How to procrastinate your way to a list story

Thursday, March 1, 2012

1. Begin procrastination. Tell yourself you need to get your other work done so that you can clear your mind so that you can be creative, and besides, it’s not really procrastination if you’re doing other work. Moreover, James Surowiecki admitted he procrastinates on his writing assignments, and he writes for the New Yorker, so surely you can, too. By the way, did you know that the root of the word “procrastinate” is from the Latin word for tomorrow? I didn’t either, until just now. I think it’s brilliant.

2. Realize that you will never get your other work done. Open computer. Check email. Check New York Times website. Read story about ancient horse that shrank during a period of warming 56 million years ago. Note that one of the scientists quoted in the story is named Koch, and start thinking about the Koch brothers (presumably unrelated), one of whom funded the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins in the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum. Remember how annoyed you were that this exhibit spun past climate change as an important driver of human evolution. Wonder how David H. Koch would spin the shrinking horse. Remember Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article in which she quotes the museum’s director saying Koch was “completely hands off.” Scoff.

3. Close browser; open word processing program. Stare at blank white rectangle. Wonder about the neurological basis for writer’s block. Discover that this, too, has been discussed in the New Yorker. Evidently at least one neuroscientist believes we may soon be able to cure writer’s block by magnetically stimulating parts of our brain. Rejoice.

4. Read other list stories for inspiration. Then remember beautiful list story from Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, in which he uses the rings of an oak tree he saws through to tell the history of his land in reverse chronological order. Find book; find story; reread story. Wish you were enough of a woodsman and Wisconsin natural historian to update Leopold’s list for 2012. Make note to self to return to this topic in 20 years, and to go to the Sand County Almanac reading at the UW-Madison arboretum this weekend if you can.

5. Wonder if Aldo Leopold ever wrote for the New Yorker. Conduct search, find nothing.

6. Return to blank white rectangle. Start thinking of ideas. History of discovery of climate change—too depressing. Steps to becoming a tomato plant—too esoteric. Ways you can tell if you got toxoplasmosis from your cat—too weird. (Apparently a third of the world may be infected with toxo, according to a recent Atlantic article. So are you really procrastinating, or is it the toxo making you do it?)

7. Have brilliant idea: the numbers in your list can be the world’s human population, progressing along a logarithmic scale (1, 10, 100, 1000, etc), and the elements can describe conditions on earth at the time. Realize you have no idea what was happening when world’s population was any of those numbers. Besides, remind self that somewhere along the way we became part Neanderthal, as discussed by Elizabeth Kolbert in a recent (you guessed it) New Yorker article.

8. Realize you’ve written a list story. Wonder why ideas worth writing only surface at midnight or later. Go to bed.