Monday, February 25, 2013

Why it Might be Okay Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Today

*See note below

Hi, my name is Erin, and I'm a procrastinator.

I am ashamed to say how long it has taken me to finish writing this. Maybe you'll get a rough an idea if I tell you that there were a slew of visits to Facebook friends, about a thousand games of Words with Friends and Bejeweled and quite a nice little while  making an Etsy treasury.   Then there were the untold hours poring over Brain Pickings (watched this amazing video about physicist Richard Feynman three times), Shutterbean (excellent recipe for quick cheese bread that I will probably go and bake instead of finishing this post),  Smitten Kitchen (great recipe for lemon bars), and various other websites devoted to thought, food, and life in general.  All while this sat in the post queue, unfinished, unpublished and unloved.

Of course, I also dusted, and made the girls' beds, and put together a tuna noodle casserole. You see, I learned to procrastinate in the old days, before the Internet, when you actually had to do something to defer doing something else. 
We're talking days, people, days of putting off finishing a tiny little blog post. 

In my rapacious avoidance of work on something constructive, I foraged the Internet for current philosophical thought about my condition. I clicked links to multiple articles, like this one, and tried to order this book from the library, which would have given me something to do one day next week when I am trying to avoid something I should be doing instead. Of course, the fact that the local library didn't own the book led me to the kind of advanced catalog search that only really skilled procrastinators such as myself could gleefully and guiltily engage in. It was so good in fact, that I put off finishing it until the next time I go to the library.

The bits I read about procrastinating made me feel a little better. There seems to be some thought that putting off a project gives people time to formulate exactly how they will attack it when it becomes absolutely, positively unavoidable. From my own experience as a grad student, I can offer anecdotal evidence that bears this out.  When I finally hit zero hour in the library (usually when a paper is due before ten the next morning) and I have checked and rechecked sources, organized actual paper note cards, read miscellaneous J-Stor links about vaguely related topics, and eaten untoastable toaster pastries from the vending machine on the next floor,  I've found myself suddenly inspired.  I can buckle down and write, knowing that I have no other choice.  Somehow, I know I am ready, and the words don't just flow, they gush.  The downside of this is that it stokes the flame of the "I work well under pressure" myth that burns deep in my heart, so each time I have a writing assignment due, it  takes a bit longer to get to crunch time. 
I made this necklace while I was supposed to
be doing something else.  Of course, I did
something else while I was supposed to
be finishing it. 

This burst of "readiness" leads me to the thought that procrastination can be an odd form of perfectionism.  I start things, not just writing assignments, but jewelry projects, organizing tasks, and all kinds of applications and other paperwork, with a burst of optimistic energy and a shining vision of the completed work.  As I get into it, doubt creeps in. I have a need to reassess and be certain that I am taking the right approach.  That's when I start dusting or web-surfing or eating whatever I can readily obtain.  I turn the project over in my subconscious mind, tinkering and perfecting it somewhere in my brain's crowded and unimproved basement workshop.  A looming deadline, even a self imposed one, like "this must be done before the kids get home," hustles me out of workshop mode and into action.  Confidence is somehow renewed, because all I can do now is finish.   I must have it right.  It's procrastination magic!
Doesn't that put a positive spin on what appears to be slothful time wasting?  Yeah, I wasn't convinced either, until I thought about  about all that  stuff I get done while I'm not finishing a project.    Usually, it is work that I have been putting off, er I mean, perfecting.  Sometimes, it just means that my house gets clean.  By the way, the cheese bread and the lemon bars were excellent.

That is the circle of the procrastinating life:  eventually, everything gets done. 

*Image from militant libertarian.  Don't know anything about them, but after spending (gulp) more than an hour looking for just the right image, I decided on this.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Smartest Thing I Ever Did

When I mention that my anniversary is on February 14, people often give me the "Awh... that's so romantic!" so I usually feel compelled to tell the story of how it happened that on Valentine's Day in 2008, I stood in a tiny office in the law school library in Portland, Maine and married my husband. I tell them I am not, in fact "romantic."  I tell them it was actually spur of the moment-- well, spur of the week-- as we had to get the license a couple of days in advance. 

