by Jean Wong
I could no more procrastinate than bungee jump from a bridge. As children, we were taught that life was serious. “Fun” was tolerated as an incidental occurrence in everyday life, but had nothing to do with the main idea. “Study hard, make good grades, save money” was programmed into our minds like red banners emblazoned on a Communist party wall. No one had to remind us to do our homework. Work was the only course offered on the menu and each one of us dutifully proceeded to clean our plates. My dad worked seven days a week, my mom, six; and my brothers and I came home from school, studied, and went to bed. Reports were completed the same day they were assigned.
Quality attention from our parents was reserved for reviewing our grades. Like ants heading straight for a granule of sugar, our antennae revolved around Time. Time was money and must be wisely spent. The words “mistake” or “excuse” were not said lightly, and the universe ran on an unforgiving schedule of zero last chances. Smelling the roses was never an option. Rose plants were there to fertilize, spray, prune, and sell. If there was scent, that was fine—if it added to the value of the flower.
My mom’s favorite expression, “This is survival, man!” is still the title of my to-do list. Referring to the fact that he hadn’t been able to give me some figures needed to file my taxes, Dad’s final words to me right before he died were, “Jean, I failed you.”
Not being a procrastinator is good when there’s a famine and you have saved enough bags of rice for seven years; or for my job as administrator when payroll and fundraisers deadlines fill the work calendar. I love to lean back smugly and watch my husband, a legendary procrastinator, have trouble sorting his mail. Instead of immediately filing or discarding, he struggles with little stacks that seem to clone themselves as they lie around his desk for weeks. For me, it’s the cat’s meow to finish my taxes in February. He tackles his return on the evening of April 14th. (When I asked him to help me proof this very work on procrastination he said, “Can’t we put it off until tomorrow?”)
But my relentless productivity has an underbelly, silently asserting itself in re-occurring nightmares. I dream of failing chemistry, having never opened the textbook or attended a single class. Or I need to catch a plane and I’m stuck in a room with stuff that couldn’t possibly fit in my suitcases and nothing I try to wear fits.
Good work habits border on obsession when you’re trying to spend precious time with your grandchildren. They visit only twice a year, yet all you can think of is what to serve for dinner, or when the laundry and vacuuming can get done. Rather than wonder what time it is, I’d like to be able to take a walk like the people in a Sierra Club magazine and renew my spirits with the sky’s splendor.
Although I’ve practiced meditation for the last thirty years, it’s done little to clog the holes in my mental sieve and stem the constant flow of plans, out lines, and schedules. My brain is like one of those circular chore charts for kids. “Thinking Mind” is in the middle, commanding the ring of practical activities that spins endlessly into the void. Taming this mind to settle simply on “being” is like getting the powdered paint you’ve just mixed with water to sift back into its jar.
But Goethe says “the goal of life is the road through it,” and I’m determined to work on savoring the sights. Considering my starting point, practice may never be perfect for me, but I still have hopes for my laborious progress. In my final moments on earth, perhaps instead of saying, “I failed you,” I’ll whisper, “Remember the roses.”
Jean Wong was born in Honolulu, and many of her works resonate with the traditions and culture of the Chinese in Hawaii. She has been a contributor to Vintage Voices and Synchonized Chaos, and has forthcoming works in The Reading Room Anthology, Short, Fast, & Deadly, and Tiny Lights. Jean’s blog is at: www.sonic.net/~marcjean/jean
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