Oh Look, a Goldfish!

I used to be your standard, everyday, garden-variety procrastinator.  I’d start folding laundry, and get distracted by the movie I was watching at the time, and keep watching the movie instead of getting the next load of laundry.  I’d play computer games instead of paying the bills, cut flowers out of my rose garden instead of pulling weeds, and read novels instead of washing the dishes.

Now, though, my brain has ascended to a whole new level of procrastinatory subterfuge.  Instead of finding myself suddenly in the mood for online Scrabble and British chick lit (which are easily identifiable time-wasters), my brain has a new strategy:  USEFUL procrastination.

Oh, it’s devious.  I have gradually gained the self-discipline to say to myself, “Self, NO.  You do not need to knit a scarf for the homeless right now.  Yes, that is a worthy activity, but you know perfectly well that you do it for fun, and that as soon as you put that scarf in the Salvation Army basket, you’ll start another one with that lovely fuzzy brown yarn you’ve had your eye on.  Go do your work.”  But when my brain tells me to clean out the fishbowl, I’m completely derailed.

The fishbowl?  Really?  I hate cleaning the fishbowl!  It smells funny, and I always end up spilling stinky water on myself.  Fishfish (official name: Leif Erikson, in honor of our Norwegian heritage and my daughter’s recent school project on our Viking friend) freaks out every time he’s moved.  Since I bought a bowl that’s round on the front and flat on the back so that I can tuck it neatly up in front of my box of imported teas, it’s a royal pain to get my hand into the odd little corners and scrub out the algae.  The little rocks fall into the sink, and they’re hard to gather back up when they’re wet.  And then there was that heart-stopping moment when Fishfish made a break for it and came within a wiggle of going down the garbage disposal.

There is no earthly reason why I should suddenly be overwhelmed with the conscientious urge to clean out Fishfish’s bowl, but such was the case today when I sat down to the computer to work.  I do occasional freelance editing for a local publishing company, and I just started work on a new manuscript.  This afternoon I had a clean desk, a nice block of time, minimal interruptions from family, and a goal to get through Chapter 1.  Perfect!  Of course, I would need a cup of tea.  (pause for ominous music)

Now this is where my old brain would have gone on vacation.  “Oo, a cup of tea!  Yum.  Black tea or herbal?  British Breakfast,  Earl Grey, PG Tips, or Sainsbury’s Red Label?  In a bag or loose leaf?  Wonder Woman mug or bone china with hand-painted violets?  This water is taking forever to boil, I’ll just lean on the counter and read a book while I wait. [Two hours pass.]  Mmm, good tea, good book, I love a quiet afternoon!”  But no.  My new-and-improved brain, now in Stealth Mode, said instead, “It would be a good day to pull hundreds of dandelions out of the front yard!”

I was a little startled, needless to say.  Some days I really like going at the dandelions, but it hadn’t crossed my mind for a while.  My brain continued, “Or sort out the toys in the family room that have been half-sorted into bins for a year!  Empty the dishwasher!  Organize your scrapbook materials like you’ve been meaning to do for the last several weeks!  Go do some laundry!”  But then my brain, high on self-righteousness and reckless optimism, made its fatal blunder:  “You want to clean the fishbowl!”

“Ahhh,” I thought.  “I’m not THAT desperate to avoid my editing.”  It wasn’t about motivation at all!  I wasn’t really in the mood to pull weeds, and if I’d given myself permission to do so, I’m quite sure I would have gotten distracted and ended up reading a novel on the front porch instead.  It was all about procrastination, and my clever subconscious had simply devised a more oblique route to its usual destination (tea and good books, and possibly knitting).  I was onto myself.  I wasn’t about to lose this one!

Sadly, I was smarter than I thought.  Today, in a desperate attempt to avoid the red pen and thesaurus, I reorganized the kids’ toys, cleared a bunch of space in the family room, vacuumed, cleaned off the knick-knack shelves and dusted all of the precious items on display before carefully replacing them, did a load of laundry, drank a pot of tea (British Breakfast, loose leaf, Wonder Woman mug), read three chapters of my novel, and, I am embarrassed to admit, cleaned out the fishbowl.  I didn’t mean to, but I couldn’t just leave that basket of toys sitting out, and … well, you see how that ended.

This evening I have a block of time, the kids are about to go to bed, and I even have a mug of tea right here.  There is no reason in the world that I shouldn’t finish editing that chapter, now that I’ve figured out my brain’s insidious new technique of suggesting useful activities to avoid real work.  I will completely ignore it if, for example, it comes up with a ludicrous time-wasting suggestion such as “You should post on your blog!”