We had been living together for six years by then, and already had one child. I was eight and a half months pregnant with our younger daughter. And then a string of events led us to decide to just, you know, get it over with.  Julie, a dear friend who was a Justice of the Peace as well as a law librarian, said she would marry us whenever we wanted once we got the license.  That meant a trip downtown, to City Hall.  it was February 12.
Portland City Hall, slippery staircase
We took our eighteen-month-old daughter, Delia, and her double wheeled stroller, downtown and pushed our way through the grey slush that builds up outside City Hall off of Congress Street.  The elevator in the lobby was out of order, so we carried the stroller, with Delia in it, up the marble staircase to the City Clerk's Office, Vital Records Department. While there, we could have also registered a small business, gotten a hunting license or paid the fine for a parking ticket.  We each filled out a form and stepped up to the desk, where the nice lady behind the counter eyed my big belly and the baby eating goldfish in the stroller.  Then she typed the license on an official form, told us it was valid for the next 90 days, and dryly wished us the best of luck.  The discovery of a working service elevator, which spared us schlepping the stroller back down the slippery stairs, seemed to bode well for the next phase of life as a couple.  I took it as a good omen, because I am always looking out for that sort of thing, even though I am no more superstitious than I am romantic. 

The next day, Mike called me at work.  "How about tomorrow? Julie can marry us at her lunch hour."  "Tomorrow is Valentine's Day."  "It is? Okay, that way I'll always remember our anniversary."   My husband is so very practical.  I thought it was just too corny, but given our weird, multi-job, school based schedules, it turned out to be the only day that week we were both free when Julie was free.  I was due in two weeks, and then everything would be up in the air.  So we got married the next day, even though it was Valentine's. 

Maine Law School building. 
We got married in Julie's office on the third (or was it fourth?) floor in the silo shaped part of the building.

Both Mike and I worked in the library while we went to school there, so word had gotten around that we were getting married at lunch time. Maine Law is a small school, with fewer than a hundred people in each year, so it had been easy to get to know everyone.  The crowd in Julie's office spilled out into the hallway, even though there couldn't have been more than a dozen people. I was busy trying to corral Delia so that she would stand a little bit still while Julie performed the short ceremony.  We were pronounced man and wife in under ten minutes.  There were tears, even in the eyes of people out in the hall. 

Someone brought cupcakes with flowers on them from the Hannaford's down the street and someone else brought a bottle of sparkling cider. There were cups and plates from the break room.  Of course I remember what I wore-- brown maternity cords, a white tee, and the only cardigan that still fit me, pale pink with tiny beads at the neckline-- almost exactly what I wore every other day of that last month of pregnancy. I think Mike wore a blue sweater.  I remember going to my Secured Transactions lecture that afternoon with a gigantic smile on my face.  I was late, so I tried to slip in at the back, but the class turned and applauded.   Then the lecture resumed, because, after all, it was law school.  I remember being really happy.  And a little tired-- even good excitement is tiring when you are two weeks away from your due date.  I had to borrow notes from class, because somehow, even though I'm not romantic, not much of the lecture made it into my lawfully wedded brain.   Most of what I remember today about Secured Transactions, is that it was the class I went to right after I got married. 
I graduated law school that May.  For a girl who had always thought more about her cap and gown than her wedding gown, that was kind of a big deal.  Mike walked at the back, bouncing the three month old Fiona, who cried during the commencement speeches.  Delia sat in her stroller.

Delia's in first grade now, and Fiona is signed up for kindergarten this fall.  I still feel happy, and just a little tired, when I think about the day we got married.  A lot has happened in the last five years, and even though we can't say with straight faces that we love every day of our life together, we love being together every day.  And I certainly wouldn't want to do this life with anyone else.  Maybe our daughters will have big weddings. (Maybe we'll win the lottery to afford it.)  I certainly wish them all the pageantry, if  that if it is what they want.   But what I know about weddings is that, no matter how romantic or fantastic or just plain convenient the day may be, they don't ever matter more than life together every day.  

So what I really wish for our children and the relationships that they commit to, is the feeling I have about our marriage, today and every day:  smartest thing I ever did. 

