Procrastination is a positive experience for me. I get a lot accomplished.
In fact, I would wager that I get more done by putting things off for a day than most people do putting things off for a week.
But before you close this window and opt to read this later, I want to assure you this skill didn’t just arise in me overnight. Though I come from a long line of procrastinators (Dad took sixteen years to complete his PhD thesis), it wasn’t like I was some kind of prodigy.
In fact, when I started putting things off until later, I was pretty terrible.
Let me tell you the story of my first homework assignment.
I was in seventh grade and had no idea whatsoever how to deal with the immense stress of having to do actual work on what had been free time. You may be wondering how I managed to avoid homework until the age of thirteen, but the answer is quite simple.
See, I went to a hippie elementary school with no homework, no grades, no desks, no structure at all. It wasn’t even called a school. They called it the Exploratory Learning Center. The classes were all mixed together in these big rooms full of beanbag chairs and low tables. My teacher wore beads and shirts open to the third button. We called him by his first name, Will.
To call the school “unstructured” is like saying a loud fart in church is funny. At my school we pretty much did whatever we wanted all day, every day. Personally, I liked to draw and read and craft props for the serial Star Trek game we had every day on the two-hour lunch/recess. I made this in the Art Room, a vast workshop full of plywood squares, circuit boards, paint, plastic tubes, yarn, hot glue and a million other orts and leavings of 1970s America.
Instead of grades, we had conferences. These informal affairs were held once or twice a year. My parents were invited, of course, and anyone else who wanted to come. Siblings, neighbors, friends of the family. Sometimes my parents would make a party of it because Will like to have conferences in the evenings. He’d have candles and incense going and sometimes snacks of humus and veggies. I don’t recall if my parents ever brought wine, but I wouldn’t put it past them.
At the conferences, we would all lower ourselves into the beanbag chairs and talk about how I was doing in school.
It usually went like this:
WILL: Your son, man, is like, a super creative kid. I mean, his drawing is outta sight, and he’s reading this really heavy stuff, man. Like, the other day, he was reading this Aldous Huxley book. Nobody assigned it, man. He just was, like, reading it on his own.
MOM: How’s his math coming?
WILL: Well, Mrs C, you know, he doesn’t really dig math too much. We rap about it, but he’s just not, like, stoked about it.
Dad was usually silent through these things. He had thick glasses, so he might have been asleep. Those beanbag chairs were nothing if not comfortable.
So, when I left elementary school I could read Faulkner but I didn’t know any multiplication tables not covered by a Schoolhouse Rock cartoon. I knew no science beyond how to make a type-1 Phaser out of a block of wood and hot glue. As far as social studies and history, I was spotty. I knew every fact about World War Two aircraft, but I had no idea about the Electoral College (not that this has changed much since).
Needless to say, seventh grade came as a rude shock. I was given a homework assignment by Mrs. Fischer, the remedial math teacher. The conversation is etched forever in my memory.
“Mrs. Fisher, I don’t understand what this is.”
“It’s homework. Take it home, do the assignment, and turn it in tomorrow.”
“Do the assignment? You mean at home?”
“That’s right. It’s homework. Work you do at home.”
The sudden realization dawned, a huge and terrible shock. Mrs. Fisher could reach her terrible claw-like hand into my afternoon, the sacred time when I watched He-Man at 3, Hogan’s Heroes at 3:30, Brady Bunch at 4, Gilligan’s Island at 4:30 and two episodes of Star Trek from 5 to 7. And now all that was gone? I swallowed.
“You mean on my own time?”
She nodded, clearly not grasping the obscenity.
I walked out in a haze, my chest feeling like a squeezed-up orange.
My time was not my own. It was inconceivable.
On the bus home, I took out my math textbook. It weighed about six pounds. The kid next to me saw it and sniggered.
“You’re in retard math!” He tapped the kid next to him. “Look! TARD MATH!”
I had to nip that in the bud lest I get stuck with that as a nickname forever. I hauled off and clubbed him in the face with the book.
My assignment flew into the air, the pages floating like birds. The kid’s nose got blood everywhere, including spattering my homework. His pal evaporated like steam from a hot beverage, leaving me and the bleeding bully. The bus driver glanced into his rearview at the noise, but he saw it wasn’t an emergency so he turned his attention back to the road. . I don’t know what would have qualified as a real emergency. Perhaps a screwdriver in an eye or something.
The bully and I stared at each other. I gripped my book tighter. I’d been reading a lot of detective novels over the summer, so I was just about to try some tough guy dialog on him. Listen, you bum. I’ll wind you like a cheap clock.
But I didn’t get a chance. His entire personality morphed from Don Rickles into Eddie Haskell.
“Gee, I didn’t mean nothin’ by it. I was just jerkin’ your chain. No hard feelings?”
He then proceeded to kiss my ass by helping me gather the sheets from the floor and stuff them into my backpack. Though the sudden violence made me momentarily forget my troubles, it wasn’t long before the dread returned.
My stop came up. I got off the bus. I walked to my house.
My heart was a stone.
To be continued