Mastering the Art of Procrastination

Dear Reader:

I should be a) folding laundry b) finishing the short story I started last week c) writing an article on Reiki I’ve been planning for over a month d) washing walls in preparation for new paint or e) at the very least finishing up the pinky-orange cotton socks in my craft pile. What am I doing instead? Drinking coffee and re-reading Julia Child’s autobiography MY LIFE IN FRANCE. My excuse is Monday’s book-club discussion, but really my reasons are less noble, for while sitting on my butt and reading about boeuf bourguignon I am mastering the art of something besides French cooking.

Call it the Art of Procrastination.

(If you would like to try an adaptation of the Julia Child boeuf bourguignon recipe, I’ve found one at RecipeZaar that looks quite good; however, I haven’t tested it yet so can’t vouch for the end result. Click HERE for the link. If you are inspired to “cook with Julia” and want to check out her book MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING, click HERE.)

Clever procrastination takes a good pinch of self-delusion. For instance, when I’m feeling slothful, I can always turn on the computer and begin to compose a blog post. Then, when someone asks “What did you do today?,” I can truthfully say “Oh, I did some writing.”

Voila! The artistry of transforming Sloth into something approximating Industry!

Self-delusion only goes so far. Like sugar, the rush lasts for a little while and then fades. Conscience eats away at my composure (not to mention my leisure). I am forced to ask myself: Has blogging become nothing more for me than an elaborate justification for laziness?

I try to be as objective and honest in my assessment as possible and come up with a wishy-washy “yes and no.” Much of what I have attempted and accomplished in past fourteen months has been fodder for the blog. Knitting, sewing, gardening, researching, cooking, shopping, reading . . . the blog gives my preference for variety (rather than specialization) a raison d’etre. Hopefully, I am able to turn my obsessions, my preferences, my interests, my questions, my explorations into something informative and entertaining–something of value.

I also like to think that while being thus un-gainfully employed, I have created not only words on a light-screen but also some tangible objets. Like socks. Like yarn. Like bread. Like perennial gardens. Like arugula. While not of great economic value to my household, these things are useful, and so I really can’t consider them a complete waste of time.

Still, once in awhile it is good for me to take stock of my time-management skills . . . or lack of them. What have I actually produced lately? Is the time I spend producing things like socks, bread, and irises “worth” the end results? Am I basically wasting time? Should I be working for a corporate salary or an hourly wage? What (and who) does my work benefit? At the very least, am I mastering my chosen crafts so that my knowledge could some day be translated into gainful production or teaching or both?

I’ve been reading alot lately about the economy, of course: the arguments for and against deregulation, the wranglings in the Senate and House, the size of the federal deficit, the unemployment numbers, and the roller-coaster ride from Hades that is the daily stock market report. A general theme is emerging in my readings. More and more people seem to be questioning our decision as a country to outsource much of our production. Whether this is because a more general idea is taking shape in our collective American conscience or whether I am seeking therefore I am finding, many people are worried that our inability to feed, clothe, and shod ourselves will end up leading to a bleak economic future.

To that I offer this intellectual bon mot: Well, duh.

Take, for instance, this informative article entitled DISMANTLING AMERICA from Patrick J. Buchanan posted on the American Conservative site this past March. In the article, Buchanan writes, “Things that we once made in America — indeed, we made everything — we now buy from abroad with money that we borrow from abroad. Over this Lost Decade, 5.8 million manufacturing jobs, one of every three we had in Y2K, disappeared. That unprecedented job loss was partly made up by adding 1.9 million government workers.”

Dear Reader, we once made everything. Now we sit in government offices, pushing papers. Not even that. We file electronic documents. Buzz on the street is that our recent slight improvement in unemployment numbers can be attributed to those oh-so-very temporary US Census jobs.

Until we start making things again, creating them with our own hands, we will not have a truly strong and resilient (not to mention sustainable) economy. Reading Wendell Berry this week, I found myself agreeing with the agrarian philosopher on so many issues, but with none so strongly as this, that our quest to free ourselves from hard work has diminished us in many ways. In his essay “Think Little” Berry writes, “Our people have given up their independence in return for the cheap seductions and the shoddy merchandise of so-called ‘affluence.’ We have delegated all our vital functions and responsibilities to salesmen and agents and bureaus and experts of all sorts. We cannot feed or clothe ourselves, or entertain ourselves, or communicate with each other . . .” (Think Little, Wendell Berry, THE ART OF THE COMMONPLACE, Shoemaker & Hoard, Emeryville, CA, 2002. pp.84.)

Although I make things with my own hands, I cannot honestly say I’m productive. Dabbling is not the same thing as mastering. A master craftsman knows all there is to know about her chosen profession. Housewives of yore were master craftswomen. They knew how to raise chickens, spin yarn, make soap, sew a shirt by hand, bake bread, biscuits, pies, and cakes, grow a kitchen garden big enough to feed the family, store food, save seeds, knit sweaters, darn socks, wash and dry laundry by hand, put up jam, milk the cow/goat/sheep, and provide basic medical care. Girls began their apprenticeship at an early age.

I was lucky to have a mom who baked bread and sewed and put up jam. I was lucky to have a dad who knew how to keep a garden growing all summer. My grandmother always had some handwork going–knitting or crocheting or tatting–when she wasn’t taking news photos or typing up her articles. My grandfather tended a large kitchen garden. But in general it was expected that I would be a careerist and not a farmer/housewife, a consumer and not a producer. Instead, I fell into the crevasse between the two. I swim in the limbo that is the life of a modern, stay-at-home mom. So I blog. Is it enough?

While working on her book, MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING, Julia Child set herself a schedule of testing recipes and typing the manuscript even though she would have preferred exploring the nearby countryside. I am inspired to follow her example. I need to set specific goals. I need to create a schedule. I have mastered the Art of Procrastination. It remains to be seen if I can master the Art of Productivity.

3 responses to “Mastering the Art of Procrastination

  1. rebecca mills

    So much here to chew on. I think you are right that we have chased after leisure to the point of giving up our most valuable resource- our own imaginations and ability to work. We are not living we are managing a life.

  2. You should get a bullhorn and shout this all over! My grandmother was such as housewife as you describe, and also a farmer. I’d be hard pressed to grow a garden, and scared to death to try canning (because if you mess it up, people die) though I can do a lot of other things, sew, and so forth.

    But yes, we have so divorced ourselves from the daily realities that we have become hostages to our (Chinese) slaves. Shame on us. We need to find ourselves again. Excellent post!

  3. Thank you, Lyn! I was reading Wendell Berry yesterday and something he said really struck me. He said while it is okay to organize and be an activist and try to change government, etc., the first step is to DO something yourself, personally. By sewing, you are doing something for yourself rather than supporting “slave” labor in foreign countries. Good for you! There are other ways of storing food instead of canning (I share your fear of poisoning my loved ones with a bad can of green beans!) and eating seasonally probably makes the most sense. Even if you stick a tomato plant in a big pot, you are doing something. Thanks for leaving a message:)

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