I have so many papers to grade. Christmas vacation is four days away, but I can’t see that far ahead because a large stack of ungraded papers is obstructing my view. Next Monday, I’m flying to Medellin, in Colombia, but it feels like next Monday is next year because I am measuring time by the mass of ungraded papers between the moment when I first walk on South American soil and this moment that I am living right now.
I experience procrastination as a sort of fighting dance between the different impulses that drive my behavior. My different motivations, fears, responsibilities, wills, and work ethics pirouette and caper around the stage that is my mind. The music sounds like this. When I procrastinate, I search out articles that point to the benefits of procrastination. As long as the procrastination ballet is going on in my head, these articles have the virtue of presenting me with a convenient version of reality. Other articles exist, articles that proclaim procrastination as the root of all the evil in the world. I don’t read those articles.
My favorite argument used to justify procrastination asserts that procrastinators actually get more done in those eternal moments when they are casting about for something to do, anything to do, as long as it’s not the thing they must do.
Today, I wrote a couple of pages of thinking about a business matter, and I sent an email related to the same business matter. The email was 1/10th the length of the first stream of consciousness draft of thinking. I renewed overdue library books, then I went to the library to return already-read books. I laughed at this little McSweeney’s gem. I leafed through a couple more chapters of The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, a book I bought about 15 years ago when I was in high school. Turns out, the man has some illuminating points to make about sentence structure. And I started writing a blog entry about procrastination.
I have only one final task, a task to bridge the distance between the not-doing and the doing. I will make hot chocolate in hopes that the chocolate will soothe the angry battling dancers and put an end to the twisting war raging inside me.
Like oranges, bread, and wine, chocolate is one of those foods that have gathered so many cultural associations that the food itself has become a mythological archetype. Drinking chocolate is a thirty-eight century old ritual, a ritual that once belonged only to the gods and the warriors. We don’t know the name of the civilization that gave us the complex process we use to turn cacao pods into chocolate. The Europeans inherited chocolate from the Aztecs, the Aztecs inherited from the Mayans, the Mayans inherited it from the Olmecs, and the Olmecs learned the process from an unknown people.
Chocolate includes two important alkaloids, two different substances that affect our experience of the world: caffeine and theobromine. Caffeine is a stimulant, and theobromine we don’t understand at all. Some articles that I like to read say that theobromine has a “positive effect on the mood and alertness.” Other articles say that theobromine has no effect on the mood, but I don’t read those articles. “Theobromine” translates as “the drink of the gods.” In Ancient Aztec culture, a cacao pod was symbolic for the human heart, possibly because both held precious liquids: chocolate and blood.
Hot Chocolate Procrastination Elixir
You will need:
- unsweetened cocoa powder
- a few grindings of black pepper
- a few swigs of vanilla extract
- sugar to taste
I don’t really have a recipe for this. I heat up the milk over the range and whisk the cocoa powder in. Sometimes I use cayenne powder, cinnamon, or nutmeg. This time around, I used one Demerara sugar cube per cup. Sometimes I use more, sometimes I use less.
If you are interested in learning more about the ancient symbolic origins of chocolate, I strongly recommend The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe. Sophie, the author, was a scholar and a lover of research who scoured the papal libraries and museums of Rome for texts that mentioned chocolate. She died of cancer before she published her book, Michael, her widower, finished up the text and saw the book through publication. Tastes of Paradise by Wolfgang Schivelbusch also has some good commentary on the culture of drinking chocolate in European.
Time to drink the chocolate and face the ungraded papers.