Amanda Gates
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A Musings

"Later: What does Procrastination Tell Us About Ourselves?" is an interesting, thorough look at why people procrastinate. Author James Surowiecki provides several examples, several means of thought and several different discussions on the case. As someone who procrastinates with the best of them (or perhaps better than most), I was most definitely interested in the article. As with many New Yorker pieces, the prose was slightly overblown and a little long, but many of the examples Surowiecki offers ring true. For example:

A similar phenomenon is at work in an experiment run by a group including the economist George Loewenstein, in which people were asked to pick one movie to watch that night and one to watch at a later date. Not surprisingly, for the movie they wanted to watch immediately, people tended to pick lowbrow comedies and blockbusters, but when asked what movie they wanted to watch later they were more likely to pick serious, important films. The problem, of course, is that when the time comes to watch the serious movie, another frothy one will often seem more appealing. This is why Netflix queues are filled with movies that never get watched: our responsible selves put “Hotel Rwanda” and “The Seventh Seal” in our queue, but when the time comes we end up in front of a rerun of “The Hangover.”

Hence, the reason why (besides having a baby) The Hurt Locker has been sitting next to our TV since March, and movies such as Couples Retreat have been watched and returned.

Another example:

We often procrastinate not by doing fun tasks but by doing jobs whose only allure is that they aren’t what we should be doing. My apartment, for instance, has rarely looked tidier than it does at the moment.

So true. It’s only the home tasks, like laundry, grocery shopping and dishes, that get done when they need to – because we have to eat and wear clothes to live day to day, but we don’t have to have dusted tables or clean bathrooms - and even then, I only do these at the absolute last moment. Or, why when I have a pending freelance assignment, I can surf the Internet for longer than I believe one should surf the Internet.

Surowiecki wonders if procrastination is a sign of weakness. While in some cases it could be, I also think it’s just the way some people’s minds work, especially if we don’t have deadlines to work with. The author provides an example of college students, who are given the choice to turn three papers in at staggered deadlines or all at once at the end of the semester. Smartly, the students pick the staggered deadlines, knowing enough about themselves that if they didn’t, they would all be writing three papers during the last week of the semester.

Procrastination also depends on what type of task we’re working on. Writes the author,

That’s why David Allen, the author of the best-selling time-management book “Getting Things Done,” lays great emphasis on classification and definition: the vaguer the task, or the more abstract the thinking it requires, the less likely you are to finish it.

This can go right along with the idea of having too many choices in life, which we do. He writes,

Another way of making procrastination less likely is to reduce the amount of choice we have: often when people are afraid of making the wrong choice they end up doing nothing. So companies might be better off offering their employees fewer investment choices in their 401(k) plans, and making signing up for the plan the default option.

How many times have you let an opportunity go by because you just couldn’t decide what action to take? It happens all. the. time.

In the end, I’d say I’m a middle-of-the-road procrastinator. When something’s due far out, I’ll put it off and put it off, even if I could get it done in 30 minutes and cross it off the list today. But, I also think I need those deadlines - and produce some pretty good work, when I have the pressure of looming deadlines. I also have the strong mentality that things will just work out, which is why, even though I was panicking a bit when I was still searching for daycare after our baby was born, I wasn't too panicked. Everything, for 30 years, has just always worked out, or gotten done, and that did, too.

Why do you think people procrastinate? Is it just human nature?

[Edited to add: Willikat brought to my attention the term incubator, which may be a better word to describe some of us who consider ourselves procrastinators.]

Posted: Mon, 10/04/2010 - 21:34 | Comments: 1

Since I love most everything by John Krakauer, I knew I wanted to read Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. It’s been on my Amazon wish list awhile, and when I finally got it, it was already out in paperback. Turns out this was great because a few things happened since the book was first published in early 2009 and Krakauer was able to add some snippets in and fill out the story even more.

After just the first five pages I was already sad and depressed. War really sucks. However, I tend to live in my own little world and go about my day, so I felt a bit out of the loop when it came to some of the aspects of the war(s). Krakauer alternates telling us about Pat Tillman with telling us about Afghan history and the war. It would’ve been easy to just think of Tillman as your typical football jock, a rough-and-tough meathead. But Tillman was the opposite. Sure, he was strong and fast and could tackle like any other NFL defensive player, but he also read the classics, wrote in a journal, cried when he was overwhelmed and hiked alone so he could think. For him, football wasn’t about the money (i.e. he turned down a $9 million deal from the Rams and continued to play for Arizona for $500,000), it was about the challenge. He didn’t enlist after 9-11 just to go “shoot ‘em up.” He believed it was his duty. And then when he got to boot camp and was surrounded by a bunch of immature babies, he questioned his decision. When he felt the war in Iraq was illegal (he enlisted to fight in Afghanistan, not Iraq), he thought about quitting. And if he wasn’t so strong willed and committed, maybe he would’ve quit. But he made a deal, and he wasn’t going to break it. He was honorable. His journal entries were amazing and really let you see inside the man he was. He was a true hero, and it’s insulting and criminal the way the Army and the government disgraced him and his family.

