December 10, 2004

If your work isn’t what you love

Filed under: Literati and Cognoscenti — tomemos @ 11:07 am

I finished my only paper for this quarter. I pulled an all-nighter to do so, my first. Oh, I’ve greeted the dawn with a paper many times before, but I always grabbed some sleep–even if it was from 7-9:30 a.m.–while writing. This time I just kept on trucking, and I feel fine. (Though it’s true that when I left the house I had to go back inside to get my sunglasses; my eyes just couldn’t take it.)

I still have a lot to do before my flight Sunday…grade, pack, clean the room so it’s presentable when Julie gets here. That last one is especially problematic now; some people get a lot of cleaning done when they have work to do, but not me, brother. Papers fall from my desk like leaves and they stay fallen; dishes reproduce. “Looks like a term paper came through here” is a coherent way to talk about how messy my room is.

Writing this paper, something occurred to me that somehow hadn’t while I was writing one of the (25? 30? Something like that, Oxford added a lot) other papers that have kept me up all night: I always write papers with the same sequence of breaks, distractions, etc. The time I spend not writing follows a series as reliable as ritual that I’ve followed for just about every long paper I’ve written since the beginning of college.

Of course, there have been a few changes. I no longer do jumping jacks to keep myself awake, finding coffee to be easier on the joints and the dignity. I don’t listen to music while I write anymore, where it used to be constant rotation of The Smiths, Nick Drake, and Joy Division. And my eating has improved marginally: no more handfuls of M&Ms, though frozen veggie corndogs are not necessarily a great leap forward. But mostly it’s the same, running something like this:

–The Great Delay. Shameless procrastination: stupid online videogames, flipping through books I’ve already read (not pertaining to the topic, of course), instant messaging. Oh, and blogging, of course. Depending on how enthusiastic I am about the paper this can go until the early evening or it can go until 10 pm or so.

–A trip to go get something to eat or drink. At SLC this was usually onion rings from the Pub. In England it was chips with beans and cheese from Hassan’s Kebab van. Here it’s In-N-Out, pearl tea, or coffee.

–Probably some more procrastination thrown in.

–A regularly-occurring sign that it’s getting really late. In Oxford this was the departure of the kebab van; now, it’s the arrival of MSNBC news in my inbox.

–A second trip out just to walk around and clear my head.

–Panic, followed by resignation, at hearing the birds sing outside my window and seeing the sky get lighter.

–Nearly finishing, then deciding to grab a couple hours of sleep before actually closing it out.

Thinking about this sequence, I realize: I write papers badly. I procrastinate like crazy, I’m inefficient, I do a number on myself through sleep dep and junk food and caffeine. But I’ve made peace with myself about it, as I now find the routine relaxing in an odd way. When I made the second trip out, to walk around for no good reason, it was just about dawn and the sun was starting to rise above the mountains behind me. And I thought, “Why don’t I do this more often?”

Okay, well, the paper is printing. I’m going to go turn it in, then I’m going to get some sleep and begin getting ready for my departure Sunday. That’s one good aspect of this all-nighter thing–I haven’t done the math, but I think I’m already on Hong Kong time.



  1. damn, tom. that sounds so familiar it’s bordering on creepy. and i didn’t know in-n-out did veggie…

    hope you have a lovely break.

    Comment by amy — December 10, 2004 @ 10:39 pm

  2. Hello Tom,

    Long time no contact. I’m a bad person.

    What is your email address?
    I might be coming to California at some point this year..

    Lots of love,
    Lucy “Harry Potter” Greig. xxx

    Comment by Lucy — December 12, 2004 @ 8:36 am

  3. ps. mine is

    Oops. heh heh.

    Comment by Lucy — December 12, 2004 @ 8:38 am

  4. Re In-N-Out: I refer you to the Secret Menu.

    Comment by Tom — December 15, 2004 @ 9:53 pm

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