#134: Deadlines and Mother Projects

Turned in my manuscript on Monday. That makes it sound like homework which I guess in some ways it was. My roommate remarked in the preceding week that I seemed surprisingly regular with my routine; I was keeping up with my usual hobbies and activities in spite of the deadline. I did write maybe an hour more each day than usual but otherwise it’s true, my work on this draft was better-paced and less end-heavy than previous drafts. It was a far cry from pulling all-nighters to write entire essays in college, or sitting before first period in my high school library with the other AP-class slackers, finishing the calc or chem homework due later that day.

For every recurrent experience in our lives there is an ancestor, some prototypical first experience or experiences, a mother- or father-event that sets the template for how subsequent events unfold. It’s our tendency, I believe, to want to (and not always consciously) try and recreate those first experiences; try to recapture the mother-trip or father-relationship or mother-breakfast-burrito. We in an unguarded moment have something profound happen to us and later we cling to elements of that experience for comfort. We often emphasize the wrong aspects, falsely pantomime a virginal event rather than the conditions that led to it. We find stash of food in a cave and keep going back to the cave long after sustenance is gone. And we tell ourselves and others, with some dismay, “I need an external deadline” or “I can’t work any other way,” like we’re watching remakes of the same film and criticizing its lack of freshness, while forgetting that we are also the ones remaking the films.

The story of the prototypical project for me – and maybe you, too – goes like this: There is an initial rush of inspiration, head or notebook filled with ideas, followed by a dry spell, a period of procrastination. Then as the deadline approaches: increasing dread, guilt, self-blame and, finally, when the fear of complete failure eclipses the fear of not being excellent, all-nighters are pulled and weekends are worked, and then – fuck it – it’s good enough.

But this is just one story, just one way of living out a project. Another might be that of ease and steady effort, of ebbs and flows independent of calendar time. We work when it’s natural to work and stop when natural to stop. We find a way of working that serves the moment and task at hand, rather than the memory of projects long past. It doesn’t mean we ignore deadlines or never pull all-nighters, but rather we unravel our normal associations with deadlines. We make our story that there is more than one story; we identify the mother-experiences and fight myopia. We strive continually to see beyond, farther and wider than before.