This past week, two things happened which made me think about procrastination. First, the actor who starred in The Sopranos, James Gandolfini, died. He was 51 years old. I thoroughly enjoyed that trailblazing television series because of the writing team’s originality and the celebration of the anti-hero, Gandolfini’s mob boss character, Tony Soprano. The writing team, led by David Chase, was so talented that they found ways to create authentic dialogue using the f-word as almost every part of speech, from verb to adjective, noun, and even adverb. More importantly, the scripts sustained tension from week to week, including the final episode in which the writers cleverly brought devoted viewers to a state of ambiguity.
Gandolfini did not make it to 52 years of age, neither the chronological sense nor the figurative sense that serves as motivation for this blog. After the series ended, he and Mr. Chase promised to resolve the finale’s uncertainties by producing a Sopranos'' movie. Statements on the Internet suggest that the proposed film had been important to them. It surely would have been an artistic triumph as well as a box-office blockbuster. But for five years they kept delaying the project. Now, we understand, it will never come to fruition, at least not with Gandolfini in the role that he personified.
Also this week, to celebrate our anniversary, Dvora and I attended Barbra Streisand''s show in Tel Aviv. We both felt that, as an entertainer, Streisand delivered (no small feat given our demanding expectations and her demanding ticket price!) Before singing "The Way We Were," Barbra mentioned having thought, last August, that it had been way too long since she''d told the song''s composer, Marvin Hamlisch, how much she adored his work and loved him as a human being. She’d jotted down a reminder note to phone Marvin that evening, but she never got around to making the call. The next day, Hamlisch died. She still has the note, she told the audience, along with all the memories of their relationship--minus the special memory of what should have been their final conversation.
Certainly, Benjamin Franklin could’ve used those stories about Gandolfini and Barbra when he urged Americans to do things today rather than tomorrow. We could agree, I think, that Franklin''s advice is sound. So, why do we procrastinate?
Well, most of us, it seems, suffer from what some physicians might call a "dysynergia" when it comes to our to-do lists that, in terms of time, are usually "too-long” lists. But there may be more involved than constraints of time. The tasks on which we procrastinate may reflect our resistance or uneasiness.
Despite all that I write about potentiating myself, living in the moment, and doing things now, the truth is that I, too, have an affinity for procrastination. If you don''t believe me, ask my desk. Somewhere under my computer, I have a beautiful hand-carved mahogany desk, but its top is never visible. Why don’t I deal with the mess?
I doubt anyone could trace the problem back to my kindergarten teacher’s PTA comment to my mother, "He does not excel at clean-up time." The culprit, I suspect, may be something other than sloppiness. My desktop holds treasures such as photos of relatives and college roommates; handwritten letters from patients, a reprint of my first article published in a medical journal, and bootlegged cassette tapes from great concerts of the 1970s. The memories comfort me. I have no desire to create order. I prefer to be nestled in the chaos, at one with my “stuff.” What’s more, I''d like others to understand that preference.
Some people are inherently wired to procrastinate. We shouldn''t take it personally if they don''t produce things in a timely fashion on our behalf. And there seems to be inherent wiring for procrastination built into the universe itself. Sometimes good things happen quickly. Boom! Boom! Boom! But sometimes good things are on the way, but will simply take time to arrive. They''re happening, albeit at a slower pace. The hearty soup is cooking. The notion that some processes refuse to be accelerated can be a source of encouragement when we conclude that life just doesn''t seem to be going our way. Maybe it is going our way, but hasn''t gotten here yet.
The lessons from Gandolfini and Streisand remind us to establish priorities so that the opportunities we want most to pursue will not be forfeited. But there is also value in recognizing the reality of procrastination since it can tell us about ourselves and make us more tolerant of the people and forces around us.
Until next Monday, Shalom.