Rob's Blog Archive

June 10, 2012

The Fine Art of Procrastination










When I was in college, only one person had mastered successful procrastination better than I had.  John was a year ahead of me, so I didn’t know him his frosh year.  The story went that first term of his freshman year John got blue slips, midterm notification of a low or failing grade, in all of his classes.  In response to this, he spent most of his time reading science fiction.  This very much concerned upperclassman in our student house.  The last week of the term, he trolled (Caltech for ‘studied’), his ass off and passed all his classes.  Second term matched this in every way.  By third term, the only difference was that upperclassman were no longer concerned about whether or not John was going to pass his classes.  John graduated with an okay, though by no means stellar, GPA with a B.S. in mechanical engineering. 

Though not quite as good at this as John, I did tend to put off as much as I could and, just in time, pull my ass out of the fire (‘yup, looks hot enough to me’).  The best datum supporting what I did as well as my ability to gauge what I was doing was my grade distribution.  Caltech had letter grades---straight as well as with plusses and minuses.  With every passing grade available from A+ to C-, I got one to three of everything from straight A to straight C (no A+’s or C-‘s) and 17 straight B’s.  Basically, I did well enough to get a B, but usually not better.  The well enough included electricity and magnetism, a required course for physics majors, where the average grade was something like a C-.  And if I had done my homework in Ph 106, I would have easily gotten an A, but what for?

I am not afraid of dentists or any medical person or procedure.  Still, I tend to avoid them.  I’ve thought it was the nuisance factor, but with the story a tooth of mine, Rob’s 32, maybe not.  Perhaps it’s just me being the same person I was as an undergraduate, like John, letting my ass cook until it kind of glowed and then pulling it out of the fire just in the nick of time. 

During the summer of 2006, I had a tooth that started giving me a bit of pain.  It was my lower right wisdom tooth a.k.a. Rob’s 32.   The pain in the summer kept me from eating quite as heartily as I might and I even lost a few pounds.  That was a good thing, and the pain did die away after a couple of weeks.  Then come October, it started in again.  I figured I should probably see a dentist, so I made an appointment. 

For the nth time, a new dentist was surprised that I had no fillings and no cavities.  Well, excepting problems with Rob’s 32.  He didn’t think anything was urgently wrong, but the tooth definitely needed extraction.  He also said it would require an oral surgeon.  Finally, he said that good oral hygiene would help keep it and the surrounding gum tissue from becoming painfully inflamed.

So I did the latter for the next five and a half years.  If anybody ever checked my Iditarod drop bags, and given everything I’m thinking they did, they would have found mini bottles of Scope.  Rest assured, I wasn’t concerned about halitosis.  Of all the odors I was responsible for after a few days on the trail, bad breath wasn’t going to be a big one.  I packed the Scope to make sure that I kept any local infection in or near Rob’s 32 at bay.  I had found that a general regimen of using floss sticks and mouth wash, both of which I had on the Iditarod trail, was adequate.  And though I’ve had flare ups, the hygiene thing has worked well. 

That was until about two months ago.  A lot of the problem with Rob’s 32 is I grind my teeth.  I know that shocks anybody who knows me as I am such an easy going low key person, but it’s true.  Sometime before tax day, I finally wore away a lot of the crown on Rob’s 32----a very big chip broke off.  Actually I figured this was a good thing.   Assuming that the nerve in the tooth wasn’t too badly exposed, it meant that cleaning the area between Rob’s 32 and the adjacent tooth became a ton easier. 

The pain in the tooth waxed and waned a couple of times, but the general trend was not good.  Finally, by the end of last week, I realized it was time to pull my ass out of the fire and see a dentist.  Per what I had been told almost six years earlier, I knew the tooth had to come out and figured I would need an oral surgeon.  Of course, during the intervening period, the original dentist had retired and I could no longer use his report to get oral surgery scheduled, so I had to start over.   

I made my appointment with a new dentist for Friday.  Friday rolled around and I showed up at her office.  With the tooth that badly damaged, there really wasn’t much of a question why I was there.

The dentist came in, commented that I must have drunk a lot of milk as a child as my bones and teeth were very thick and added that she was going to have to break the tooth in order to pull it.  My ears went up immediately----no oral surgeon meant only one drive down to Missoula!  I confirmed what she said, and she went to work.  As she worked, I realized I hadn’t asked about the cost, not that it mattered at all, but commented that it was probably going to be more than the century for a normal initial exam.  She said yes, but that she’d give me a little bit of a break---she wasn’t going to charge anything for the diagnosis. About thirty minutes later, Rob’s 32 was a couple of pieces of medical waste.  And as I write this now, the pain is already a lot less than it was most of last week.  So with all my procrastination, everything went fine.  Yet once more I pulled my tush out in time. 

But here’s the interesting thing.  While John and I were only adequate students and tended to procrastinate a lot regarding studies, we were both among the best disciplined when it came to conditioning for the sport we both participated in, wrestling.  For each of our four years, we were on the varsity wrestling team.  Both of us weight-lifted during the summers and ran extensively to stay in shape---generally John did more lifting and I did more running, but we each did plenty of both.  And while for me the procrastination thing was self taught, I learned discipline regarding conditioning from John as much as anybody. 

And, that has stayed with me, both for myself and my dogs.  With no races, last year was the first since I moved to Seeley Lake that I didn’t have a training schedule set up before the season started.  Even now, just for the Serum run, I have a schedule and am keeping to it---I’ve done six training runs so far this spring and will do six more starting this week.  I’ll take July off, then start in again on the week of August 14 (my training weeks start on Tuesday).  From there, I’ve got a weekly schedule through the Serum Run itself. 

As a musher, there are lots of errors I’ve made, though generally I’m okay with them.  Perhaps there’s a reason.  The one error I haven’t made is to come into a race with my dogs out of condition.  When I wrestled, albeit at a small academically oriented college, I was always at the top of our team regarding conditioning.  And the same goes for my dogs.  They haven’t been as well conditioned as the best professional teams, but they were always as well or better conditioned than the next tier down.  John would be proud. 

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