Two-- take three hours to “just check your email” before you start work for the day. Few things are as excellent time wasters as the Internet, and you want to exploit them fully. However, if you are able, watch some morning television news magazine such as Good Morning America, or convince yourself that you should go out and read a newspaper.
Three-- Find some appropriate music to set the soundtrack of your day. Make sure it is something good 'n depressing, especially on a cultural level. I usually go with Bright Eyes, although there is certainly a wide selection of indie emo you can choose.
Four-- Open your document on the computer. Now you can try to fool yourself that you will get some work done.
Five-- Change the first line as many times as possible before your skin begins to crawl. For
me, this usually begins at the back of my knees, but I recognize the full effect when my lower back begins to sweat. A favorite at this stage is to change word order in one or two sentences. Should that phrase be a genitive, “of Bernard?” Or should I change it to a possessive: “Bernard's?” Or, should I re-structure the sentence entirely as a prepositional phrase, “in the system wherein Bernard is situated?” Usually go with the most convoluted result, but don't hesitate to continue with this until you hands are completely sore from cracking and re-cracking your knuckles.
Six-- Decide you need some coffee. Of course, this means you also have to do dishes, scrub the counter, sweep the floor, and start a load of laundry. Also feel free to inspect the mail and leaf through the Liturgical Press catalogue for an hour or so.
Seven-- Return to writing after three cups of coffee. You're jittery, so you will probably write at least three more sentences. Reward yourself with a game or seven of free cell, since not everybody can write a whole 65 original words in the span of four hours!
Eight-- Realize that you have realized that everything you have done today is a diversion from the underlying dread of staring at yourself in the reflection of the blank page on your monitor. In response to this, begin thinking about your plans for next year and how they resemble a jenga tower teetering on this fulcrum of this thing you are failing to write.
Nine-- pace around the room for at least fifteen minutes. Pick up a book and start furiously reading and underlining. Make sure it is one of yours, or else somewhere a librarian will have a conniption.
Ten-- turn off the Bright Eyes CD that has been repeating for the past five hours. Slap yourself around physically, mentally, or both.
Eleven-- Your constant rumination on the failures of the past several hours, along with the overload of caffeine, have probably depressed you to the extent that your mindset is approaching the point required to posses the realization of your own depravity required for true monastic reflection. Write two paragraphs, then read a bit more before you put the laundry into the dryer, and while you are doing that, welcome any other distraction that presents itself for your exploitation.
Twelve-- Pour your frustrations into the chapter you're writing, turn it in, receive glowing feedback from your advisor, do the same for the other chapters, and finish your thesis in record time with an exemplary grade.
Except the last point hasn't happened. And it probably won't. But it's a hope for the future that is the corona slithering behind the eclipse of the present despair, the shadowy light that reveals your true being in what is written by your hands. Read what you wrote again. Then read your proposal and modify it a bit. Then notice how this slice of the past and the plan for the future completely miss each other in the present. Now you write about writing, again. Now you are distanced from yourself once more, but for a time it is close enough to be the present. And even that contains another model condemning your understanding of you right now, since here you see yourself clearly by seeing exactly what you aren't, but should be. Et jam incepit...
Lucky number thirteen, with a bullet-- Stare at the computer screen, losing yourself in what you have written so that your skin is wrapped in the words of the page. Every letter is a molecule of your flesh. Every period is a blink. Each phrase a dying gasp. You see yourself more clearly than you ever could have, and all you want to do is look away, but the alphabet of failure is everywhere around you. You try to utilize the known as an escape hatch, fleeing into the nameless terror of the unknown future, but when you pass into this dull razor of the immediate present you discover to your horror that you've been there a lifespan before you arrived, sitting outside a closed door with knuckles bloody and raw from your incessant knocking. You aren't pounding the walls though. You rap over and over against your skull, trying to reach the idea(l) you believe is in there with every false fiber of your being, and with each stroke another key clicks--another letter onto the page sounding out a first person passive future subjunctive, “would that I could be written.” Just when you think you're beating the thesis-daemon back into the submissive state it never knew with blow after unconvinced blow, you look up and only see yourself before you; you see that the shiv lodged in your soul as you bleed to death is your own wild insubordinate will. Then you realize that the choice to look away you thought you possessed in your moments of distraction and procrastination is simply an illusion, because as soon as you turn away from the mirror in front of you, weakly hoping that you might cleverly dodge your own gaze, you see that what imprisons you is the prism of your mind that cruelly rejects every twitch of your guilty conscience from escaping into the world outside your head. No, you cannot look away, because only the blessed dead are able to stave the flow of torments that vision and consciousness utilize to scourge the damned. For only a moment are your eyelids loosed from the wrenching bonds that your hands, encased in the gloves of your thesis, have used to sew them open. They close briefly to picture the rusting and abandoned hope that is the completion of your task, which appears at the fringes of your imagination only when you watch every movement of your flesh transforming into the virtual words projected onto the computer screen.
The despair of the only past and present and future that you can imagine hedges you in—like the eye of a hurricane that tears the bones from your sockets—forcing you to search for whatever textualized hope you can't find. And you long to imagine the possibility that this sandcastle of a dream can survive the storm surge of the reality of yourself that encompasses all you can see. Because only in the greatest despair can you have the greatest hope.
But who the hell wants hope anyway? Time to drown my sorrows in facebook.