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Friday, January 11, 2008



You know what's a good procrastination when you're supposed to be writing?


There are several reasons why this is a pernicious distraction:

1. It makes you feel like a good person, especially if you don't live alone. Rather than being selfish, you're doing something that everybody will benefit from. They'll appreciate you. They'll think you're great. They might appreciate you if you wrote as well, of course, but that would involve writing.

2. You have to clean sometime. If you never clean, you turn into one of those weirdos who stockpiles newspaper and never takes a bath, and you don't want to be one of those weirdos. Cleaning is necessary. There's no sense putting it off. You can start writing a bit later, but you really do have to clean sometime.

3. You'll only worry about doing it if you don't do it now. You don't want to write when you've got cleaning on your mind, do you?

4. Like writing, cleaning makes the world a more beautiful place. And, in the artistic reaches of your soul, you really do what that, don't you?

5. It's much easier to write in a pleasant environment. You don't want to be dirty and uncomfortable, do you? No, of course you don't. It would distract you. You'd feel unsafe and find it hard to concentrate, and you can't write unless you concentrate. Which you can't, if you're worried about cleaning. So go and clean. It'll make it much easier to write. Really.

Those are my excuses, anyway; I'm sure other people will have others, or, indeed, other procrastinations, which I'd be interested to hear about. The real reason, of course, is that you're putting off writing, and cleaning is a good excuse. In a chapter of The Feminine Mystique entitled 'Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available', Betty Friedan remarks:

I ... discovered that many frantically busy housewives were amazed to find that they could polish of in one hour the housework that used to take them six - or was still undone at dinnertime - as soon as they started studying, or working, or had some other serious interest outside the house.

She posits:

1. The more a woman is deprived of function in society at the level of her own ability, the more her housework, mother-work, wife-work, will expand - and the more she will resist finishing her housework or mother-work, and being without any function at all. (Evidently human nature also abhors a vacuum, even in women.)

2. The time required to do the housework for any given woman varies inversely with the challenge of the other work to which she is committed.

Calling this 'busywork', she points to 'A series of intensive studies sponsored by the Michigan Heart Association at Wayne University [that] disclosed that "women were working more than twice as hard as they should", squandering energy trhough habit and tradition in wasted motion and unneeded steps.'

Friedan considers this the defence mechanism of people taking refuge from the responsibility to decide on an adult identity and commit to self-development. All of this sounds pretty dire - and I hasten to add that all I personally did this week was have an unproductive day because the bathtub really did need cleaning, and there were some errands to run - but the lady's got a point. If you're putting off something important that takes commitment and self-knowledge, mentally untaxing, fundamentally necessary stuff like cleaning is a terrific excuse.

So next time you reach for a mop when you should be writing, maybe ask yourself is the floor really as unbearable as all that? I decided to leave the mess alone today, and it's been my most productive day all week.

Arrgh, for me it isn't cleaning, it's running errands. Suddenly, the library books must be dropped off today (even though they aren't due for a week. I also find myself lollygagging through the grocery store, examining every ingredient label, when I should pick up my usual food and be out of there quickly.

If you put down the mop, I'll put down the car keys, and we'll both get more done. :-)
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