Monday, July 26, 2004

There are days when editing, for me at least, is a way to slack off.

Now, in college I had a friendly argument with friends which went on intermittently for a month or so before we all dropped it. I claimed that vacuuming, washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, and eating meals are all -- potentially, at least -- ways of slacking off. I like to eat, and I like to clean -- eat something messy, wipe a dish off, and admire the sparkle. It takes little effort, and the results are immediate. Now, these activities are necessary, and I would probably do them even if I didn't enjoy them. But I do enjoy them, and I figure that if I eat and clean when I have other, more urgent, and perhaps less enjoyable tasks pending, then the eating-and-cleaning time counts as goofing off. My friends disagreed, but they never really convinced me.

Therefore, I feel vaguely guilty for spending the afternoon editing when I should probably have been writing code or running experiments. I'm fond of my red pen, probably because very few other things in my life involve such a vivid primary color. Sit me down with a red pen, a cup of something warm, and a manuscript in progress, and I'll be happy as a clam. Writing new text is hard work, but revising existing text is fun. Maybe I enjoy editing for the same reasons that I enjoy cleaning: it's easy, and the results are immediate. Still, while I don't feel guilty about my editing time (certainly not as if I should be chastised with scorpions as one high-school teacher put it), I also think it's fair to say that I was slacking off. At least a little.

I also goof off in other ways, of course. I read books, and I've taken to watching television sometimes. I make up bad puns (does anyone else think about legally changing their name to Bic Pentameter?); I go for walks; I people-watch; I hang out with friends; I surf the web. Sometimes I just stare into space, though I can't imagine how I look any different when daydreaming than I do when proving a theorem or thinking out how to design a program. Apart from some extra enthusiasm about things mathematical and a tendency toward speech patterns more commonplace in the nineteenth century than in the twenty-first, my distractions and my habits of work and play are in the normal range for a modern-day male American in his mid-twenties. And so I'd guess that there are plenty of other folks out there who, like me, sometimes engage in goofing off of the necessary sort, whether by fixing a car, cleaning, or doing some other enjoyable chore in place of something more onerous.

Pete, feel free to disagree with me the next time you feel like goofing off.

  • Currently drinking: Osymanthus fancy black tea