Procrastination, Pessimism, and Inexplicably Good Results

I missed the memo about procrastination, pessimism, and inexplicably good results.

I’ve heard it said that if it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done.   I think it’s more a case of Parkinson’s Law operating to fill the available time with endless detours, tangents and misdirections along the path toward completing a task on time. 

I’m not sure what it is, but there’s just something weird and wonderful about completing a project under an extreme time crunch.  There’s a cycle of emotions that begins with denial which then segues to panic.  The negative thoughts descend…I’m gonna fail, I’m gonna get fired, I’m gonna make a complete ass out of myself.  Procrastination inspired pessimism is truly the dark night of the soul.

But sometimes a miracle occurs and the panic inspires a clarity of thought that propels the project forward.  My theory is that it takes considerable time and deliberation to come up with bullshit; simple, clear, and even brilliant ideas usually don’t take much time to formulate and articulate.  When we’re able to seize upon that bit of clarity at the 11th hour, it’s such a rush. 

There may be a lot of rationalizing and delirium going on at this point, but I think that’s a healthy little trick our brain plays on us to keep from going completely nuts while under pressure.  When there’s no time for second-guessing, we convince ourselves that our last-minute efforts are genius, and hey, sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time, they are.

Procrastination can also push us to lower our standards improvise creatively.  Perhaps if we had the luxury of time, we’d include professionally reproduced graphics in that big presentation, but instead, we do something freehand which lends the project some ironic, pre-schooler charm.  Again, when we’re hopped up on 5 hour energy drinks, we somehow convince ourselves that this is very, very clever, and the slap-happy enthusiasm for these wacky, last-minute improvisations is what sells them. 

I’m not saying I’m an advocate of procrastination in every instance, but I think there’s something good buried deep, deep down within the chaos that procrastination creates.  There’s self-trust and just a bit of faith…you know somehow it will all come together.  You take inventory of your resources and limitations, keep an eye on the clock, and then you just say a little prayer. 

Ever see the movie Shakespeare in Love?

There’s an adorable scene that talks about this very phenomenon. And it goes a little something like this…

Philip Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Hugh Fennyman: So what do we do?
Philip Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Hugh Fennyman: How?
Philip Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

A mystery, indeed.  And time to get crackin’ on that motion.  Memo received.

Not Minding Your Own Business

I missed memo about not minding your own business.

Holy crap, I have just had a close encounter with crazy, ya’ll.  I was flying standby so I was lingering around the customer service counter here in the Southwest terminal and I couldn’t help but overhear an exchange between another customer and the gate agent.  I couldn’t help but overhear because the customer’s voice was getting louder and louder.  As she escalated the volume, she also intensified the vitriol.  She was so rude and insulting, while the Southwest agent, to my amazement and to her credit, remained pretty calm.

The customer wanted Southwest to guarantee that her completely capable teenage daughter would be escorted off the plane and delivered to a specific person at her destination.  Since the daughter (who was standing there dying a slow death of shame) was not booked as an unaccompanied minor, Southwest simply couldn’t make this guarantee nor could they assume the liability. 

After listening to this exchange for several minutes, I couldn’t help myself…I piped up and said, “Ma’am, you’re insulting this woman (the SW agent); if you’re so concerned about your daughter flying alone, you should book a ticket and go with her.” Well, that’s when all hell started breaking loose.  Of course, the first thing out of this lady’s mouth was:

 “Why don’t you just mind your business?” 

As a rule, I am not a minder of my own business.  When it comes to other people’s lives, I’m interested, curious, and I’ll admit it, a bit officious and annoying.  I suppose in the small transactions that make up daily life, it’s probably mostly unnecessary and maybe even inappropriate for me to butt in.  But in this instance, I felt justified.  By remaining silent, I felt like I would be kind of complicit with the abuse this lunatic was slinging at the gate agent.   In a small way, it was one of these situations…

The gate agent was limited by her role; she couldn’t haul off and tell this woman that she was bat-shit crazy and that she needed to settle down.  But I could, and I pretty much did.   I can’t say my interjection did anything to help resolve the situation, but at least I deflected the red-hot heat of crazy off that gate agent for a second, which was all the time she needed to call security. 

Once the security guards were on the scene, this woman started proclaiming that she worked for the queen and that the military would be getting involved in the situation.  Holy guacamole.  It was becoming increasingly clear that this was no mere anger-management problem, but perhaps something a bit more serious.  The security guards eventually cuffed her and led her out of the terminal; my guess is that she was whisked away to get 5150’d

Aye, yi, yi…what a scene.  Thinking back, it seems like the outcome was probably foregone.  This lady was probably a ticking time bomb, and perhaps it was good she was in an airport when she went nuclear–these folks are trained and equipped to deal with all sorts of emergencies.  I’m glad I spoke up for the gate agent, whose blotchy face later betrayed the angry tears she was trying to hold back while she was accused of being uneducated and brain-damaged.   It was just so out-of-bounds that I just had to speak up.  And for my trouble, I scored some free drink coupons, so there you go.

