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Do I have to?

Certain experiences are universal to mankind. Two come to mind: death and procrastination. Death and procrastination are inescapable. Today, I want to address the latter.

I caught myself procrastinating earlier today. Yes, I succumbed to following link after link on YouTube until I found myself in that space where useless tidbits of weird information are fruitful and multiply. Enter that place and you know what top supermodels wore when they went shopping in Manhattan that morning. You also get to know what some girl you met at camp when you were 12 thinks about “Hamilton” only winning 11 out of 16 Tony Awards.

I was letting this essential information sink in when I had an epiphany. The desire to do anything but the task at hand is something people have felt since the beginning of time. With that illumination in mind, I started imagining episodes of procrastination over the centuries.

King Menelaus was engaged in a staring contest with dishes that had accumulated in a stone basin. Reclined on his chair, he alternated between looking at the dishes and the glistening Mediterranean. Menelaus thought of Helen, who was off somewhere in Troy with that ridiculous man, Paris. He missed Helen for many reasons, but at that moment he longer for the gentle and silent way in which she washed dishes.

At the same time, he knew better than to dwell on the past. He was a man of action. The only thing left to do was to wash the dishes. Resigned, he stood, still unsure of his commitment to the task. He ambled towards the basin, and with limp hands finally grasped the top dish. How disgusting, he thought. There was nothing worse than touching someone else’s food scraps. He had walked bloody battlefields and looked his would-be killer in the face and lived to tell the tale. That he could handle. But crusty tzatziki he could not.

Revolted, he dropped the plate. Surely there was some other more pressing matter that required his complete attention.

Menelaus racked his brains. Then, a stroke of inspiration! He would not do the dishes. Instead, he would assemble an army, wait for the go-ahead from the gods, and cross the sea to rescue Helen from the clutches of the moronic Paris.

Yes, that would be time better spent. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to do the dishes, but saving Helen suddenly seemed somehow more pressing. And he would finish the dishes as soon as he got back with her, honest. Or she would. He’d wait and see how they felt when they got back, he decided.

Napoleon eyed the supply list in his quarters. He was supposed to be approving the military inventory supplied to his last campaign. But it was tedious and bored him.

Napoleon reflected on the stupid way he’d gotten himself into this predicament. He’d caught a young (and tall) corporal filing this inventory incorrectly. Normally, would have instructed a general to deal with the corporal, but the tall corporal’s popularity — he’d heard him mentioned before — made Napoleon want to conquer his short man’s insecurity. So, Napoleon made a big scene about how the corporal’s mistakes had caused havoc and that he, Napoleon Bonaparte, would fix things by doing them himself.

But now the anger he felt toward the corporal mingled with his frustration at being stuck with such a trivial task. Well, not completely trivial. Bad filing was as damaging as a bad army. The most maddening detail was how simple a task it was. Why, he could finish it in 30 minutes, even 20 if he didn’t pause to drink his chamomile, though that would anger his wife.

With renewed intent, Napoleon stormed toward his desk. But just as he did, his eyes fell on a map of Egypt. Ah, Egypt! The next frontier! To conquer Egypt would be to conquer history! And it would certainly take precedence over filing. Napoleon inwardly rejoiced at what he was sure would be a quick and successful campaign.

There are other, more modest uses for procrastination. My favorite at the moment is how it can help you write that elusive column you’d been putting off.