All my life I've done my best to put things off -- even things I want to accomplish. The ghosts of writing yet to come, which I have not even started, seem to hang over me like a shroud. You'd think I would get them done just to be rid of the sense of impending doom... but no, apparently I get a kick out of impending doom. Guess that makes me a sick puppy.
A few days ago I read an atmospheric ghost story by Oliver Onions, entitled The Beckoning Fair One (warning: lots of misspellings and scan errors in the link). I've heard it described as the Ur-Ghost Story, at least for American writers and filmmakers, in that it sets up a conceit where the malevolent spirit of the title is so subtle in its influence over the protagonist that he is convinced he has thought everything up himself. This conceit rears its head over and over again in Stephen King stories, for instance, and in a number of supernatural horror films of the 20th century. But at the time it was written in the early 1900s, The Beckoning Fair One was fresh and original. The story has been used as source material for so many other stories, has been plundered for concepts so many times since its publication that, much like Casablanca, it seems a bit trite to the modern reader.
But here's what stood out to my procrastinator's mind: the description of how the spell of the protagonist's rooms begins to work on him.
Once more, as in the days when his writing had had a daily freshness and wonder and promise for him, he was conscious of that new ease and mastery and exhilaration and release. The air of the place seemed to hold more oxygen; as if his own specific gravity had changed, his very tread seemed less ponderable. The flowers in the bowls, the fair proportions of the meadowsweet-coloured panels and mouldings, the polished floor, and the lofty and faintly tarred ceiling, fairly laughed their welcome.And yet we are reading about a writer who does not write -- a writer who is neglecting the completion of his magnum opus in hopes of knowing and clasping as his own an unseen, shadowy Presence in his apartment, who alternately fills him with anticipatory delight and plunges him into the depths of misery (from which he nevertheless does not wish to escape). He feels a constant sense of excitement over -- what, exactly? The false promises of what he believes to be a kindred spirit -- one who hints and teases and never quite appears, a succubus of sorts who derives pleasure from her own power to sap his life and strength away, who would continue until she drew the very life out of him or anyone else who would try to break the spell she has cast over him.
I don't know about you, but my particular Beckoning Fair One goes by the name of "procrastination." Having seen it in the guise of a work of fiction, I find it easier to recognize and name in reality. And if there isn't already such a word, time to coin it now: I aim to anticrastinate. All the stuff that's been languishing on the back burner, waiting to be worked on, will be coming to a hard rolling boil in short order.
Hmph. That'll larn ya!