While arguing with a crazy person is usually fruitless…

…I will nonetheless continue to meddle in these situations.   Next time I might get my ass kicked, or I might get a free plane ticket.  Memo received.

Snoring, Selflessness, & Sociology

I missed the memo about snoring, selflessness and sociology.

In honor of Father’s Day, I tell one of my favorite stories about my Dad. 

You may recall that college-wise, I kinda put all my eggs in one basket.  So when I was invited to come to the campus of Oglethorpe University to compete for a full scholarship, I was pretty excited and really, really nervous.  The competition consisted of doing some reading in advance, participating in a group discussion with a professor and other hopefuls, and doing some writing.   

Somehow, I chose to be in a discussion group whose focus was sociology, a subject about which I knew pretty much nothing.  As I attempted the advance reading, I realized I was probably in a bit over my head.  I had always been a big smarty-pants, but this was the first time that I recognized that there was a really big world of really complicated  ideas out there and I really didn’t know shit.  It brought about a poorly-timed crisis of confidence.  And did I mention a full scholarship was on the line?  No pressure.

My mom and dad dutifully drove me down to Atlanta and the night before the competition, we were all bunked down in one hotel room.  My Dad fell asleep and promptly began to snore.  Loudly.  I put a pillow over my head, stuffed Kleenex in my ears…to no avail.  After a couple of hours, I was starting to get a little desperate…

I suppose nature eventually called my Dad and he discovered me attempting to sleep in the bathtub.  As it dawned on him that his snoring had contributed to my situation, he shooed me back to bed, quietly got dressed, and slipped out of the hotel room.  Rather than risk a resumption of his snoring, he drove around an unfamilar city in the middle of the night. 

He returned a few hours later, cheerful and with doughnuts.  He must have been exhausted, but he didn’t let on.  He chauffeured me over to campus right on time.  And when the competition got started, it was clear that I had just jumped into the intellectual deep end, but I managed to tread water most of the day.  I didn’t win the full scholarship, but managed to earn a substantial partial scholarship.  Under the circumstances, I considered a partial scholarship a complete triumph.

Here’s the thing about my Dad:   He didn’t attend college himself and even though he has an awesome natural intellect, he hadn’t really had any experience with academic competition or sociology, so he couldn’t really help me prepare.  But he could make sure I got some sleep on the night before a very big day.  Good dads can’t do everything, but they do what they can do, and they do what they’ve got to do. 

Happy Father’s Day and Memo received.

Anticipation, Perspiration & Prostitution

I missed the memo about anticipation, perspiration, and prostitution.

Scorchers” is probably the best movie you’ve never seen.  I credit my friend Elizabeth, who delivered many memos, with introducing me to this movie.  “It’s about everything,” she said as she urged me to watch it.  And indeed it is.  But mostly, it’s about anticipation, perspiration, and prostitution. 

The action takes place during one night, and oh what a night it is. Splendid (awesome name, right?) and Dolan have just gotten married, and Splendid is having some stage fright about finally consummating their marriage.  Splendid’s not frigid, but there’s a sad secret in her past that makes sex scary for her.  Enter Jumper, Splendid’s hilariously Cajun and long-suffering father.  Oddly, but sweetly, it’s Jumper who helps the newlyweds on their big night.  (And it doesn’t end up in some sort of freaky Electra Complex threesome, so get your minds out of the gutter.)

All the while, a parallel drama plays out in the neighborhood bar.  This is where Thais, the hooker with a heart of gold, holds court with the loveable bar tender, Bear, and the tragic town drunk, Howler.  And still in her bridesmaid’s dress, Splendid’s best friend, Talbot, is there, too, drowning her sorrows and venting her sexual frustrations.  As they all talk, the dialog is both hilarious and heartbreaking. 

And throughout the movie, every one is sweating.  It’s a sticky night down in the bayou and somehow all the glistening just makes everything  more compelling. 

If I haven’t enticed you enough already, consider the cast of “Scorchers” as there is a ridiculous amount of talent in this movie:

The smoldering Faye Dunaway as the town prostitute, James Earl Jones as the barkeep, and the incomparable Denholm Elliott as the town drunk

And there’s more…

The adorable Emily Lloyd as Splendid and the wonderful combination of sexy and silly that is Jennifer Tilly as Splendid's best friend, Talbot

The experience of watching “Scorchers” yielded a lot of memos for me:

1.   First, there is something kind of lovely about watching a movie you’ve never heard of before.  The only hype I’d heard about this movie came from a friend, so my head wasn’t full of movie marketing as a I sat down to watch it.  It made me more attentive and more open to everything about the movie.  Watch a random movie sometime and see what happens!

2.  Everything sounds wiser and wittier when said in a Cajun accent.  Little-known actor Leland Crooke played Jumper he pretty much steals the movie. 

