Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Valet, Hide My Clothes!

My laughter spilled over when I read this quote while putting off the writing of this article by reading another article on the pervasiveness of the tendency to procrastinate: "Victor Hugo would write naked and tell his valet to hide his clothes so that he’d be unable to go outside when he was supposed to be writing."

Victor Hugo, a 19th century writer, penned one of the greatest pieces of literature ever: Les Miserables. Multiple film versions of that long and complex novel have been made. The musical created from the book is also the world's longest-running stage production. There have been over 10,000 performances in one London theater alone of this story of love, despair, and redemption. 

And the poor guy had to get someone to hide his clothes in order to keep himself at his desk so this thing would actually get written. 

Apparently even the most talented and accomplished have no immunity to the seduction of "I'll do it later."

Now, instead of having our valets, which unfortunately none of us have, hide our clothes, writers can turn to a program called "Dr Wicked." Signing on to it eliminates internet access and other distractions for a period of time and forces the writer to set a word goal to be done within a certain time frame or face consequences.  The consequences include the kamikaze--as in everything will be erased if the goal is not met.  Frankly, I'm terrified to try it.

I'm also glad I'm not alone in this tendency to put things off.  Misery most definitely loves company.  Misery doesn't lessen, but at least we know the rest of the world isn't deliriously happy while we pick our way through piles of guilt-producing undone tasks, neglected relationships and shriveling souls. 

The older I get, the greater my tendency to excuse my undone stacks with the "I'll get to them eventually" mantra.  The whole truth? There are some things I will never finish.  Why?  The practice of procrastination has taken on a life of its own.  I have so habitually looked at certain things and said, "tomorrow" that the present no longer touches their existence.

Another problem with putting it off until tomorrow is that there is always another tomorrow for added procrastination. At least we assume there will be another tomorrow.  In actuality, someday, those tomorrows run out for every one of us.  Some day, God will say, "This night, your soul is required of you."

Then what will be left of our lives? Acts of kindness, mercy and integrity. Children and grandchildren well-raised.  The giving and receiving of forgiveness so that society can actually continue.  Memories of pleasure, laughter and shared meals, touching conversations, games played, work well done, suffering relieved, and hope offered.

Perhaps when we have heavenly eyes we will be able to see that which is actually important.  We also might discover that moments of procrastination were on occasion holy moments, times of reflection and distraction that relieve pressure and free the soul.  The Gospels say that Jesus frequently went alone to pray.  I wonder how frustrated his followers were at those times.  "Lord, hey, there are people to heal here and hungry that need bread NOW!.  Your prayer life is getting in the way.  You are just putting off the inevitable.  C'mon, Jesus, get with the program."

When I started writing today, I thought about proposing a "no procrastination" day to see what would happen if we all quit procrastinating for one day.  But I've just talked myself into something totally different:  let us procrastinate on all our undone tasks until we are fully prayed up, rich in the presence of God, quiet in soul and peaceful in reconciliation.  I do believe this would be the better choice.  Then we can tell our valets to hide our clothes!

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