Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Who knows?

I used to think – erroneously – that I worked best under stress so I used to procrastinate like mad: any mundane or even boring activity was always more pressing than the work I had to do. Deadlines were mythical dates that didn’t have any significance and no attempt was ever made to meet them. In fact, they seemed to be there just to be missed. I worked like that for years; my Paris employer used to send me desperate pneus (the equivalent of telegrams, but for local consumption) asking me to get in touch with her a.s.a.p.; I let the phone ring for hours (you weren’t allowed to leave it off the hook and it was fixed to the wall so you couldn’t unplug it); I ignored every entreaty to finish the work (I never let on that I hadn’t even started); finally, finally, when I judged I had driven everyone nuts for long enough and it was actually time to do the work else there would be no more work to do, ever, I did it – in three weeks instead of three months. At the end of the marathon I used to collapse in a heap on the floor, swearing I would never put myself through that again.

And then I began working for a translation agency (my more faithful readers will be familiar with it) and I started being given deadlines that were two or three days apart. There was no time to procrastinate so I knuckled down and did the work. I haven’t missed a single deadline for 19 years now – where’s the beaming smiley when you need it? – and I know that no one is at their best under stress. It’s an illusion.

I’m currently doing a couple of translations for the BBC. It’s a recurring thing and years ago I used to have at least two whole months to do it, which enabled me to combine it with my agency work. More recently, the BBC deadline (which is decided by someone else) has been getting shorter and shorter just because everyone is always on holiday or on attachment or has a mild cold (see previous posts I’ve written about it), and because producers are the least decisive people in the entire world. As I said, it’s a recurring thing and they know it’s coming every year, but they always act surprised and keep me waiting and waiting and waiting. Until this morning I didn’t have a deadline at all for my current work. It paralysed me completely for a few days. I had the material to work on but I couldn’t do it: I needed to know how long I had so I could pace myself and work out what to do and in what order. The deadline I have now been given is a bit too short to be comfortable but as soon as I got it I felt as if an enormous weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I did more this afternoon than in the past three days.

We need to know. There is of course a big deadline for each of us; a huge deadline by which everything we’ve always wanted to do should be done if we are to be at peace, but, except in some special cases, it will be kept secret until it suddenly comes upon us. Everything would be so much easier if we did know. Mine is apparently Wednesday 7 July 2027. That’s one deadline I wouldn’t mind missing. (Wanna check yours and get depressed? Log on here)

Slapping the BBC – again! And my old self for making my life more difficult than it should have been!


  1. have you linked to the right url for the deathwatch clock? Just checking. It's going through to my blogger dashboard which may have some very profound meaning...

  2. Oh, not again! Blogger's done that before: it sometimes turns single quotes into double ones and messes up everything. Off to correct it. Thanks, GSE. :-)

    What could it mean: your days as a blogger are counted? LOL!

  3. In fact, Blogger went further this time, it replaced the URL by its own. B***** cheek! LOL!

  4. No I think it's a comment on the way I am using my remaining days...

  5. Oh no, that's much worse! LOL!

    Seeing those seconds vanishing in front of one's own eyes is so scary. :-(

  6. The bit about the biggest deadline is beautifully written, although I am not sure if everything was easier if we knew the date... People wondered about this about for thousands of years and many myths and folk tales are about people who were blessed and cursed with this knowledge... Well everyone must answer the question what would they do if they knew for themselves...
    I`ve read somewhere that a there was a legend that Alexander the Great got a prophecy from Egyptian priests ten years before his death that he wouldn`t live past his 32nd year. And that`s why he was so driven to reach the borders of Oikumene, as he imagined it.

  7. Also, that site says that I`m going to die in 2034, 56 years old. Clearly there`s something wrong something wrong with my lifestyle. (and no, I don`t smoke)

  8. Benvenuta, did you maybe choose 'pessimistinc' and not 'normal' for mode? Because under pessimistic, I will die in 2016 aged 53, and under normal i get to live to 77.

  9. Thanks, B. I think on the whole it would be easier: you could make sure your affairs were in order; you could spend all your money instead of the government or ungrateful heirs getting their hands on it (I intend to 'die broke' but I can't do it without that dealine); you could make sure you told your nearest and dearest you loved them (although if you spend all your money they'll doubt that, LOL!), etc.

