I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with all this, but let's play the thoughts out and see where they take us ...
The major thing I'd hoped to accomplish in Duxbury, more than any particular body of writing, was cognitive/spiritual. I wanted to grow my attention span back. Too much blogging, and reading of blogs, had made it difficult for me to write more than 500 words at a time, or read anything longer than a magazine article. (I still read books, of course, but was noticing a disturbing tendency to stop every few pages and check e-mail, or play with Milo, or something.) In graduate school I could spend all day reading and all night writing; I knew I could do it, but the mind is a muscle and works on the use-it-or-lose it principle the same as your abs do.
And yes, I did "grow it back." I found I could sit on the couch and write for several hours at a stretch, until my body said it was time for lunch or a walk on the beach. I didn't miss e-mail. I didn't miss the blogs.
This morning, on the surface of it, I'm right back to my old ways. I've been formatting a couple of columns to send in, and putting the laundry away, and catching up on e-mail, and making a pot of chicken soup, and writing up notes for a short feature story about why people sing to their pets (inspired by this; answer as of now: I have no idea why people sing to their pets). Did my bad habits catch up with me so soon?
I don't think so. I could pathologize this pleasant Tuesday morning, but I'd rather not. Come noon I'll have a pot of soup, and be caught up on columns and correspondence, and have a blog post up, and about half of my "Pet Sounds" piece written, and will be able to turn undivided attention to whatever I like--probably some research reading for the book.
I'm making a choice. This morning my energy felt all multitasky, so I decided to go with it. Later on I'll make a different choice.
This is all on my mind because Slate is doing a special issue on procrastination. I used to be a pretty bad procrastinator when I was a kid, and got progressively better until I don't really consider myself one any more. Sure, I'm not as disciplined and productive as I'd like to be, but who is? Procrastination is one of those psychological terms, like addiction, that the more I think about it the less I know what it really means. This is the best essay I've ever read on procrastination.
Is procrastination always bad? There was one particular chapter of my book that I kept dragging my feet on, that was giving me no end of trouble, that I kept avoiding. Finally, in Duxbury, I sat down and blasted the entire thing out in two days. Was this a triumphant victory over procrastination--or had I needed that time for my unconscious to do its work? If I'd tackled the Problem Chapter earlier, might I have merely frustrated myself and done substandard work?
What is the relationship between multitasking and procrastination? Am I putting the laundry away because I don't feel like writing? If so, what of it? The laundry needs to get put away, and perhaps by the time I've finished I will feel like writing. I think, pre-Duxbury, I'd been judging myself too harshly. I had gotten into bad, compulsive habits regarding e-mail (and blogs, and eBay ...) but I'm not sure that seeking the pure mindfulness of a Buddhist nun is necessarily the answer, either. Rather it's balancing when you need to be mindfully attuned to the task at hand, and when it's not at all a bad thing to absentmindedly stir the soup while one-hit wonders from the 1980s run through the conscious part of your mind, and the unconscious does its behind-the-scenes magic.
What do you all think? What are your experiences with attention spans, multitasking, procrastination? How do you know when you're honoring your processes and when you're just making excuses for yourself? How do you train your children to have good habits?
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