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15 Responses to Oh Look, a Goldfish!

  1. Plz let Tawn barow tank cleening brain. Sinserely, Tawns fish

    • Cheeky water breathers…

      Bee, a blog post from you is NEVER a waste of time. Now, do you think your brain could teach my brain to be too smart for me? Maybe tomorrow, though. I just started this great book.

      • Bee says:

        Tawn, think of something you don’t want to do that’s about three steps down from the tank-cleaning project as far as sheer undesirability. Set up all the supplies needed for this new task, schedule a block of time for it, and get set to start. Then think, “Wow, that fishtank is really scrungy-looking.” That’s my best suggestion …

    • Bee says:

      Dear Tawn’s fish, I suggest moping about at the top of the water like you are considering becoming a floater fish. It may encourage her to refresh your water. Don’t be too successful in your “I may be dying” act, though, or you may get flushed. And I hate to say it, but the toilet does NOT in fact lead to a pure running stream that goes straight to the Willamette River, then to the Columbia, then to the Pacific Ocean, as is the legend in my house.

  2. Margie says:

    My nephew likes to tell me that his “mind has gone camping” when he loses focus on the goal at hand! Unfortunately, when this happens, he gets absolutely nothing done!

  3. mysoulforsale says:

    I simply must comment because you and I share this advanced level of procrastination. When I have work to do, and set aside a time in advance to do it, my house gets a going over like it hasn’t seen for months!

    At the end of the day, as long as the house is clean and the work is done, I don’t really care what order it happens in. Eventually, one does run out of things to procrastinate with, and the deadline does loom so near that the boss could actually be dialing your number on their telephone to ask if you will be dropping the work of or couriering it, so the work (eventually) gets done too, even if it gets done in a sheer panic. Done is done, right?

    So what if you shave a few years off your life because of the stress you cause yourself? Odds are that those were the diaper years that you weren’t going to be too crazy about anyway.

    Great post, and great blog. Your writing is a pleasure to read.

  4. ABruce says:

    Simple solution to cleaning fishbowl….one tab of TriChlor ( at least 900gms/Kg of avail chlorine ). Swimming pool strength. Then forget for 6 months. Leif Erikson may be none too happy though, but he’ll be a stronger ( rigamortis strength ) fishy for it. Give you much more time for Tea drinking – you’d make a wonderful English lady with all that ‘English Breakfast’ ( sorry – note correction from ‘British Breakfast’ ) caffine. ps Liking the FS avo. too.

    • ABruce says:

      B I had a sudden 2a.m. flush of panic that my earlier chlorine ramblings might be taken seriously. I know that you know I was being facetious – and that that amount of chlorine would MELT the fish tank and about a mile of ground surrounding it – thereby eliminating the need to clean it – but others mightn’t. So ignore. Then I had 4am thought that maybe the standard ‘English Breakfast’ tea had been relabelled for the American market – in an attempt to plaster over the cracks of any implied cross-border Anglo-Welsh-Scotii superiority. Anyway I doubt any true Scotsman or descendant thereof would be seen anywhere near anything labelled ‘English’ – so just another example of PC craziness I guess. So ignore my English v British tea ravings as well. In fact, I would like to delete the whole of my previous posting – but the aforementioned chlorine seems to have started eating through my desk…..and my keyboard….and OMG my fingers…a..n..d…

      • Bee says:

        Drat. Did you just melt into a horrid little puddle of chlorinated goo? I shall be most unhappy if you did.

        I did gather that not feeding poor Fishfish (his nickname, which is admittedly not very clever) for six months might result in his skeletonisation, so I took it with a large grain of salt. He is currently residing in his new home on top of the chest of drawers in my room, since his old home on the kitchen counter was proving to be too tempting to the new kitty. She seemed to think he would make a lovely treat if she could just get him out of the bowl, and after several increasingly sincere attempts on her part to get MUCH better acquainted with Fishfish, I moved him.

        I have yet to find a difference between British Breakfast and English Breakfast teas from American tea companies. My current tea of choice (well, second favorite, but I’m almost out of the Typhoo my English friend Helen mailed to me) is the British Breakfast made by Republic of Tea – the tea comes from the usual places, but it’s a California-based company, so who knows what they actually know about anything. It’s darn good tea, though. Full-leaf loose tea, brewed properly … delightful. I am very proud of my Scottish ancestry, but there are enough English tea-drinkers mixed in there that I can’t even consider not drinking tea.

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