Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Gremlin or the Imp of the Perverse

by Amanda Earl

“We have a task before us which must be speedily performed. We know that it will be ruinous to make delay. The most important crisis of our life calls, trumpet-tongued, for immediate energy and action … It must, it shall be undertaken to-day, and yet we put it off until to-morrow, and why? There is no answer, except that we feel perverse…The clock strikes, and is the knell of our welfare. At the same time, it is the chanticleer-note to the ghost that has so long overawed us. It flies—disappears—we are free. The old energy returns. We will labor now. Alas, it is too late!” Edgar Allen Poe, "the Imp of the Perverse"

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Kublah Khan was  never finished. Douglas Adams would never have completed the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy were it not for his friend, Steve Meretzky. Hunter S. Thompson sent off his articles to newspapers last minute, referring to the fax and telex as "the mojo wire." Both Walter Benjamin and Leonard da Vinci blamed their procrastination on distraction. Today we would likely believe they were suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder.

Because one of my procrastination activities for this article was to Google "famous procrastinating writers," I will admit that the above paragraph contains information from the University of Calgary and an online Phd program site.

I handle my procrastination by doing many things at the same time. I rack up huge lists of things to do so that when I don't want to write, I can input events for the literary calendar and poems for the magazine;  input links for the list of links; work on a visual poem; reorganize my bookshelves according to publisher or colour; hang out in my favourite café, the Daily Grind & kibbutz with the barista; go online, find a man and bring him home to fuck him with vigour…all the while the blank page sits and stares, laughing and mocking me.

In the TV show Californication, novelist Hank Moody does what so many writers are famous for: he resorts to booze, drugs and women to put off writing. Writers are notorious procrastinators. I would like to fool myself and you, dear readers, into believing that I am not a procrastinator, but the truth is, I am procrastinating right now. I have two three short stories on the go and a novel I need to research, not to mention a poetry manuscript or two that require editing. Instead I'm writing to you at the tail end of March when this blog entry isn't even due until April 11.

What is it about putting pen to paper or putting fingers to keyboard that is so damn intimidating?

Some blame the fear of success, which always makes me smirk. Yeah, I'm petrified of having my work picked up by some major publishing house, going on tour, making money, being pressured to write another book…oh. wait. Damn. I am afraid of success.

Others the fear of failure. Anne Lamott, writer of the fabulous writing guide and autobiography "Bird by Bird," puts it this way: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.  It will keep you insane your whole life.” as quoted here. [Google is the procrastinator's best friend.]

I must say I spent many years not writing, curled up in the fetal position because I was afraid of trying, thanks to the belief that anything I wrote had to be perfect. As a poet, I thought I had to write pristine lines and when I wasn't able to, I procrastinated. I had a fear of failure. But I like to believe I'm over that fear. I like to…oh hell, I am still afraid of failure. I am broken. I write shitty pieces of crap. This blog entry is a shitty piece of crap. Delete. Go away. Start over. [It's the day before this blog post is due; I'm editing it now!]

That's the little voice inside me that causes my procrastination. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have a scapegoat: the little voice. It is my own imp of the perverse.  I also call it my gremlin. You remember that scene from Twilght Zone? William Shatner, the passenger on the plane happens to look out his window during a storm to see a gremlin perched on the wing. The creature proceeds to bite out chunks of the plane, all the while with a malevolent little smirk on its face, happy to be engaged in a pursuit of destruction. 

[Procrastination Activity (for those playing along at home: Google "Twilight Zone gremlin on the wing." find this Wiki entry. Look up Twilight Zone, the Movie, look up aviatophobia. Think about the interesting names there are for different kinds of fear. What can you use for a poem? Think about Erica Jong's book Fear of Flying. Imagine writing a short story in homage to the book. Something about the Zipless fuck...& so it goes]

My gremlin is a negative little shit disturber who takes pleasure in seeing me suffer. In order to stop me from writing, it will remind me of my juvenilia, a poetry collection in which fruit figured prominently. It will take me back to a reading where I read a repetitive long poem for half an hour and so bored people that several members of the audience  walked out. It will force me to reread the first erotic story I wrote. Never ever reread your early works, my fellow writers. This act of revisiting early writing will dry your creative juices as effectively as drought in the Dust Bowl.

I spend a lot of energy and time drowning out that voice. And when I manage to get something done, such as this blog entry, another little voice inside me tells the gremlin to go fuck himself. 

I'll leave you with this final portrait of procrastination and failure by the Canadian poet Jon Paul Fiorentino, from his "TheTheory of the Loser Class" (Coach House Books, 2006), which is all about failure.


This poem finds you convincing the screensaver to make
countless appearances; you monitor your calls, save your
dreams on a memory card. Pine for scripts that call for your
flair for the Latinate rewrite, your talent for heart-wrenching
pratfalls. You're missing the application. // And you can't
quite explain it--you don't notice the rain anymore; you walk
for hours between old Wolsely houses and invoke the names
of retired NDP MLAS, a movement toward great abstractions.
// You want none of it; it's all yours. You feel hemmed in; show
it well with the precious few linguistic tricks you still remember.
Remember: there is always another shift, always another song
until the last one. // There are always fewer suitable days, more
people, more opportunities, fewer chances. Turn off the
soundtrack. It's digital. There is no desire left in you. For slip-
page, to break your neck on the shag carpet again and again.
And this poem finds you. Stored in an antique memory card.
Looking for the cheat codes.

[Poem reproduced with the permission of the poet.]

[ps- a writer from the Guardian, doubtless procrastinating some important task, has made a YouTube playlist of procrastination songs. enjoy whilst you put off whatever you have to do today.]


  1. Hmmm- What you say about revisiting our old works rings here. Desperate for some kind of progress in a period of low creativity, I'm sorta working an old piece from 2009. Maybe I should reconsider, but I've spent a lot of time on it now. Still haven't decided whether or not to post it on ERWA. Damn, these days I wish I could write something more than a flasher.
    Daddy X

  2. if you can improve it & it doesn't make you shudder, i say go for it. i was mostly talking about stuff i have out there that's been published already, so already engraved in stone, so to speak. ;)

  3. Maybe I will. I do have 1/3 ready to go.

    Thanx for the vote of confidence, Amanda

  4. This is a brilliant piece of self-referential analysis.

    I bravely resisted the urge to follow most of your links...!

  5. thanks, Lisabet. i shall tempt thee to procrastinate some day...she laughs maniacally. good to have you back!


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