Thursday, March 4, 2010

Best for Last

When I was a kid, I had a bed full of stuffed animals of every shape and size. My favorites were a sock monkey with rhinestone eyes and checked dress named Monkey, and a pink, beanbag rabbit called Pinky. Every night I would pick one stuffed animal to sleep with. Almost every night, I would pick any animal but my two favorites. I was worried that the other animals would get their feelings hurt if I overlooked them. Instead of cuddling up with Monkey or Pinky, I’d share my bed with animals I neither loved nor liked to cuddle just to demonstrate my lack of favoritism.

Perhaps all the patterns of our lives are set at a young age because this week it has come to my attention that I’m still doing the same thing. (For the record, I do not mean I am still sleeping with stuffed animals or inviting men into my bed in an attempt to keep them from the knowledge that I prefer my husband’s company.)

The semester has taken off like a runaway train, and not in the good way, but in the “careening towards derailment and certain death” kind of way. I’m teaching four online classes, and while I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew, I have a mouthful that requires two fingers pressed to my lips to keep the Fritos from spilling out. This week, one of my best and favorite creative writing students sent me an email pointing out that she hasn’t gotten a grade on a single assignment. Neither have several of her classmates. After spending the entire weekend critiquing, grading, and sending out regular mea culpas, I thought I should figure out how I had let this happen.

1. I am a procrastinator. If there is something I don’t want to do, I will do virtually anything to avoid it.

2. I just moved to Seattle and just got married and I’m learning how to be a city dweller and wife. Some days I’m distracted.

3. Hello. Four online classes are equal to six regular classes because I can’t make up lectures on the fly and I grade more slowly when I’m not using a pen.

The problem with these reasons is that I’m not behind in the other three classes, one first year composition class and two research writing classes. The workload for these classes is just as heavy. Heavier, really, because the subject matter is often tedious. (See how many papers you can read on cloning or the health care debate before you’re ready to tear your hair out.)

4. The creative writing class is the last tab on the interface I’m using and some days when the clock is edging towards 6 p.m., I see that final tab of the day, turn into Scarlett O’Hara, and say, “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” The next day, I start again with the composition classes and end up in exactly the same spot. At some point, perhaps, it should have dawned on me that insanity is continuing to do the same thing yet expecting different results.

5. The most likely reason, I’m convinced, is that while I am a procrastinator when it comes to doing things I have no interest in, I’m a much worse procrastinator when it is comes something I really want to do. I teach composition so once or twice a year I can teach a single creative writing class. The intro class is my favorite because I love watching students move from “easy A” mentality to “this is hard, good work.” Getting to witness that and help them tease out their inner, better writer, is a real joy. So I save that class until last, and sometimes last is too late.

It shouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out what I was doing because this is the same behavior I demonstrate towards the other thing I most want to do: write. While I’m not afraid the laundry, dishes, correspondence or sit-coms will get their feelings hurt if I put writing above them, it is disturbing to see how often I dally with these activities to postpone the gratification I feel when I do the thing I love. Maybe instead of a procrastinator it’s time to admit that what I really am is a masochist.

My long weekend of catching up is already paying off. I’ve gotten revisions back that are much improved and my inbox has been full of enthusiastic emails from students who now don’t feel like they are alone in the void. They’ve forgiven me, the way Monkey and Pinky regularly did when I would finally spend quality time with them. I don’t like to disappoint people, so I’m not worried about falling into old patterns and forsaking these students since I’ve realized my error. It won’t happen.

Now, if I could be just as certain that I would do the same for myself: show the favoritism, do the writing

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