A couple of years ago I read a great piece on procrastination in The Week (14 January 2011, to be precise). It was a reprint of an article from The New Yorker; and, for whatever reason, the editors neglected to mention the name of the author. The reflection was fascinating, in part because I have the nagging suspicion that quite a lot of us contend with procrastination, myself included. So two years of mulling over the idea is about the right amount of time before putting pen to paper. And just because I’ve waited this long doesn’t mean I’ve been putting it off.
What stirred me to action was a fresh brush with the ill effects of procrastination in my own life. For upwards of five years and more I’ve complained about how cold my room can be in the winter, and the last few days have been particularly chilly. Now a reasonable person would ask if I had heat in my room, and if so, suggest that I turn it on. But a reasonable person wouldn’t know that my radiator has only two settings: “off” and “full-blast tropical.” I can choose between 62 degrees, which is just about right for sleeping, but my fingers turn blue at the desk. Or I can turn on the heat and know that it will shoot up to a sauna-like 85. I also know that it won’t go off until mid-August, no matter what I do to the thermostat. So to my mind it’s just easier to leave it off and complain about my lot in life. What could be better than to suffer, but not in silence?
Last week I drove with one of my confreres into Saint Cloud, to run some errands. It was a really really cold day (really), and I was going on about how cold my room was, and how I was thinking about getting a space heater. In fact, so serious was I, that I had been considering it for four years.
By now this litany had become a ritual for me, but my confrere showed neither interest nor sympathy. Actually, he must have questioned my sanity. He had just returned from graduate school two weeks earlier, and he too suffered in a frosty room. As we drove by one of those big-box stores, he stopped me in mid-sentence and suggested we go in and get heaters for our rooms. I was dumb-founded. “What? Now? But it’s way too cold today. Let me think about this some more.” Well, he would have none of that, and in we went.
In the aftermath of his decisive action, all of my excuses for not getting a space heater melted away. There was, of course, a huge selection to choose from, and I mumbled that I wasn’t sure which one would be best for my room. “Here”, he said calmly yet firmly. “This is the one you want. Get it.” Then he grabbed the box from the shelf and tossed it into the cart.
My next fear was that they’d be expensive. They weren’t. I had also dreaded the instruction manual, and I feared having to master a forty-eight page booklet in Spanish, French, English and Mandarin. I have no patience for instructions.
If these were normal times, I would have hauled the crate home and set it aside for a week or two, just to get used to it. But these were not normal times. It really was cold, and I’d prepared myself for this day for four years — even if I never thought the day would actually come. Then I threw caution to the wind, ripped open the container, and gingerly eased the heater out of its nest of styrofoam and cardboard. Next, I ignored the instruction manual, plugged it in, and pressed the start button. It worked, and within an hour I had a pleasantly toasty room. It had all been so simple, simple enough for even someone like me.
This episode has caused me to rethink my tendency to procrastinate, because there are valuable lessons to be learned here. First off, we all pay a heavy price for this sort of behavior; because it often comes back to haunt us. Try and count up all the apologies we’ve had to issue for not doing things on time. Now consider for a minute how much fun it would be to finish everything ahead of schedule — all the time. Imagine the shock on people’s faces. That alone is worth a major change in behavior.
Next we should total up the amount of inconvenience and needless suffering we’ve endured because we push things off. Sure, for a while we can convince ourselves that prudence is the way to go. But more often than not we’re simply avoiding the difficult or the inevitable. Given that, sitting in a cold room seems rather pointless, especially if I could solve the problem in an instant. For such suffering there is no glory, and there’s no one to blame but me.
The last take-away is that it’s never too cold to go out and buy a space heater. In fact, the coldest day is the best day to do it. Who wants to be seen carrying a big heater out of the store in July? People assume you’re too late for last winter, or mindlessly paranoid about next winter. No, by toting it out to the car on the coldest day of the year, I have crafted a new public image. In the face of terrific adversity, I was the one who took action. It was I who was undaunted by the cold, and I did the right — and the sensible — thing. And I will be forever grateful that my confrere made me do it.
+Last August I had the opportunity to visit the Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht, The Netherlands; and the pictures in today’s post come from there. The museum houses sacred art gathered from regional churches, but the buildings themselves are the star attraction for me. In the 16th and 17th centuries Saint Catharine’s served as a monastery/regional headquarters for the Order of Saint John, aka the Knights of Malta. The complex remains largely intact, and the galleries occupy spaces that once served as the dormitory, dining room, and administrative offices of the Order of Malta in Holland. The church remains a parish church today, and all the buildings are in an excellent state of preservation. It is well worth the visit to this lovely oasis, and it is only a short train-ride out of Amsterdam.
+Amish Mafia revisted: I received some wonderful email on my post on the Amish Mafia, and many readers who had seen snippets of the show were equally appalled. One reader mentioned a colony of Amish snow-birds in southwest Florida, which was a real surprise to me. A few brought to my attention several other freak shows, including one on the Hutterites. Frankly, I had not realized that communities of Hutterites still existed. Many of the founders of the Anabaptist groups came out of the Benedictine monasteries, which explains the communal/monastic organization of these groups.
+On January 25-27 I gave a three-day retreat to members of the Federal Association of the Order of Malta. The retreat took place in Jacksonville, FL, and the weather was “not so bad”, as we might say in the dialect of Minnesota.
+On the afternoon of January 23rd the power on campus at Saint John’s went off, exactly twenty-two hours after I had plugged in my new space heater. There’s nothing more useless than an electrical appliance during a power outage. I still can’t believe I let myself get rushed into buying that thing.