Is procrastination underrated?

June 1st, 2011

shredded documentsWhen the strident voice inside becomes unbearable, exhorting me to write something, anything, to earn the term writer for the day or risk being a failure, I rebel. My rebellion is passive-aggressive, a stalling tactic, timeworn and all-too-effective. I procrastinate. Although procrastination does not silence the harangue, it certainly distracts. My current delaying tactic is to shred old financial documents, tax receipts and medical insurance claims. Like all activities that disguise themselves as urgent: tweezing, organizing emails into category folders, brushing the cats until they’re free of dandruff, the shredding task can certainly wait. Then again, if I never get around to it at all, I risk devolving into the kind of person surrounded by monstrous piles of papers and receipts that not only constitute a fire hazard but also require carving a path through the wall of scraps just to get from kitchen to bathroom. Shredding has to be done. I can’t just toss this information into the recycling bin or the trash without risking identity theft.

Unfortunately, kneeling on the floor feeding paper into the teeth of a screaming machine while bits of confetti stick to my legs and collect along the baseboards and cling to the books in the lower bookshelves is neither satisfying in itself like, for instance, culling the bookshelves is, nor gratifying when completed, like bleaching the kitchen countertops is. Because even as a year’s worth of evidence of all the crap I bought—chocolates from Chicago, vacuum cleaner bags, books and more books, writeoffable taxi rides, rental cars in Peoria, correspondence with my insurance company when they refused to pay for my yearly physical because I did not wait a full twelve months after my previous physical, hey, I remember that, but I’m beginning to doze off in the dull static of outdated dailiness, with enough detritus to pack a legal-size accordion envelope to bursting, even as, little-by-little it disappears into the shredder, more documents amass by the day.

The pressing question arises: Why, when we live in a paperless world that renders hard copies obsolete, is shredding even necessary? Let the stuff live in the computer cloud, and be free! No more filing bills, bank statements, insurance benefits, tax returns. Trash those penda-flex hanging file folders. This was my thinking two years ago until the IRS hit me with a query 886-A, a form that demanded explanations for declared expenses in 2005 and 2006. When I could not access copies of my checks online, I requested them from my bank. Talk about hidden fees—try $30 per check and add up a year’s worth! Apparently, after six months my data vanishes into a great depository that only the bank has access to, and that requires expensive administrative effort to retrieve. Never mind it’s my data! That argument won’t wash with HSBC. So I will stay loyal to my current procrastination and instead of writing, I will shred. Accounting wisdom states: keep all receipts for five years. Keep copies of tax returns in perpetuity. Perpetuity is a powerful delusion. It means that copies of my tax returns will outlast me. I like to imagine my fiction, too, will outlast me. Shredding connects me to the truth of impermanence in a way that writing never will.

So I give thanks for my creative work because otherwise, I might never clear out the old to make room for the new. And I give thanks for my procrastination because it gives me the means to remember what’s important.