the movie “Swingers” on Wednesday but had instead even written half of this essay, three interesting things would’ve happened: first, I probably would’ve picked a totally different topic. Second, I might’ve had a more fun night, perhaps even performing a duet of “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.” And third, I might not have been too lazy to write a conclusion.