I know politics is all about the spin. And I fully learned through Where Men Win Glory just how much spin there is. I work in the media, so I understand, too, what it means to market something. And, sure, it makes sense that a government may have to market a war. I just didn’t realize to what extent the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were marketed. They actually have their own marketing departments; people paid to spin the bad news into good, or if there is no good, do their best to cover up the bad. To use the “rescue” of Jessica Lynch as a means to cover up the fact that the first dozen or so deaths of the war were actually deaths by friendly fire? That takes some serious spin. To burn the uniform of Pat Tillman and force his comrades to lie to the Tillman family (and so many other bad, bad things) as a means to cover up his death by friendly fire? To make his mom fight the government for three years just to get the truth? I have no words; it’s just so sad.

And this whole friendly fire thing? I had no idea how common it was. I knew it happened, but I had this weird notion that it only happened in some confusing ground battle, where amongst all the ruckus, it’s hard to see who’s the enemy and who isn’t. Well, we don't really fight wars like that anymore, do we? It seems friendly fire really happens because these kids are inexperienced, have never shot weapons before, aren’t trained to use radios properly and everything just becomes a big hot mess. All the kids get on the radio at the same time, jam the frequencies and the necessary messages aren’t relayed, so our jets never learn that those tanks they’re dropping bombs on are actually American soldiers. Are you kidding me? Or, the mixed messages from the top commanders - who aren't on the ground themselves - are forced upon lieutenants who, while they disagree, must follow orders and people end up getting hurt. I understand there will be casualties of war, and I understand mistakes will happen and people will die, but after reading this book, I wonder if we’re even learning from our mistakes? Things don’t seem to be getting better.

The book was eye opening and informative. I learned a lot about the war that I think I either glazed over previously or just didn’t know about. Or, I heard the first spinned account of some story (Jessica Lynch) and then when the truth came out, I never heard the less-publicized follow up. And while the war part of the book was most definitely interesting to read, I truly loved learning about Pat Tillman and his strong and charming family. His strength, his truth, his beliefs were heart warming and inspirational and I’m glad I got to know more about him.

Posted: Thu, 09/30/2010 - 04:06 |

I loved Freakonomics, the book. Even though the authors were sometimes talking about complicated functions and pieces of cultural life, the everyday language and great humor made the book come off really well. It's one of those books you read where you just want to tell everyone you see about what you just read. Things that people think are related are not. It's pretty cool. I have the sequel on my shelf ready to read.

When I heard they were making a movie out of the book, I wasn't sure how it would come across. But the movie has some pretty important and talented people behind it. Looks good!
Posted: Tue, 09/28/2010 - 02:56 | Comments: 2
Posted: Thu, 09/23/2010 - 02:54 | Comments: 1

As I've done last year and the year before, I'd like to take a moment to celebrate the Twins. While it may not be as edge-of-my-seat crazy as last year's game 163 or 2008's tie breaker loss to the White Sox (though I think we forgive Jim Thome by now), I'm actually happy to skip the drama this year and have our team wrap it up a whole three series before the end of the season. The fact that we did this after a pretty depressing first half and without our favorite Canadian and stellar closer, well, once again our scrappy team proves they ain't so scrappy after all.

Now, as always the playoffs will prove to be ridiculous. Yankees or Rays? Really? Like Aaron Gleeman says, Pick Your Poison. I cautiously choose the Rays, because man, do I hate those Yankees. Even if we're close to being the better team, we just lose our mojo around those guys. And while it'd be better to just have to play a five-game ALDS series against them instead of seven games in the second round, I'd rather give another team (ahem, Texas) a chance to beat them first. But the Rays are awesome, too, so I repeat: Ridiculous.

Yet, exciting. Go Twins!

And maybe it's because I'm utterly exhausted today from a night of only 1.5 hours of straight sleep, but this Sports Illustrated article on new fan-favorite Jim Thome made me cry. He's a class act, that man, and I'm so glad he's coming with us to the playoffs. Hopefully his awesome attitude and mega muscles will get us past at least the first round. I'm also glad we get SI at home. That cover is going on the fridge.

