My father drove perfectly in sync with our suburban setting, his hands positioned on the leather wheel precisely at two and ten. Redundant and enthusiastic, he spoke as if reciting lines from a play in which he stared as himself.
Act 1, Scene 3. Or Act 2, Scene 5. It didn’t matter; the script was the same. I listened for my cues, “Yes, I know,” “It is on my List of Things to Do,” and “Yes, I realize that.”
As we drove around the South Jersey jug handle, his lecture gained momentum; he began the 401k portion of the speech. Looping along with the traffic, my mind was distracted, “What am I going to wear tonight?” Never wearing the same outfit twice, this is one of my favorite New York City challenges—being perfectly appareled for both my activity and the weather.
The traffic light ahead turned yellow, and my cautious father eased the car to a stop. As we jolted slightly backwards, the dashboard’s digital clock skipped ahead one minute.
Unaware of the time, my father continued on course. The next bulleted item: Getting a new passport—I had moved three times in my first year out of college, losing my passport somewhere along the way. Actually, I know exactly when, where, and how this happened—It was during my last move, packing up my basement bedroom in Westchester, New York and moving it to Brooklyn.
The transition from suburb to borough was exhausting. Each day I would ride the Metro North into the City, carrying a duffle-bag worth of my life. My lunch hour provided just enough time to take the subway to Brooklyn, unload, and return to midtown with an empty bag to fill that night with the next day’s cargo.
At the end of the week, after lugging loads of clothes, shoes and purses, I evaluated the random items that remained. I noticed a pile of white plastic binders, orientation packets and exit papers from Simon & Schuster, my previous employer. To celebrate myself, an up-and-coming Brooklyn gal working for Martha Stewart’s magazines, I decided to discard these files. I remember lifting the plastic, three-inch binder high above my head and releasing it into the trash. Thud. Then, with a cocky gusto, I swung my last load over my shoulder, and left for the morning train. After paying a month’s rent in Brooklyn, I suddenly remembered; my passport had been in that Simon & Schuster binder, tucked way in the front plastic sleeve. I had put it there for safekeeping.
Clearing the last traffic light, my father and I made our way around the exit ramp. The bus stop now straight ahead, the bus was just arriving. Flashing his turn signal, my father guided the car to the shoulder, and I began to collect my things.
“Really, Charl, you need a passport.”
“I know. I know. It’s on my List of Things to Do,” I huffed.
Then my father, deviating from his usual script, made one last comment, perhaps the first of his statements I had actually heard all day. But there was no time to respond. Instead, I kissed him goodbye and promised to text once back in the City.
Ten minutes later, I sat on the refurbished Greyhound. I had already reclined my leather seat and closed the air vent positioned above my head. Usually at this point I am already asleep, zenned by the familiar tunes2 of my iPod. But, this time I remained alert. I could still hear my father’s last words—they echoed in my ears with intensity and consequence; reverberated with insistence and reason. I knew then that something had to be done.
They say that the first step is admitting you have a problem. And so, here is my confession, as well as the words my father said to me that finally motivated me towards action.
Hello. My name is Charlotte; and I am in the habit of ignoring things until they become a problem. It took me over a year to get cable and internet in my Brooklyn apartment. I order new contact lenses only when I am wearing the absolute last pair. And, I never seem to realize I that am running out of money until it is already gone.
My behavior appears to be apathetic; however, the diagnosis is really not that simple. There is so much more to this skill of procrastination that I have perfected over the past ten years. I am addicted to the feeling of success after impending failure, the pop quiz of, “How am I going to get out of this one?” and the “I totally got this.” moment that quells my troubles (at least at the time).
I started procrastinating in in high school, when I was convinced that doodling helped me to concentrate. I needed to concentrate most in Honors English and World Civilizations— amongst my class notes were doodled designs of CharlotteKing line Spring 2000. Each sketch started with the outline of a female figure with petit shoulders similar to my own. As I doodled, I daydreamed to the idea of “I will worry about this later,” and reasoned that my one-night study session would be enough to conquer the entire whale of Moby Dick or understand the misery of Les Miserables.
Ignoring things became a problem when I failed my final English exam. (You cannot read Les Miserables in one night. Fact.) Sucker-punched for the first time by reality, I focused, “How am I going to get out of this one?” and then, “I totally got this.” Retaking my exam, I passed (just barely), bringing my final year’s average to a B- (I did not frequent failing). The panic of procrastination followed by the rush of recovery fueled my dawdling (and doodling) actions. By the time I graduated high school, I was hooked.
In college, my procrastinating pastime escalated into lifestyle. For a week sophomore year, my roommate and I lived without electricity in our bedroom simply because we were too stubborn to call campus maintenance to have the fuse switched back. Awakened by our cellphone alarms, each morning we would dress for the day, using the natural light that came in through our dorm room window. At night, we would return to our room only when we were ready for sleep—using the library, open until 2 am, or the ever-present college party to entertain us once the sun went down. We continued this routine for four and a half days. On Friday afternoon, the situation became a problem. We made a phone call, and twenty minutes later, our lights were back on. Graduating cum laude from college, I was now a procrastination perfectionist.
Right away, I moved to New York, where my procrastinating lifestyle edged into addition. A Boat Basin waitress, my variable schedule gave me plenty of time to explore my new city. I hiked in the Ramble and sunbathed the in Meadow of Central Park. I danced in the East Village and brunched in Greenwich Village. I drank iced coffees in Soho and saw French film noir in Chelsea. A city of endless distraction, a utopia for a procrastinator like myself.
Gallivanting around the city, I deferred my “real” job hunt for most of the summer, until propositioned with a predicament: Get a job or move home. However, contrary to my parents’ beliefs, I did have direction (at least my first direction), and now, having felt the first twangs of procrastination panic, I was ready to make my move. With a passion for writing and editing, I knew I wanted to work in publishing. The next morning I submitted my resume to a temp agency. Three days later, I got a job at Simon & Schuster. Perhaps my finest “I totally got this.” moment yet, I basked in the satisfying rush of relief and reward.
This has been quite a confession, I know. However, only after this explanation can the significance of my father’s words be fully understood. Because, on that day, when my father dropped me off at the New-York-City bound bus and I piled my bags on to my back, he spoke a scenario to which I could not fathom a last minute solution. For the first time, I was confronted with a situation in which procrastination would have undeniable led to my demise.
“Charlotte,” he said, “what are you going to do if someone asks you to go to Paris with him tomorrow, and you don’t have a passport?”
* * * *
Two weeks later, I bit my lip as I waited in an impossibly-slow line at a City post office. I had all of my paperwork filled out and my photo id in-hand. Feeling a new surge of accomplishment, I congratulated myself on kicking my habit; the journal in my purse already had “get a passport” crossed off my List of Things to Do. I was sure this was only the beginning. Procrastination was a thing of my past.
* * * *
I know now that that day in the post office was a temporary moment of normalcy; as I quickly reverted back to my old ways. The most recent casualty of the compulsion—my computer. A month ago, a small window popped up on my screen; it was time to renew my anti-virus program subscription. As if designed to entice me, the window gave two options: one bubble for immediate action, and one to “remind me later.” I chose the latter, several times, for several weeks. Until finally, there was no more “later;” my computer was infected. I am not quite sure how I am going to get out of this one. I have a few ideas.
But I will worry about that later. For now, I must concentrate. Because if someone does ask me to Paris tomorrow, sure, I have a passport, but what am I going to wear?!