Procrastination whispers through the hallways of our studying minds. With ironic and grim efficiency, it prompts a desire for flight from productive pursuits. We know that moments of aversion can add up to days of lost productivity. Nothing is easier to brush aside than a textbook, nothing’s quicker to minimize than a window on our laptop, and no reality is easier to hide from than our AU coursework. It doesn’t stare us in the face like a dog or the dishes and it doesn’t take only minutes here and there to have its requirements fulfilled. To seize the day in our AU studies it helps to garner a perspective on where we’re going so that we don’t get caught up in the abstract momentary of daily life distractions. So, for now, let’s skip cleaning the carpets and carpe diem with our studies!
To re-purpose an old saying: if we’re below decks on the good ship of our AU studies we can’t even tell if we’re moving. Times change inexorably and we have to pause to see where the wind blows. The world of current events is full of examples where, if we just focused on the present, we’d miss out on the big picture. Procrastination thrives when we’re too caught up in the endless series of moments that congeal into life.
For instance: who now speaks of peak oil? It’s relative fall from grace in terms of current event narratives and big picture belief systems illustrates at a macro-level the changing nature of life itself. A finite number of dinosaurs died that we may live in modern splendour, but how we think about this resource depends on whether we face its depletion now or later. Likewise, we can shuffle our notes into a proverbial wastepaper basket and move onto cushier brain pastures, but our course deadlines will still loom on, or just over, the horizon.
The vanishing point of reality exists in the face of our ostrich tendencies. Happily, the phoenix-like character of our AU career naturally illustrates our academic resurrection as adult students. Few of us transitioned from high school straight to AU; our trajectory was meandering, if not chaotic. Only by looking back does our destiny seem somewhat assured. And yet, all of this success can be taken away if we lose our study chutzpah for too long. Our AU careers trace the reality of life itself: the personal is political and reflects a series of joys and sorrows, triumphs and setbacks. There are no rainbows without rain, and if studying didn’t require concerted effort, it would probably never happen. After all, bookshelves from Sooke to Stockholm are packed with well-meaning bundles of carbon fibre never to be graced by the presence of a focused eye.
So, starting with the knowledge that we’ve succeeded before in applying our gallant snouts to the gumption grindstone, let’s remember that success is as much in the mind as in the body. It’s one thing to know your passion and a whole other action to make it happen. Planted firmly in our comfy study nook, the magic takes hold if we’ve made ourselves a mental map. Like flying miraculously in a movie fantasy sequence, we can glide over the successes of our past coursework and gain a confident trajectory passing by present procrastination.
Dreaming Up, Up and Away From The Eternal Present
Every picture, mental or physical, needs context. The vision we take of our studies is no different. Just think of the fun creative exercise of captioning a series of random, odd, and hilarious photographs. Is that really a monkey jumping out of a wedding cake or was it all photo-shopped? What’s more real than a real collage of photos, anyway? We’re in the picture as viewers: that’s why photos are taken, for the viewer to become a part of the scene. As the authors of our academic destiny it falls to us to decide how to grab an image of our success. A momentary lapse into procrastination is fine; we just need a little perspective to place ourselves where we want to be.
If you miss a day or three of studying that’s ok; call it a reading break and just move on! Distance education is about having a short memory; unlike in a brick and mortar setting, where you walk out of one class and into the campus coffee shop where your troubles temporarily evaporate, we’re potentially always carrying a part of our studies with us. I’ve met writers who had a shed they worked in but, unless you’re well-endowed with buildings, your home is probably also your classroom. We’re like cerebral hermit crabs. But our studies don’t have to be baggage; we can shed them by adopting the right perspective and not getting caught up in present distractions.
Presentism: The Last Refuge of Lost Perspective
Living too much in the present tense may lead to the rapid passing of that gleaming moment of opportunity that is our experience of a return to post-secondary success. With startling brevity, a six-month contract date can fly past; if you’re not buckled up you could miss the ride and need an extension. To this end maybe the biggest hurdle we face in our individualized studies rears its head: procrastination, to this Fly on the Wall, thrives on an ideology of presentism.
