Proust on Procrastination

Proust, portait by Jacques Emile Blanche

In this wonderful passage Proust nails procrastination and all the evasive and equivocal excuses we give ourselves for putting off until tomorrow what we should be doing today. Incisive, but also very funny. We may deceive others, or even ourselves, temporarily, but deep down we know:

Had I been less firmly resolved upon settling down definitively to work, I should perhaps have made an effort to begin at once. But since my resolution was explicit, since within twenty-four hours, in the empty frame of the following day where everything was so well arranged because I myself was not yet in it, my good intentions would be realised without difficulty, it was better not to start on an evening when I felt ill-prepared. The following days were not, alas, to prove more propitious.

[ … ]

Confident that by the day after tomorrow I should have written several pages, I said not a word more to my parents of my decision; I preferred to remain patient for a few hours and then to bring to a convinced and comforted grandmother a sample of work that was already under way. Unfortunately the next day was not that vast, extraneous expanse of time to which I had feverishly looked forward. When it drew to a close, my laziness and my painful struggle to overcome certain internal obstacles had simply lasted twenty-four hours longer.

[ … ]

To my parents it seemed almost as though, idle as I was, I was leading, since it was spent in the same salon as a great writer, the life most favourable to the growth of talent. And yet the assumption that anyone can be dispensed from having to create that talent for himself, from within himself, and can acquire it from someone else, is as erroneous as to suppose that a man can keep himself in good health (in spite of neglecting all the rules of hygiene and of indulging in the worst excesses) merely by dining out often in the company of a physician.

[From In Search of Lost Time Vol.II]

He goes on (of course!), but it really is time I got some work done …

How to do what you need to do to achieve what you want to achieve? It’s summed up perfectly in this morning’s daily truthbomb (#193) from Danielle LaPorte:

Love the necessary hard work.

 

New Directions

The new year is an invitation to assess what’s working, and what’s not. But for every new direction you commit to, there’s the road not taken – and the thorny problem of being happy with the choice you make.

Robert Frost’s famous poem on this theme (‘The Road Not Taken‘) dramatises this moment of choice and, according to comments made by the author at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in 1953, was inspired by

“a friend who had gone off to war, a person who, whichever road he went, would be sorry he didn’t go the other. He was hard on himself that way.”

The Road Not Taken‘ was first published in Frost’s collection Mountain Interval in 1916, almost perfectly midway between publication of ‘Swann’s Way’ (Du côté de chez Swann, 1913) and the first part of ‘The Guermantes Way ‘ (La côté de Guermantes’, 1920), of Proust’s ‘A La Recherche du Temps Perdu’:

For there were, in the environs of Combray, two “ways” which we used to take for our walks, and they were so diametrically opposed that we would actually leave the house by a different door according to the way we had chosen…

(Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin translation)

The great reading journey, in search of lost time, that I plan to take again in 2011.