Another Week Ends

1. Good news for the procrastinators out there. The Wall Street Journal published “How To […]

Ethan Richardson / 8.17.12

1. Good news for the procrastinators out there. The Wall Street Journal published “How To Be A Better Procrastinator” this week, which analyzes when and why procrastinators procrastinate–and, surprise suprise–it has a lot to do with judgment and perfectionism. Normalizing its symptoms, the article gives some gracious comfort to those who have always looked at their habits as a hedge to their successes. In fact, it’s just a part of being human. And more than that, the dawdling before getting down to business doubles as a fruitful getting lost that actually aids productivity and creativity. Still, people are inclined to view it as an addictive escapade, a willpower-bereft thorn in the side. The article posits, fine, but, just like any other thorn in the side, it’s best to move into those weaknesses than to work against them or away from them.

Second, don’t sit around feeling bad because you lack willpower. That will make you a depressed procrastinator but won’t help you get anything done. Most of us lack all kinds of powers. I can’t lift my car by the bumper in order to change a tire. That’s what jacks are for. I can’t add long columns of figures in my head. That’s what calculators are for. Tools give us the ability to make up for what we lack in native powers. The procrastinator has tools that allow him to manipulate himself to achieve results he can’t get with willpower alone.

Suppose you are like me, and once you fire up your laptop to check your email, you are in danger of spending the whole morning on the Net, doing increasingly useless things. Some correspondent mentions Tajikistan; you don’t know much about Tajikistan, so you Google it. You read the Wikipedia article. Which leads you to the Basmarchi Revolt. Before long the morning is mostly gone; you have learned a lot about the history of Central Asia but haven’t done your expense report, or even finished reading your email.

…A third bit of advice: avoid perfectionism. I don’t mean avoid doing things perfectly. If you are at all like me, that’s not a problem. I mean avoid fantasizing about doing things perfectly. Often procrastination is just a way of giving ourselves permission to do a less-than-perfect job on something that doesn’t require a perfect job anyway. Or maybe it’s a way of getting those we work with to the point where they say, “For crying out loud, just give me something!” You need to give your boss a memo that provides the basic facts; it doesn’t need to read like Hemingway.

2. The light lack-of-willpower brushing in the WSJ article is given the full disclosure in the realm of shop therapy; an ad campaign at Lucky Magazine is branded “Fill the Void” and uses not-so-subtle lines to tap into the pain receptors of future shoppers and readers. The Washington Post tells more (ht MZ):

“Few ads have had the chutzpah to spread this message as directly and blatantly as the new ‘Fill the Void’ series from the magazine,” Tuttle writes.

Here are some of the advertising slogans: “My boyfriend dumped me via text.” “My longest relationship is with my doorman.” “My intern is the only one following me on Twitter.”

Under each line is a product – a trendy shoe, handbag or dress — and the tagline that says “Fill The Void,” as a way to encourage women to shop to cope. “Change The Way You Shop This Fall,” the ads say. The ads are part of a new e-commerce platform,, which is scheduled to launch online Friday, Aug. 17, reports an Ad Age blog.

“For advertisers, it’s a common strategy to manipulate consumers by tapping into their feelings of loneliness, worthlessness and despondency,” Whitbourne says in the Time article. “But because the items that these depressed shoppers may buy can never really ‘fill the void,’ advertisers set up these shoppers for a further cycle of depression and despair should they drain those designer wallets by overspending.”

What’s wild–and more indicative of the condition, I think–is knowing it’s an ad agency tactic, completely understanding it’s a trap, and still buying it to fill the void. At least the serpent told a liesurely you will not die–and humans believed the lie. We rationally understand the truth here, from experience, that shop therapy is both designed against the consumer and immensely ill-suited for existential void-filling. Nonetheless, if there was no gap between Ought and Is, there’d be no Void anyways…

3) Speaking of the un-free will, Dan Siedell–who will be speaking at our Charlottesville Fall Conference–provides an amazing reflection on the relationship between the artist and his or her work, and what that says specifically about the bondage of the will. Siedell, whose article is found over at Patheos, begins by asking whether or not an artist’s art, product, piece, is a direct extension of the will of the artist in se. How attached is art to the intention of the artist or, even more, his or her biography? Siedell says that the unfree will means an artist in perpetually incurvatus in se, turned inward, bound to the mystery of one’s self–which means that they create without fully even knowing what their own intentions are. Again, we see the chasm between what is and what is even possibly intended:

But this gap between the artist and his life, thoughts, and intentions, is theological. It is founded on the unfree will of the artist. We are trained to believe that art is about the expression of freedom. Although few would put it quite this way, artists recognize—through intuition and feeling—that they possess a radically unfree will. One of the many consequences of this unfree will is that it even makes one’s heart a mystery to the one who possesses it. If my will is not free, it cannot be transparent to me, much less to anyone else. And artists by their own work as artists recognize this. Indeed their work is an attempt to search those unfathomable and mysterious depths of their own hearts and their own understanding. Artists make paintings, poems, stories, and song not to express what they already know and feel (evidence of a free will) but try to discover something about themselves they do not know. Scripture is saturated with evidence that supports the prophet Jeremiah’s lament, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jer 17: 9)?  Artists, more than anyone else, are confronted with the convoluted mystery and frustrating opacity (and darkness) of one’s own heart, the impossibility of knowing one’s own intentions. Artists know they work with a radically unfree will when they finish a painting, stand back to look at it and realize it is doing something they not only did not expect but could not control.

