Saturday, November 06, 2010

An Extension (or What Was I Thinking?)

I was the classmate that many of you probably hated when you were in school. Or, at least, I would have been had you known what I was really like. You wouldn't have known, though, because when I was a student, I was ruled by two combating neuroses: fear of failure and fear of being hated. Therefore, since I would not have wanted you to hate me, I never would have let you know all that I was up to that would have made you do so.

All that I was up to was doing such things as writing papers the minute they were assigned (or at least five days before they were due instead of the night -- or even hours -- before, the way so many of my friends seemed to be able to do). I lived in terror of writer's block (a phenomenon that is practically foreign to me, but I lived in terror of it anyway), libraries not having the books I needed (this happened once. I did a paper on Anorexia. Hard to believe now, but back then, there were very, very few book-length sources on the topic. I searched my university's library, found three books on the topic, all of which were checked out. I searched my boyfriend's university library and found two books, both checked out. I searched my hometown's university library and found one book. The public libraries had nothing. I was dependent on journal articles. My professor liked my paper, but docked me for not having more "books as resources." I suppose I should say that my third neurosis back then was pathological shyness. I didn't dare approach him, explain how hard I had tried, and ask him to change my grade, but you can see that if I had time to do all that research, I had obviously started this paper long before it was due), a broken typewriter (God knows what I would have been like had we all used computers in those days), etc. I began studying for tests and exams long before the date (a stupid thing to do, because my fourth neurosis was text anxiety. I am an absolutely miserable test-taker, and studying too far in advance guaranteed that I wouldn't remember or would muddle facts).

I was always secretly envious of those who could wait until the last minute, who would begin a paper at 10:00 p.m. that was due the next morning at 9:00. How did they do it? I remember in high school, a friend of mine calling me after 10:00 (which means I had already turned out my light. My fifth neurosis was worrying about getting my full eight hours of sleep every night, and I had to be up at 6:00 a.m. the next morning) for help with our algebra II homework. What the hell was she doing still playing around with x's and y's at that hour? But I secretly wished I could be more like that. I pulled exactly one all-nighter during my entire college career, and that was only because I only had one exam the next day, and it was early, and I knew I could sleep the rest of the day, and I was trying to impress a guy I liked, one of those guys who pulled all-nighters at least once a week. What a dork, huh? I mean, college is all about all-nighters, isn't it? But there I was, every night before midnight, with my sleeping cap on and my little mug of hot milk, saying my prayers and tucking myself in. (Okay, I wasn't that bad. I did stay up to see the sun rise at many a party on the weekends, but nothing doing during the week.)

All this secret goody-two-shoes behavior didn't work so well when it came to avoiding failure. Not that I exactly failed anything, but I made my fair share of C's (at least, once I got to college) in those courses that either didn't interest or just didn't stick (like statistics, which did neither). However, I do think I managed to keep people from hating me. I had some very close friends when I was in high school and college, and I'm grateful for that.

Needless to say (fear of failure + pathological shyness = inability to do so), I never asked for a single extension. Again, I was both disdainful and envious of those I saw doing so all the time. I was always thinking, "You were assigned that at the beginning of the term. It's basically the only thing we had to produce. How could you possibly not get it done by the due date?" The most impressive were those who, say, were actually willing to take an incomplete in a course and deliver the paper after Christmas break, or to ask a professor, "Could I have an extension? I'm going to be at multiple Grateful Dead shows next week."

That get-everything-done-way-ahead-of-time-gal was me, circa 1984. But then, I went to work in publishing. I acquired books written by professors. I was flabbergasted to discover that those who would have docked me a letter grade had I turned in my paper late (or so they all had me convinced) would sign contracts with due dates that they basically ignored. The majority of my authors were not the least bit like me (or like the scary professors they presented themselves to be when handing out assignments to 19-year-olds). They never met a deadline that they respected. To them, contracts merely made"suggestions" about manuscript delivery dates. They were as blithe about the clause that said they would deliver a manuscript by April 30th as a pimp is about wedding vows.

They must have rubbed off on me. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe I'm learning to let my hair down, to think of deadlines and assignments as man made constructs, most of which mean very little, unless you're doing something like delivering organs for transplants. Because I am here to tell you today that I am giving myself an extension (and giving it to anyone else who wants it, as well).