Posted: Wed, 09/22/2010 - 04:37 |

Meghan O'Rourke of Slate asks a very intriguing question: why are women so infrequently heralded as great novelists? I never really thought about it (stupid, I know) until I read this column and began nodding my head over and over. So often women's fiction is considered "rom com," "click lit" or "beach read." Nothing more. But there are plenty of fabulous female authors out there - current ones, even, not just your Brontes, Austens, etc. - so why aren't they considered more frequently on the best-of-all-time lists? Is it because most of our reviewers are men? Is it merely an unconscious movement? Is it because female authors tend to write about female characters? If those "great American novels" had been written by women, would they never have been called great? Should women authors start sending in manuscripts with male pseudonyms? Something to think about at least. A few quotes from the article that I enjoyed:

"In many circumstances, we also simply assume men are more talented: Before the advent of blind auditions, fewer than 5 percent of the players in major American symphonies were women. But after blind auditions began to be held, the percentage of female players soared almost tenfold. Is there any reason to believe our evaluations of literary talent (which almost always happen with full knowledge of a writer's gender) are uninfluenced by that kind of unconscious bias?"

"Studies have shown, for instance, that in the face of subtle discouragement (facial expressions and so forth) candidates perform less well. It's really, really hard to write a book. It takes a lot of time and solitude. In my experience, women are not as good at insisting they need that time and solitude. (I wonder how many female writers have, like me, sometimes wished they were a man so everyone—family, friends, partners—would understand a little better when they go in the room and shut the door for weeks on end.)"

"There's the provocative female writer who was asked if she had an eating disorder because she is naturally skinny, and whom reporters badgered for information about the number of men she'd slept with... There's the author who sent out a proposal about John Lennon and learned that editors worried readers might not believe a woman could write with authority about a musician."

Posted: Mon, 09/20/2010 - 09:22 | Comments: 1

Ed Note: I can now see that once I started reading again after having a baby, I chose to stick to those authors I know. The last five books? Sequels or books by authors I've read before. I guess I find comfort and ease with the familiar. I'm doing it again currently with Where Men Win Glory by John Krakauer. After that one, I'm determined to read someone new.

I read Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield and loved, loved it. It was a sweet, heartbreaking sonnet to his late wife who died suddenly and much too young. Even if I didn’t know the music he was referring to as he memorialized their relationship through songs, I didn’t have to because the writing and the message took over.

I was hoping Talking to Girls about Duran Duran would give me the same feeling. This book is another memoir and it takes a peek insides Rob’s life during the ‘80s. Each chapter relates his experiences to a song/artist – Pat Benatar, Flock of Seagulls, Prince, etc - during a year of the decade. While his writing is still great and his self-deprecating humor still funny, I just couldn’t relate to this book very much. I found myself skimming chapters that meant little to me.

Now, this is not Sheffield’s fault. Once again, the writing is great, I was just born too late to appreciate his musings. Sheffield loved all kinds of music and most of it I’ve never heard of, or had no way of picking out the tune in my head. But, a few of the themes he focused on did resonate with me. I loved his relationship with his younger sisters. You can tell Sheffield learned a lot from these women while growing up, and I can guarantee that’s why he turned out sensitive, respectful and thoughtful. I also understand the way certain songs can stick with you and remind you of certain moments in time – though, I think a memoir about growing up in the ‘90s might hit closer to home with me. The chapter on his relationship with his grandfather was also super sweet. Plus, many of these years coincided with his teenage angst - sitting in his room alone listening to the radio and thinking about life and love - which we've all been through no matter what decade.

Funnily enough, the chapter about the New Kids on the Block (my Duran Duran – the band that all the girls loved and the boys hated and that, while no longer popular, I will defend to the grave my past love for) song Hangin’ Tough was actually the one I could relate to most. Sheffield talks about being 23 and his sister being 13 and the two of them creating mixed tapes for each other. He’d give her tapes with Depeche Mode and she give back something she was most interested it. Make my brother Sheffield and me his sister, same age difference, same music (my brother actually sent me a mix tape with Depeche Mode and I returned with Garth Brooks; I think we both didn't "get" the other's love, but we still shared and created the memory). I was nodding my head and remembering back fondly.

So, if you were a music-loving teenager or early-20-something during the ‘80s, you’ll probably love this book. Or, if you’re just a huge music fan, you could too. I’m just not quite the right demographic to love this book, though I definitely appreciate its sentiment.

Posted: Tue, 09/14/2010 - 03:37 | Comments: 1

I read Tana French’s first two books and really enjoyed them. Each book can be read separately from each other, but characters do overlap. Here’s the B&N; synopsis of Faithful Place:

Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was nineteen, growing up poor in Dublin's inner city, and living crammed into a small flat with his family on Faithful Place. But he had his sights set on a lot more. He and Rosie Daly were all ready to run away to London together, get married, get good jobs, break away from factory work and poverty and their old lives. But on the winter night when they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn't show. Frank took it for granted that she'd dumped him-probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again. Neither did Rosie. Everyone thought she had gone to England on her own and was over there living a shiny new life. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie's suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank is going home whether he likes it or not. Getting sucked in is a lot easier than getting out again. Frank finds himself straight back in the dark tangle of relationships he left behind. The cops working the case want him out of the way, in case loyalty to his family and community makes him a liability. Faithful Place wants him out because he's a detective now, and the Place has never liked cops. Frank just wants to find out what happened to Rosie Daly-and he's willing to do whatever it takes, to himself or anyone else, to get the job done.

