virtuous procrastination

Here’s one for the Guinness Book of Excuses.

When I’m working on a big project—and I’ve got, by last count, four of those on just now, a full stove in other words—I obsess with it. Not so much that I’m losing sleep, or staying at the office till 2 a.m., but when I am working I’m engrossed. Colleagues have startled me out my wits by walking by and saying something unexpected and shocking, like “Hello.” When I’m writing, or editing, or researching, my concentration is almost impossible to break.

Unless I’m reading blog posts.

This is the thing, see: I’m completely focused all the time except for those times when I’m not. Which is, for instance, now. And when I happen to be reading blogs.

This is especially catastrophic when I discover a rich, new-to-me blog with seven years of archives. Like last week when Eric (sibling of this blog) blithely doused me with the remarkable …by Ken Levine. I appear to be one of three sentient beings who hadn’t heard of …by Ken Levine, and that includes that one monkey that’s still in orbit somewhere. I mean, it’s the blog that was in a TIME 25 Best list. Right up there with Stephen Fry’s Twitter feed.

But my cultural naiveté doesn’t matter. What does matter is that there’s seven years of witty, well-written, engaging, and hilarious blog posts for me to read. And I’m on deadline.

Now, for me, deadlines are sacrosanct. Yes, like Dirk Gently I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by. But, having been that editor who’s glancing anxiously at the inbox every few minutes for a week, I also love the warm, smug fuzzy of handing in the document just before the whoosh.

That’s why the brilliant sheen of Ken Levine’s prose is so alarming. Every time I need to look up how to spell Rabelais, say, or look up a list of books that were never written (and I’ve done both this week), a cunning, aesthetically libertine part of my mind whispers, “You know who probably has a blog post on how to spell Rabelais? Ken freaking Levine. Why not check the archives for April 2007? It’ll probably be faster than OED.com…”

You have to understand: Ken Levine writes about comedy writing. And sit-coms. And the 60s. And baseball.

I will one day read every word on that blog, without even trying. I’ll even watch all the clips he’s uploaded from CHEERS.

When I’m on deadline, this is not a good thing.

Except—I just thought of this. When I’m obsessing over a big project, I have nothing interesting to say. Instead of the weather I chat about apostrophes. Instead of how my day is going I elaborate how my scene is going. Instead relating my plans for the evening, I detail with some relish the growing chaos of books and papers on my desk. Like that one necktie collector who cornered you by the punch bowl, I chatter, babble, and rave enthusiastically while ignoring mounting signs of panic in my hearers.

But what if, in the midst of my obsession, I’m sneaking spare minutes and hours at a blog about baseball and sit-coms?

Suddenly there’s something else I’m thinking about. Something else I can talk about. Something else to do. When unwitting people accost me to inquire about the weather and my health, I can turn to them with a smile and say, “Y’know, I just found this really amazing blog…”

Because I did. And it’s got seven years of back issues panning sit-coms. And teaching comedy writing. And baseball.

I like this excuse. You can have it on me. You can even use Paradoxes for it, if you wish.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, for this next bit of writing I need to find out something about thirteenth-century Scottish church hierarchy, and so I’m going to visit this really amazing blog…

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