Last year around this time, I came up with my TBR challenge. It was a rather ridiculous challenge, so ridiculous that I'm not even going to bother to link you to it. It involved reading twenty books from my TBR tome, not buying any new ones until I'd done so, and posting on each one I read. I thought that not buying new ones would give me the incentive to start tackling the tome. But no, I just quickly abandoned the idea of not buying books (around month two, I think), because, well, yes, books are my heroin. I am, apparently, incapable of going two months without buying at least one (oh, let's face it: at least ten). But I kept reading books I had carefully chosen for my challenge list. I just didn't keep posting on them. And pretty soon, I realized I wasn't even really reading much from the list.

The question then became: should I abandon the challenge? But no. I still want to read every single book I chose. I've read ten of them. I've posted on seven. I'm in the middle of my 11th. It seems ridiculous to abandon the challenge. All I really need is an extension. And so, I am giving it to myself. It seems far more reasonable to have a challenge that consists of reading ten books in one year (especially when one belongs to three book discussion groups and reads about as fast as your slowest first-grader. I mean, really, what was I thinking?), and so, I am giving myself another year to read the last ten books on the list and to finish posting on all of them. Who knows? Maybe I'll panic, worry that all my computers will crash, that I'll suffer from writer's block, and that all ten books will magically disappear before I can read them, and will break down and get them all read and written about by April. But don't count on it.

Anyone else who is still plugging away at this challenge, feel free to give yourself an extension until next December as well. All those of you who took it on and managed to finish it? Well you get an A++.


litlove said...

I think it's official that we are the same person managing to live in different time zones. Isn't there a novel in that? Fear of failure and fear of being hated just about sums up my entire life. And I always began work the moment I got it, and assured myself a decent night's sleep. Are there other ways to live without suffering huge and permanent anxiety? :-)

But as for the challenge you have to see how very generous you are being towards the other participants. You're showing them all that it's okay to take a little more time if they want it and no need to feel bad about that. That can't be wrong.

christina said...

I love how you went through your neurosis. It's funny because I wouldn't have hated you in college, I would have been envious that you could write your paper and be done with it. I always waited until the last minute, and although it produced decent work, the stress level is probably why I have high BP now. ;-)

Stefanie said...

Make that the same person living in three different time zones! The only all-nighter I ever did in college was when my last minute roommate and I were in the same art history class. She made me stay up to help her study. Ugh! thank you for the extension on the challenge. I have done pretty well but the year is waning fast and I am not certain I will be getting to all of the books on my challenge list by the end of the year. As for not buying any, ha! I have bought fewer books this year so I suppose that's something.

Emily Barton said...

Oh my, Litlove and Stef, you have certainly got my imagination soaring with the idea of the same person living in three different time zones. It's a story just begging to be written (not collaboratively, though. Did I ever discover how tough it is to do that!). I vote one of you two write it :-)!

Christina, and I would have been envious of you, so maybe we would have been best friends.

Carrie#K said...

I think that was the most disillusioning aspect of "growing up" - discovering that following the rules, regulations and common courtesies turned out to be its own reward. It seems so wrong.

That said, I used to do all my work at the last minute. Fear of failure would paralyze me until I was forced into act. It was only after I had to go back to night school to get a secondary degree that I discovered the joy of consistent and early preparation. It was all so much easier.

P.S. It's against the Law of Nature to in any way inhibit or proscribe what you will read and when. It leads only to book bingeing and......I was going to say regret but who regrets book bingeing?

Rebecca H. said...

Is this the right time to mention that as soon as I finish Gravity's Rainbow, I will have finished my list? I didn't write about all the books, though, so I can't really say I completed the challenge. Perhaps I can do a post of short reviews? Perhaps I'll just have to earn something like an A- instead of an A++? :)

Emily Barton said...

Carrie, I'm always proscribing and then doing something completely different. Keeps my reading life interesting, I guess...

Dorr, I'd say you get an A+ for reading them all, and if you do a post of short reviews by the end of December, an A++. Good for you!

Anne Camille said...

Ha! A few days ago, I looked at my stack of TBR challenge books, which has somehow split into two stacks in different rooms, and wondered if I could still finish the remaining 10. So, it should not surprise you that I would be the person sitting out in the hallway of the dorm (after my roommate demanded lights out) finished nearly every paper I was assigned in college.

I'm with you for the 2nd year. Can't say that I'll post though. I even stopped adding them to the list on the sidebar of my poor, neglected blog.

Emily Barton said...

Cam, more important than your posting on your books read (although, wahoo that I was able to give another member of the challenge a reprieve) is that you breathe (just a couple of breaths) into your poor neglected blog before she dies. I miss her as the lively, vibrant, challenging character she once was. (Then again, posting on books read will give her something to talk about, right?)