I really liked Mackey as a character, and stories of people “going home again” can always be intriguing, especially when they don’t fit in all those years later. Mackey’s childhood has a real Angela’s Ashes feel to it, and as a reader you’re thankful he got out while he could. The mystery isn’t so mysterious; I pretty much had the outcome pegged early on. But, that doesn’t mean the story still isn’t interesting and entertaining. French can really create deep, flawed characters, and I like that about her. I also like the Dublin setting of all her books. While this one probably falls third, behind The Likeness and then In the Woods, it’s a close race among all three of her books. Classic mysteries with action, great detail, a little gore and main characters you can really root for.

Posted: Sat, 08/14/2010 - 05:15 |

Because I’m a fan of his, I wanted to read A.J. Jacob’s latest go round. I don’t know if other essay fans agree, but once you start reading someone frequently – like Sedaris, Orlean, etc. in places like The New Yorker, Esquire, etc. - and then they release their latest book of essays, you’ve already read a few. Same thing happened here. Because we used to get Esquire at home, I’d read a few of these essays previously. I did reread them here, but you do lose a bit of the excitement for the new book.

I’m jealous of Jacobs. He gets to work from home and think up crazy experiments to live for a week, a month, a year. Sure, it drives his wife (and soon his children) crazy, but the guy gets paid to be curious and screw around. Tough life.

My two favorite essays were when he outsourced his life to India, and when he spent a month being the perfect husband. In the first, he hired two sweethearts of assistants from India to do everything for him – shop, send his e-mails, organize his life, make his decisions. One even apologized to his wife for him and also sent his boss a disagreeing e-mail. Thing is? Both recipients were perfectly happy with their e-mails from A.J.’s assistants. She obviously handled things much better than he ever could. A truly funny essay.

To be the perfect husband, Jacobs decided to be less disagreeable to his wife’s requests, and also to be all-around more respectful to her. He also said he would do anything she asked and try to do all the chores. In her words, it was the best month of their marriage, and Jacobs actually agreed that they got along much better. He wasn’t snippy at her, he didn’t ask “why” or provide a snarky response to everything she said (in fact, he realized on like day two how often he did that and how that really was a jackass way to be). When she listed off the chores she does around the house, he fully admitted he had no idea how much she does. And, that he had no idea some of those things even qualified as chores – filling the soap dispensers, buying birthday cards, buying gifts, DVRing shows, paying bills, scheduling doctor appointments… Again, when he realized how much she did, and how little he contributed, he grew to respect her and their relationship a lot more. Grand experiment; I loved this chapter. I always thought in his other books that he gave his wife kind of a bad time.

So, fast, quick, funny read. However a touch repetitive, since I’d read a few already. But, I’m anxious to see what’s next from Jacobs. Again, what a life.

Posted: Sun, 08/01/2010 - 04:55 | Comments: 1

Since Mason was born, I've seen three movies in the theater. The hubby and I went to Iron Man II (not as good as the first, but a good, fun movie nonetheless) for our first date post-baby; the girls and I saw SATC II (also not as good as the first, but I'm sorry, I just love the girlfriend power of those four ladies. The movie could completely suck and I'd still love them all). And then, because grandma is always willing to babysit, I was able to make it to Eclipse as well. It took me about a month, and it was killing me that I couldn't get there sooner (thus is parenthood, though, and we're OK with it. Toy Story III looks like it'll have to be a rental). Wow - summer of sequels I guess!

I was extra excited for Eclipse because this was my most favorite of the four books in the series. There was ACTION in this one. Fighting! Vampires being ripped to shreds! Blood suckers and smelly dogs uniting together to fight! Unlike the other books, there wasn't any 'let's talk this out... OK, we'll let you live...'... there was violence and killing, and I liked it.

The movie didn't disappoint. The werewolves looked better than in New Moon. The actors weren't so teenage-angsty, though Taylor Lautner could still use some help in the acting area. I loved Charlie even more in this movie. The newborns were totally frightening. So like the third book, the third movie was definitely my favorite. I'm unsure how the two-part fourth installment will turn out, though, and the fact that we have to way TWO YEARS until it's over? Stupid.

(Next up, Harry Potter. I get goosebumps in anticipation.)

Posted: Sun, 07/25/2010 - 05:38 | Comments: 1