Presentism is not a new concept. Like each moment, the present has always been there whether we notice it or not. Presentism is simply “the intuitive or common sense of time” (Ingram & Tallant, online). Even if we don’t feel present in a moment our body certainly awaits our conscious return. Likewise, each second that passes with or without productivity has an air of eternity about it even though our knowledge of its existence happens in the past tense. As soon as we sense something it’s already happened; no wonder study time seems so fleeting!
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, with Stanford’s logo of an ancient and noble Redwood Tree, symbol of all that is timeless, secular (ie old), and true, describes the ideology of presentism as follows:
“As a bare ontological thesis, presentism can be understood as P:
(P)Only present things exist.
P is a claim about what there is, absolutely and unrestrictedly” (Ingram & Tallant, online).
Presentism assumes the stance of the natural view: a series of ‘ands’ proceeding in a line stretching in every direction but only encompassing one single actual moment at a time. It’s an arid and lonely mountain peak from which to gaze out and this may help explain why a study plan can assuage fears of falling behind in coursework. We’re not alone when our future selves, so to speak, are there to greet us. When we assert our planning skills each moment contains a panoply of potentials. This is empowering. If we’re going to privilege our studies to maximize our odds of success we have to let AU seep into enough moments that the timeless present reveals time for schoolwork and presents opportunities for success. Ironically, to enjoy the present we have to have an image of when in the future we will work and when we will play.
Literary Presentism; The Story of Successful Study Lives
Think of our AU journey as the story it will be one day. Literature, especially classics that withstand the test of time by maintaining a presence in curricula through generations, illustrate how the big picture animates the present tense. Without comparing between epochs we can’t know what value a given piece of work contains. And hey, as pieces of work ourselves, heroically inhabiting both the status of university students as well as that of average citizens, we can note the polymorphous nature of our realm. Our options in a given moment are many; like multiple characters in a novel, there’s a polysemous sense to our life. But to be aware of it we can’t just go with the flow; presentist procrastination lets us thrive only like an ant on a log in a river. Things are ok now, and now, and then wham, there’s a waterfall. Likewise, a little omniscience goes a long way so that we don’t get lost in the kaleidoscope of options each moment provides. Life’s a trip if we buy the ticket; the trick is to pick our destinations. Living reality can be a bit of a mind warp but it doesn’t have to be a journey of wandering until lost.
Here and Now, Now!
Aldous Huxley, noted hallucinogen experimenter and famous novelist, began his book Island by introducing a series of Mynah birds who enchanted the protagonist out of amnesia and into a realization of the calamities of his past. Huxley’s mynah birds chanted “Attention!” repeatedly, like a mantra, followed by the key phrase “Here and now, boys!” (Huxley, 1,6). To be there in the here and now is, in fact, to be in many places at once; our minds know no imaginative boundaries and that’s not even touching upon our possible unconscious. We live mentally both here, there, and in some ways (to paraphrase the Beatles) everywhere (Beatles, online) . Being here and now means knowing our past and having a vision of our future. Presentism can prevent this if we don’t realize that our image of the future and our recollection of the past frame the very substance that makes up the image we hold of ourselves and our lives.
Awareness of multifarious potential allows success for AU students like ourselves. It’s not called individualized study because we’re all channelled into the same stream, after all. We have to operate on multiple levels and chart our own course. And we have to be able to overcome adversity in isolation. Car troubles setting your commute back? The simple solution might be to skip studying for a week while you sort our transit options and scan the web for discount mechanics. Spring cleaning beckoning you like the maw of a black hole mesmerizing a mad scientist? Better put off that essay till Monday! But no, success as distance students requires that we create a regime and stick to it flexibly but consistently so we can meet our essay deadlines and ace our exams. Maybe at the lower levels of education we could squeak a passing mark out of a course by cramming with caffeine and cookies for 12 hours but that isn’t the case at AU, where major essays take tens of hours of research and innumerable, almost unquantifiable segments, of our greatest resource: our mind’s attention.
Nothing pays better academic dividends than managing and utilizing this vital resource. Attention! Not to only the present, but also to all the presents to come. Maybe we all need mynah birds in our study spaces. Next week we’ll investigate further into the depths of perspective and how, by looking at ways we and the world around us evolve, we can nourish flexibility of our vision and attentiveness to the details within the big picture our our grandest achievements.