3.  If you can watch a person eat, that’s how you know you’re in love with that person.  See No. 2, above.  This is just a tiny bit of “The Tao of Jumper” .  There is so much more.

So get thee to your Netflix queue and add “Scorchers” straight away.  And remember, anything you yourself done swum in, believe.   Memo received.

Impractical Independence

I missed the memo about impractical independence.

Being self-sufficient is a beautiful thing, but carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders without any help, ever, is kinda dumb and turns out to be kinda inefficient, most of the time.  To illustrate this point, and with apologies to my husband, I’m going to tell a story that makes him feel like an asshole, but it’s a cautionary tale for us all.

A few years ago, my husband was scheduled to go on a business trip to France, lucky dog.  I was doing a fellowship with the court at the time and enjoying luxuriously long civil-servant lunch breaks.  I therefore offered to come home on the day of the trip and drive my husband to the airport shuttle stop, which was just a couple of miles from our place.   My husband repeatedly refused my repeated offers, as he didn’t want to inconvenience me.  (Seriously, I thought one of the reasons that people got married was so that they were always assured a ride to the airport, but I suppose my husband missed the memo about that.)

Cut to…the day of the trip, I’m sitting in the courthouse cafeteria when my husband calls me to let me know that he is on the airport shuttle bus.  I noted a hint of self-satisfaction in his voice for having successfully gotten to the shuttle stop all by himself.  We chatted for a moment and then I asked him, in jest really, “You’ve got your passport, right?”  There was a sickening silence on the line as it dawned on both of us that he was now hurtling down the 405 freeway, captive in the shuttle bus, while his passport lay forlornly on the kitchen counter in our apartment. 

With all due haste (i.e., driving like a crazy person, literally dodging a train, etc.) I went home and got my husband’s passport and then plotted the intercept course to meet him at the airport so he could make his flight.  I suppose it was kinda like being on “The Amazing Race” but without the awesome cash and prizes.  Luckily, the traffic gods smiled upon me and I made it to the airport, handed off  the passport, and said au revoir to my husband in time for him to catch the flight. 

Given my anal-retentive tendencies, I am pretty sure that had he permitted me to just meet him at home and give him a lift, I would have given him a thorough pat-down to ensure he had all the mission-critical stuff, including his passport.  So instead of making the short round trip between the courthouse and home, I instead made the much longer and circuitous journey of courthouse, home, airport, courthouse.   So much for not inconveniencing me.

The lessons from this mishap were many:

1.     First and most obviously, let your wife give you a ride.  It really is no trouble. 

2.    Second, when someone offers to do something for you, there’s usually something in it for them, so don’t feel bad.   It’s a form of enlightened self-interest, I think.  In this case, I wanted to give my husband a lift, because doing so would have made me feel like a good wife, and would have given me an opportunity to micro-manage the last moments before he left home, and I live for that shit. 

3.    Lastly, trying to be completely self-sufficient makes for a fair amount of misery and mayhem.  Conversely, opening up and letting other people help you sometimes not only lightens your load, but it can also make you more humble, more appreciative, and more connected.  Lucky, huh?  Just listen to  Babs, she knows everything and sings it all beautifully…

Memo received.

Leaps of Faith

I missed the memo about leaps of faith.

The other day I watched a movie called Ira & Abby and boy, is it adorable and just chock full of memos. 

First things first, Jennifer Westfeldt is a freakin’ genius.   Seriously, all I need to know about life I’ve learned from watching “Kissing Jessica Stein” and “Ira & Abby”.  I hope she makes another movie, and soon.

In case you haven’t seen it, the premise of “Ira & Abby”  is that the titular characters meet cute and after about six hours, decide to get married.  Hyjinx ensue, of course.   Making a huge life decision like marriage should be carefully considered and undertaken only after serious reflection, right?  Well, sure.   Usually. 

But sometimes, there is something pretty amazing about leaping without looking.  Sometimes you can make a decision without having all the answers.    Sometimes you can start with certainty and work backwards.   Sometimes, you trust your guts and then just figure it out from there. 

I’ve mentioned before that I’m pretty high-strung by nature, so the idea of taking any big step without a lot of careful preparation is fairly terrifying to me.   But here’s the thing…I think my need to control things is probably just ego.  Who the hell am I to think that I can plan everything out and then have everything go according to my plan?  Doesn’t the universe have some say?  In the words of Alanis Morrissette…”Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you…” No matter how I plot my course, there will always be some unforeseen detours, so once in a while, why not throw away the map all together?

There is actually something kind of  liberating about surrendering the pretense of control in some situations and just going with what feels right.  And there’s something almost intoxicating about the crazy confidence that comes from just trusting yourself.  But with that intoxication sometimes comes the hangover of working out the details.  But hey, once you’re emboldened by your own decisiveness, the logistics are cake. 

I’ll leave you with this Jason Mraz video…I dare you to watch it and not feel instantly happier and more optimistic.  Leap and the net will appear, indeed. 

Memo received.