Happy Anniversary to us!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Remembrance of Things Soon to be Past... Maybe

Will this go the way of the phone booth? 

Though I hadn't planned to write about the phenomenon of disappearing bookstores, a cluster of articles-- well three, this article, this one , and this one, (is that a cluster?)-- came across my desk today.  That got me thinking about the demise of bookstores.  Like many other former booksellers, I know that the elegy for the bookstore is being written slowly and has already gone through many movements.  The bookstore is dead.  Long live bookstores!  My memories of the stores I've worked in trace some of the changes up to now. 

While I was in high school, more than twenty years before the end of the last century, I got my first job in a tiny bookstore.  When I say tiny, you need to picture a space no larger than most living rooms.  Such stores weren't yet called "independent" stores because the rise of the chains was still to come.  The store was a vanity project though, owned by a woman whose wish to be a small busines owner was financed by her husband's land development money.  She was something of a flibberty-gibbet, descending every few weeks or so to sign checks and pick up some books to read.  The store was run for her by a tall, thin woman named Penelope, who was decent enough to hire a teen-aged booklover, and cranky enough to make me work alone there on Sundays.  (We were only open noon to five.)  Penny had been a librarian, and she kept the tiny store in apple pie order, even though true crime and any overstock had to be stacked under the front desk, as there was no back room.  I wish I could say the store had flourished, but it closed before I went to college.  By then, there was talk of "the chains" and how they were ruining the book business, and how the mall was no place for a real bookstore. 

My next bookstore job was a few years later.  By then it was called an "independent bookstore" to distinguish it from the chains.  We also sold classical music, as the store was owned by a woman who loved books, and financed by her husband, who had been an opera singer.  (Maybe the problem isn't really e-books, but actually the lack of rich husbands with wives who want bookstores.)  When I started there, we were still selling vinyl records and hardcover books at full retail.  When I left, we were packing remaining inventory into boxes to return for publishers' credit and decamping without notifying the landlord. 

From there I went to work at a superstore, the now defunct Bookstar, which held what seemed to be miles of books, though they were set up in a cavernous stores which boasted all the charm of a badly-lit supermarket.  It was the last time I was hired for a retail job because I knew something about books. 

Bookstar seemed to have taken a page from Crown Books, brainchild of Robert Haft,  an early discount bookseller who boldly stated "Books cost too much!" in commercials, as he offered new books at used book prices.  When Bookstar was swallowed whole by Barnes & Noble, I was still on board, and got swallowed up as well, like Jonah, trapped inside a whale, swallowed by a sea monster.  B&N did away with the used car salesmanship and gussied up the superstores with comfy seating, good lighting, and fresh cappucinos.  And they saw that it was good, and opened stores faster than rabbits make baby bunnies.  And then there was Amazon and e-readers... and you know the rest.

I still love bookstores.  Big ones, small ones, the ones tucked into the corner of libraries selling books for a quarter a piece.  I met my husband while we working in a bookstore, and so did my best friend.  Our husbands still sell books.  My kids love bookstores-- my oldest son has worked in a bookstore since he got his first job over a decade ago.  If we're lucky, my youngest child will have the same option.  I try to remember that everything seems to cycle back into fashion.  I saw a record store, with real vinyl records, opening the other day.  I think paper books will always be with us, but they may eventually take on the cachet of vinyl records.  Maybe that won't be terrible, because maybe then they will seem valuable again, in a way they don't now. 

It seems hard to believe that something like a bookstore will disappear completely, but there used to be pay phones in every strip mall too.   I haven't seen those come back yet, but you never know.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Diving Right In

This first post will be brief-- just enough so that I can say that I started my blog on February 1st.  I'm hoping that this will become a place for me to write about the millions of things that interest me, a place to give life to the thoughts that fill my head just before I drift off to sleep and the dreams that come to me just before I wake up in the morning.  Oh, and I'd like to write about the things that happen during the rest of the day too.  More to come about how I finally settled on the blog's title, but for now, I can say that it fits with my intention to celebrate the bits of beauty and goodness I see everyday, if I look for them.