I am slowly dying of a strange and insidious disease. . . . You should not feel sorry for me, or console me, or reassure me. I have all the medicine needed to cure the disease quickly and completely. I am not taking it. So it might be more accurate to say I am slowly killing myself. I suspect my company of victims and sufferers of this disease is legion.
This disease goes by a number of names. My favourite, the one that sounds most harmless, is procrastination. . . . another name for the disease is cowardice, defeatism, "low self-esteem",or just plain debilitating fear. Fear of failure, certainly, but also to some extent fear of success, fear of knowing how much of your life you have squandered. It also masquerades as depression. Or is depression perhaps the root cause of the disease, or the result of the disease?
This is Dave Pollard, a Canadian (you can tell by his spelling) environmental philosopher, activist and writer. Go read his long post if you've ever hated yourself for squandering your life on what Stephen Covey calls the "urgent but unimportant" things (like blogsurfing) while the important projects, the things you know you were put on earth to do, lie there looking at you balefully, growing a scummy moss of reproach. Dave in turn has found a book called THE WAR OF ART: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield:
He describes it more as an addiction than a disease. And like breaking a deadly and life-sapping addiction, procrastination/ resistance manifests itself in the clever excuses we make for ourselves, and in our craving for more, for the 'high' we get from doing things just when we have to, just in time, and only doing things when we have to. And also like addiction, it takes, he says, enormous inner strength and will to break it. One step at a time, knowing for the rest of your life you will be vulnerable to relapses, and will have to start the agonizing process to kick the habit all over again. No excuses, no sympathy, no yielding to the temptation even once -- the fight of your life, for the rest of your life. . . .
Naturally, Dave gets around to the B word:
My blog itself is, perhaps, the ultimate excuse -- it's important (almost as important as my Second Career), and it's urgent. It's also good writing practice, a good way to "think out loud" and clarify and organize my own thoughts and ideas. My wife describes my blogging as an addiction. Perhaps for me it is. Or perhaps it's the procrastinator's methadone -- much less harmful than the 'real' drug, but still addictive and debilitating, preventing you from getting on with your 'real' life.
Rather than say how totally I identify with this -- fifteen or twenty years ago, I would have -- I'm going to end this post on a subversive note.
According to "archetypal psychologist" James Hillman, who at some point dissolved my own suicidal feelings of frustration and failure into laughter, procrastination is a "disease" only from the point of view of the heroic ego, which believes it can and should control everything -- first discipline the self, then save the world. ("Enormous inner strength and will!" "The fight of your life, for the rest of your life!") Procrastination is one of the signs of the soul at work, undermining and sabotaging the grandiose aspirations of the hero-ego, perhaps so that something real can happen, or not happen, as it, not I, wish. In Hillman's work procrastination means uncountably many things to the soul. It's an intrinsic part of the work process, resisting the pen the way the knots in wood resist and redirect the chisel; it's like the dance of avoidance all animals do on the way to their most primal gratifications, building up the intensity of mating or fighting by postponing it. It's much like the way we turn red-faced and flee from the very person we've fantasized confessing our love to, or the way we eagerly look forward to going "home" and then sink into a ghastly regressive lethargy, binge-eating on our parents' couch (this is for you, Danny, and I'll find you a hilarious passage about it), because what the soul wants is something less literal than we think we want. And one of the things it wants, and loves, is its problems, which Hillman says are like heraldic emblems.
Hillman makes all these disgraces and humiliations all right by stepping outside the linear perspective of the striving ego and into the perverse perspective of the soul. He shows you that in fact, everything is just as it should be, that without the mortification of the block our work and our love would be two-dimensional and facile. Needless to say, he is a great opponent of antidepressants (for ordinary malaise, at least) and of the manic and heroic strains in American culture. I can't get at my books right now (friend sleeping in that room), but in the next few days I'll copy out a couple of startling passages. A Blue Fire (edited by Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul) is a good sampler of Hillman's work, and some of the ideas I've mentioned here can be found in The Myth of Analysis, InterViews and Re-Visioning Psychology.