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Inspired laziness

Henry Gens | Wednesday, December 4, 2013

While frantically racking my brain for meaningful things to write about in this last-minute inside column, I happened to find something quite unexpected. It’s a particularly pertinent quotation from a book by Herman Melville about whales. The bit goes something (well, exactly) like this: “But, perhaps, to be true philosophers, we mortals should not be conscious of so living or so striving.”

The sentiment is solace at times like these.

The funny thing is, I only have that locked away somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind because of another time I had procrastinated. I’m pretty sure I was putting off some chemistry problem set and decided to plod through a little “Moby Dick” instead (because it’s a “great American novel,” etc.and I really don’t like redox reactions). So now I have no idea of how to make a working battery, but I can potentially whip out some fine literature (and this last word, I’d imagine, is most properly pronounced in a refined drawl as “litchawchwah.”).

Of course, not every deliberate deviation from the path of productivity is so intellectual. I recently watched a movie about a tire rolling around a desert for an hour and a half. And while that movie was trying embarrassingly hard to wax philosophic, there’s really nothing I can say about it other than it was god-awful. If I were an academic movie critic I’d say something like, “It was a tired retread of metaphysical cinema doubtless familiar to the cognoscenti.” (But who actually writes like that?)

If I’m going to be honest, I have to admit most of my procrastination manifests itself via indulgence in things far more akin to the latter example. I’m fairly certain there are no other movies about animated tires out there (thankfully,) but that doesn’t preclude possibilities to procrastinate in the same vein. Do I really need to read yet another article about something that doesn’t directly affect me? Do I really need watch that video on Reddit or glance at the latest meme? Does anything said on SportsCenter matter?
Nope, these things are like empty calories. And they don’t even taste all that good. They’re unabashedly a waste of time, and I’m pretty sure that’s not what I’m going to remember in life.

So my annual procrastination-related New Year’s resolution, made a month in advance this time, is not to stop procrastinating, but to do it better. Maybe instead of those myriad mundane diversions I get started on a book I’ve been meaning to read, or take the time to hang out with someone I haven’t seen in awhile. The work’s not getting done either way, but at least I’ll fondly remember why.

Thanksgiving’s over, but food for thought.
 

Contact Henry at hgens@nd.edu
    

The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.