    Twice in my life I thought I knew more or less when I was going to die. The first time, I got very panicky and remained so for a long while. And, when it didn't happen I went to NYC, because I'd always wanted to visit and I thought I'd been given a second chance so I should do what I dreamed of doing. The second time, a great calm came over me (helped a bit by Valium) and, in fact, I remember it as a very happy period - I didn't have to worry about anything much any longer: I only had to worry about myself and how the 'thing' was going to happen. I didn't rush to do things I'd been wanting to do for a while: it didn't seem to matter at all. A bit later I had a very difficult time adjusting to the knowledge that I wasn't going to die this minute and I had to relearn to live. Anyway, my guru - Grissom (if you or anyone else don't know who he is I'm not sure I can be friends with you, LOL! - said that, unlike most people, he didn't want to die from a heart attack but from cancer so he would have the time to put his affairs in order. If it's good enough for Gruesome Grissom, it's good enough for me.

    And you must have used the pessimistic mode. You're a young 'un, for goodness' sake!

    Oooh, L, I can tell how old you are. ;-)

  10. Ah yes, we all suffer from bouts of procrastination :P

  11. I meant to say also that I agree with Benvenuta that this is a very elegantly written slap. It reminds me of Blake's 'Jerusalem' - the first part specific, close to home, then without warning the sudden widening out into the metaphysical, the translating of a specific, everyday experience into something more general. A slap like a poem. I didn't see it coming!

    And yep, I am really THAT OLD.

  12. I'm a monster procrastinator too, and stress to no end when I have a deadline of any kind.

    I spent a good chunk of my life convinced that I wouldn't live past 25. I don't know where that number came from (though I have a good idea why I thought that way). One of the reasons I agreed to go to pharmacy school - which wasn't anything I was interested in - was that I never thought I'd actually live long enough to have to *do* the job. I think I developed some of my procrastination as a result of this thinking - if I put whatever-it-was off long enough, I'd be dead by the time it became an issue, so I wouldn't have to worry about it.

    Certain aspects of life were definitely easier when I had that deadline there, but I'm much happier now than I ever was then, laboring under that misapprehansion! And - as you mentioned - I had to relearn to live. Planning for the future was something I never bothered to figure out, and I'm still awful at it. But I try.

    Ok. I thought maybe I was going somewhere with all that, but if I was I lost my direction. Just wanted to share, really.

  13. Agree with the others - a very elegant, beautifully written piece. That deathclock thingee is quite sobering, isn't it? It predicts I'm gonna live to be 90, despite being overweight. Of course, there's no accounting for car crashes, random shootings, or pieces of junk falling from orbit...hmm...maybe I shouldn't have checked 'optimist' after all!

  14. Thanks for that link, K. It’s a lovely and funny story. Those gods, eh!

    Thanks, L. You made me blush. As usual, I know the tune of ‘Jerusalem’ much better than the words (I lack the ‘remembering lyrics’ gene), but I’m incredibly flattered. :-)

    Still younger than me, though, so nothing to whinge about. LOL!

    If I may pass on a piece of advice, T: start concentrating on the pleasure and the pride you experience when you meet a deadline. It’s a fantastic feeling that gives such a high you can get addicted to it. I am.

    Thank you for sharing. I understand perfectly what you went through. I still don’t plan ahead much but I’m not completely at a standstill mentally any longer.

    RQ, I hadn’t tried the other modes before (normal said 77 years old). The optimistic mode predicts 94 (not sure I like that, after all), but I’ve just scared myself to death (erm...): the pessimistic mode says I have less than a year to live (just over seven months to be precise). Aaaaargh!

  15. Kinda wishing I hadn't clicked. I don't make it out of my fifties!!!

    But I am pessimistic, and I haven't weighed myself in years, so that BMI stuff was a wild guess.

    C'mon, give me a break, I don't even smoke.

  16. I have a friend who's looking after his progressively more demented 92-year-old mother at home. He said the decade from 70 to 80 was OK, but the decade from 80 to 90 was rapid decline year on year.

    And I know someone else, years ago, who planned from age 40 to kill herself at 70 and she did. (She had no family to upset.)

    Since 50 is the new 40, and 60 is the new 50, clearly 80 is the new 70 and is the time to go.

    (Apologies to any sprightly 85-year-olds out there - I'm only generalising. I know a *very* OK 88-year-old, so...)

  17. I agree. This is a beautiful blog -- which I looked up because I've spent all day surfing for things like leftover mincemeat recipes instead of meeting my deadline. I just checked out my lively 80-year-old mother's death date and it came out as five years ago. So don't you all worry too much.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.