Only those who expect a work of art to make an artist’s beliefs, thoughts, and ideas transparent assume that the artist’s will is free, free to be known unambiguously by the possessor and then, through the work of art, by the viewer. But artists follow St. Paul, who made much of the war inside himself, that maddening disjunction between what he wants and what happens, the old and the new Adam (Rom 7: 21-25), which made him incapable even to judge his own intentions (1 Cor 4: 3-4).

4) The interwebs have been blowing up about the recent Religion News Service poll, which says that now 1 in 20 Americans are confessionally atheist. It might explain this week’s NYT blooper in reference to John’s Gospel: “Since Christ was understood to be the carnal manifestation of the Scriptures — the Word made flesh, according to the literary scholar James Kearney — the Bible was reflexively endowed with human properties.”

5) When it comes to unmet expectations, unmet hopes for a better life, unmet ladder-climbing aspirations, the lower class will take their dreams deferred, and wants none of the trappings that comes with being richer, so says the brilliant Onion piece (ht CTP):

“I can’t even fathom what it would be like to drag yourself to work every morning actually believing that someday it will all pay off,” said Bronx, NY substitute teacher David McGrath, who along with his wife and 2-year-old son survives on food stamps. “Or to practically kill yourself for a job promotion or meager raise while under the delusion that you can work your way to the top. People waste the best years of their life doing that, and it’s a [expletive] tragedy.”

…”Imagine how traumatic it is to grow up feeling like a failure because you think you have some kind of control over what you achieve in life,” said Dana Joerger, a 31-year-old waitress and single mother of three in Stockton, CA. “I just hope and pray my family never falls into the endless cycle of disappointment that plagues our middle class.”

Researchers also found that people who were once part of the nation’s middle class experience a profound sense of relief upon moving down the country’s socioeconomic ladder and finding themselves on the bottom rung. “Honestly, I can’t tell you how much better I feel these days,” said 42-year-old former IT technician Ryan Tunnicliffe, who last April lost his job and, subsequently, his house. “Just knowing I no longer have to strive for something completely and utterly out of reach is such a load off my mind.”

6) After the Mel Gibson saga, Jodie Foster has become a sort of bottom-rung-celebrity advocate. She continues that with her piece over at the Daily Beast, in light of the frenzied tabloid-vampire-feeding on Kristen Stewart. The entire piece is worth reading, but what’s really powerful is her understanding of the vulnerability in store for the actress today, the complete loss of compassion in the world of cameras and sunglasses, and the way to completely disarm the accusers: throwing your arms up in surrender at getting it right.

Acting is all about communicating vulnerability, allowing the truth inside yourself to shine through regardless of whether it looks foolish or shameful. To open and give yourself completely. It is an act of freedom, love, connection. Actors long to be known in the deepest way for their subtleties of character, for their imperfections, their complexities, their instincts, their willingness to fall. The more fearless you are, the more truthful the performance. How can you do that if you know you will be personally judged, skewered, betrayed? If you’re smart, you learn to willfully disassociate, to compartmentalize. Putting your emotions into a safety box definitely comes in handy when the public throws stones. The point is to survive, intact or not, whatever the emotional cost. Actors who become celebrities are supposed to be grateful for the public interest. After all, they’re getting paid. Just to set the record straight, a salary for a given on-screen performance does not include the right to invade anyone’s privacy, to destroy someone’s sense of self.

…Cut to: Today … A beautiful young woman strides down the sidewalk alone, head down, hands drawn into fists. She’s walking fast, darting around huge men with black cameras thrusting at her mouth and chest. “Kristen, how do you feel?” “Smile Kris!” “Hey, hey, did you get her?” “I got her. I got her!” The young woman doesn’t cry… She doesn’t look up. She’s learned. She keeps her head down, her shades on, fists in her pockets. Don’t speak. Don’t look. Don’t cry.

My mother had a saying that she doled out after every small injustice, every heartbreak, every moment of abject suffering. “This too shall pass.” God, I hated that phrase. It always seemed so banal and out of touch, like she was telling me my pain was irrelevant. Now it just seems quaint, but oddly true … Eventually this all passes. The public horrors of today eventually blow away. And, yes, you are changed by the awful wake of reckoning they leave behind. You trust less. You calculate your steps. You survive. Hopefully in the process you don’t lose your ability to throw your arms in the air again and spin in wild abandon. That is the ultimate F.U. and—finally—the most beautiful survival tool of all. Don’t let them take that away from you.

And, finally, also in Hollywood, Keanu Reeves talks a Bill & Ted sequel with cosmic gospel implications! From Newser:

The third Bill & Ted movie may actually happen: “We have a nice story. We’ll see if anyone else wants to make it,” Keanu Reeves tells GQ. The story involves middle-aged Bill and Ted “crushed by the responsibility of having to write the greatest song ever written and to change the world,” Reeves says. “And they haven’t done it. So everybody is kind of like: ‘Where is the song?’ The guys have just drifted off into esoterica and lost their rock.”

Well, what do you do when you’ve drifted off like dust in the wind, dude?


And happy 25th, Shark Week!