The Past is Perfect

fighterGo Figure: Musings from the Mind of Rob Wilstein

Do you love to exercise? Do you crave the horrible gasping for breath, cold sweat, light-headed, skin-tingling terror of being thrown from the treadmill or sideswiped by the next eighteen-wheeler on the road. That special feeling you can only get from lifting molded steel over your head thirty times while repeating your personal mantra, “Icandothis, Icandothis.” If you do, and you might, good luck to you. You love to exercise. Me, I love having exercised. That post-exercise, post shower, post smoothie deeply felt satisfaction of accomplishment, of having improved myself. The past perfect simple tense-ness of having done something of note.

My exercise misery scale, from zero to ten, looks like this. Zero is a state of comfortable bliss. Ten is near-death. Getting to the gym puts me at about a two, starting a workout I’m up to five, pushing through brings me to eight, and reaching maximum heart rate inches towards ten. Cool down brings me back from the brink, until about an hour after that post-workout smoothie when I’m getting back to zero.

So goes the writing. For many of us the act of writing, the seclusion in our writing rooms, the near magical appearance of letters forming words on screens or notepaper, the creative act, are the moments we savor. And, full disclosure, I admit I do have those moments. But, ah, having written. The column finished, the story told, the day’s work done, the requisite number appearing in ‘word count‘ is what I live for.

To have written is to be back in my comfort zone, released from the pre-writing anxieties of ‘how will it go today?’ and ‘will I be able to put that first word down?’ or ‘how the hell am I going to get Harry to realize his own stupidity?’ To have written is to be one step closer to the week’s quota. Seven days a week? Twice a week? Whatever your tolerance might be.

Here’s our friend Woody Allen on the frequency of sex in marriage.

She: Constantly, I’d say three times a week.

He: Hardly ever, maybe three times a week.

So goes the writing. What feels just right for one writer may be excessive or too little for another. But this past perfect sense of enjoyment and satisfaction doesn’t apply to all things. Take eating. A lot of fun while you’re doing it, can’t get enough of it, everything tastes so good, sure, I’ll have one more slice of that pie, no, not that big, well, okay. Much better in the present tense. Afterwards, not so much. Or drinking. So much better the night of than the day after. My good friend John always said he’d never woken up regretting having not drunk the night before. Smart fellow.

These past perfect post-writing moments of ecstasy may help explain our collective need to postpone the present tense act of writing by any means possible, from dishwashers that demand loading to employers expecting work to be done to children who have the temerity to want to be fed.

Here’s where my innovative writing program called Write Tomorrow TM, based on my innovative eating program called Diet Tomorrow TM, comes into play. If you sign up for Write Tomorrow TM, available on three DVD’s for $12.99, here’s what you’ll do. Today, you do all your errands, get all that life-improving exercise out of the way, enjoy the sunshine, catch up on your work, binge-watch Breaking Bad, and finish reading that Russian novel in Portuguese. Tomorrow you write. Easy-peasy. The only flaw I’ve discovered is that tomorrow you’re still on the Write Tomorrow TM program and, well, you can see how this might become non-productive.

The point is that sometimes the feeling of accomplishment, of ‘having solved’ the puzzle, is so gratifying that it overwhelms the actual doing, the present moment of creativity and inspiration. The ‘be here now’. And that really is a shame, because it is in those moments that we shine, difficult as they may be, and the present becomes as perfect as the past.

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