From Vol. 4, Issue 9, September 2022
Our time is limited: Seize the day
“There is a limit to the time assigned to you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.”
Procrastination is a form of self-harm
I was procrastinating on writing about the Stoicism of everyday life and instead dove into researching procrastination while I procrastinated. The etymology of the word comes from the Greek “akrasia,” meaning putting things off against our better judgment. It’s considered a form of selfharm. Then I procrastinated on researching procrastination and came across the Sour Toe Cocktail, which is served in a saloon in the Northwest Territories of Canada. It’s a shot of Yukon Jack garnished with a mummified human toe. Isn’t that delightfully horrifying? I never would have discovered this if I hadn’t been procrastinating.
Some people procrastinate because they're only productive when they’re up against a deadline. The term deadline comes from the Civil War prison at Andersonville. Any prisoner who crossed the specified line was shot dead.
The deadline (which is today) should be enough to keep me focused, but it's late summer. I live in the northeast where warm sunny days are precious treasures. The bees are buzzing around peonies the size of a human head. The sun hangs there like a beacon, calling me to get outside and get moving. I want to swim and hike before the leaves turn. I can write later.
Pleasures vs. duties of the day
I don’t believe in denying myself the pleasures of a summer’s day. I’m tempted to give in to the confidence that future me will figure it all out. But if I did that I would be acting like a child and not an adult. I would miss out on all the joy I get from thinking, thinking about writing, and writing about thinking.
This is where Stoicism is my guide. As Epictetus said,
Regardless of what is going on around you, make the best of what is in your power and take the rest as it occurs. - I, Discourses, 1.1.
He’s talking more about dealing with the disappointments and setbacks of life, not so much about going blueberry picking, but Stoic principles are valuable in many different situations.
Postponement robs our days
The greatest waste of life lies in postponement: it robs us of each day in turn, and snatches away the present by promising the future. - Seneca, On The Shortness of Life, 9.1
So I apply the seat of my trousers to the seat of my chair, and get as many ideas out of my head and onto the page as I can. Using the 26 measly letters of the alphabet, I wrestle my wandering attention to the ground and make it say uncle.
Every day I revel in the challenge of climbing over that wall of self-doubt when facing a blank page. My job is to fill it, edit it, rip it up, and write it over. Writing with my partner Francis is my oasis of happiness, yet I often take a detour to get there.
If I’m not writing in any given moment, I am reading, thinking, daydreaming, even gossiping, and it’s all inspiration. We have a set time every day when we work. Not every minute is spent tapping a keyboard. We catch up on family news, talk about what’s going on in the world, and share things that delight us. When the moment comes to make the characters dance on the screen, we are ready and the words fly from our fingertips. Our low stress procrastination becomes a pollinator for new insights and ideas.
Our time is limited: Seize the day
Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them. … There is a limit to the time assigned to you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.4
We are always conscious of using our time well, seizing our opportunities, and making the most of our lives. Writing gives us purpose and direction.
If you wish…to be a writer, write. - Epictetus, Discourses, 2.18
At this moment I can see the donkeys frolicking in the pasture, excited for my son to give them carrots. I can hear them braying through the open window, and a soft breeze is filling the room. My husband is getting ready to go for a hike to Gobbler’s Knob. I am inside, in front of a computer, and this is exactly where I want to be. I am ready to begin writing about procrastination.
Karen Duffy is a producer, actress and former MTV VJ. Her latest book on Stoicism. Wise Up (https://amzn.to/3PpLv5D) is published by Seal Press.