I continue to pinch, poke, and prod, trying to get them to say what they mean more precisely by laziness. Paul Lafargue, Karl Marx’s son in law, I tell them wrote an essay called the right to be lazy. He was pro-laziness and saw much potential good arising from it. I think now of those days back when I was hanging out standing in line at the Seven Eleven and reading a sticker on the back of the Slurpee machine that read: “Don’t just do something. Stand there.” Or I say, “regard the lilies of the field neither do they reap nor do they sew…” Even the Bible praises laziness.
But I can’t seem to get a rise out of them. I ask well what does it feel like to be lazy. Procrastination, somebody says. When I wrote, list three reasons students give for plagiarism, one student wrote: Procrastination, Procrastination, Procrastination. I have been hearing students say that for over 25 years. I procrastinate. What do you mean by that, I ask. Well, I am supposed to do something, and I put off doing it, and I do something else instead.
Give students a fancy sounding word and that’s the end of it. It’s as if the description of the activity (or inactivity) is the cause of it. I procrastinate because I procrastinate. At one time, I don’t remember when, this came up so much on one little survey I did that I devised a tiny bit of lecture along the lines of the-how-to-make-procrastination-your friend-model.
Look, I say, procrastination as I see it is not a bad thing unless of course following Aristotle’s golden mean one does it too excess. But while you are procrastinating you may well be thinking about the thing you are supposed to do and are putting off. Indeed, you must be thinking about it or you wouldn’t feel you are procrastinating. In fact, while you are procrastinating you are thinking down in the unconscious; unless of course you are unconscious from having drunk too much. In this case, you are just unconscious and probably aren’t thinking about anything.
Procrastination may be essential to the unconscious processes involved in the writing of a paper, especially one that might require some self involvement. You may for example be struck suddenly just as you are going to your computer with the irresistible urge to clean out your refrigerator. So instead of writing the paper, you straighten out the refrigerator and find all kinds of strange molds and other exciting stuff. Well, I do exactly that when I am sitting down to write something longer, when I know I am going to be in front of the computer for three or four hours.
I will straighten the refrigerator, or flea comb the cat, or straighten my desk, or delete stuff from my email. Little household things that I have been putting off for weeks, suddenly occupy my attention. But you know I do the same thing when I go on any trip. Even if I am just going off for a week, I try to clean up the place so that when I come back I will have a clean place to walk into.
So you call it procrastination, and I call it getting ready for a trip. Because writing something can be like going on a little trip. Your immediate surroundings aren’t there; they go away. The clock can even go away and when you come back to the clock and your immediate surroundings it’s nice to have things nice.