From Our Staff | September 21, 2011

We all love to imagine what we would do if we could call a “do-over” on life. If you could revisit the moments that shaped your life, would you ask what’s-her-name to junior prom? What about confronting your elementary school bully? Would you go so far as to redo kindergarten? Robin Hemley, one of America’s finest nonfiction writers and recipient of multiple prestigious awards, raises these questions and more in his new book Do-Over! In his book, Hemley revisits some of the more embarrassing failures of his life and redoes them as a middle-aged man, attempting everything from a summer camp swimming test to taking his high school crush to prom. Do-Over! even revisits Hemley’s awkward eighth-grade year at Columbia, Missouri’s own Jefferson Junior High School. Sound interesting? Robin Hemley will be at The Missouri Review’s free Back-to-School event on September 24th at 2 p.m. in 215 Tate Hall at the University of Missouri, Columbia to discuss Do-Over! Come out, enjoy some juice and back-to-school snacks, and listen to one of the best writers in the world discuss all the flubs we wish we could fix. Robin Hemley will also read from Do-Over! at The Missouri Review’s annual benefit dinner at Murry’s restaurant on September 25that 6 p.m. A $60 ticket for this event includes wine, dinner, the music of Tom Andes, Robin Hemley’s reading, and, of course, a chance to support the literary arts. Tickets may be purchased by calling (573) 884-8851. It promises to be a fantastic evening, one you won’t want to miss!

Robin Hemley will read from his book Do-Over! on September 24th at the University of Missouri.

Just like Robin Hemley, I think we all have moments we wish we could fix. I find his work particularly inspiring because there are a few events from the past I would try again, especially when it comes to finding the source of my current bad habits–specifically my procrastination infestation. Every few weeks at five minutes before midnight, I sling my backpack onto the table in my go-to coffee shop, six books spilling out of my bag. I start flipping through the books with one hand as I pull out my computer with the other. The busboy wiping down tables is staring, gripping his dishtowel in petrified amazement as, ten seconds after bursting through the door, my fingers begin to fly across the keyboard of my Mac. I barely glance over my glasses as I bark, “Listen, I don’t know how many espresso shots you can put in a cup of coffee before it’s illegal, but that’s exactly how many I want; got it?”

This is my average night before a paper is due. The coffee shop, the sleep-deprivation, the lonesome table peppered with highlighted texts and empty cups of espresso—it’s all part of my perfected monthly procrastination ritual. I can tell you how many hours it will take to write five pages, double-spaced, APA style, give or take a few absentminded Facebook distractions. I’ve been an expert procrastinator for years. In high school, if I hadn’t studied for my Biology exam, I would draw an intricate small intestine for “points for creativity.” For my junior high book reports, I would make up whole novels, designing the plots from my own imagination. Of course, I wasn’t born finding ways to take “short cuts.” There was a time where I labored over homework like the rest of my young peers—but that was an age before I discovered White Out.

My addiction to procrastination started in fifth grade. Each week, we had to do a set of times tables through 12 times 12. It was extremely boring, and math never was my strong subject, so I started putting them off. At first, I decided that I just wouldn’t hand them in. Well, that didn’t work, that just made my parents take away the TV. With no afternoon cartoons, I came up with a new plan. I quickly copied out last week’s assignment each time it was handed back; sure it was tedious, but not nearly as frustrating. Weeks later, I found the mother lode of all shortcuts: my dad’s White Out. At the time, I was convinced that teachers didn’t actually check each individual assignment (a theory proven in tenth grade when I included a recipe for venison steak in the middle of a short paper). With a quick flick of the brush, there was a small chance my teacher could recognize the hasty “OK” he had scribbled on the previous week’s times table. I had found an ultimate solution for multiplication. I could put off learning about math as long as I wanted.  I was a genius. At least, I thought I was—but my teacher? Not so much. He quickly caught onto my plot and silently handed me a pencil to rewrite the entire set of multiplicative monstrosities. A graceful loser, I surrendered and rewrote my times tables with my teacher looming over me. As I stumbled through seven times eight, I failed to mention to him that I had handed in that very same times table for the previous three weeks.

At the time, I thought I was cheating the system, but I’ve learned that once you get to college, there is no cheating the system. There’s just an empty coffee shop, Microsoft Word, and your own ingenuity. Maybe I would have never discovered procrastination and taking short cuts if I had written out the tables; maybe I’d have even discovered a love for math; maybe I’d be able to multiply by nines without counting on my fingers. One day I may just face my problems like Robin Hemley. I’ll stride right back into the fifth grade classroom at North Mercer Elementary, take my pencil, and write out every single times table from one to twelve right there. Still, I just made it through College Algebra, and I can barely remember the rules for addition, let alone multiplication. Oh, well. I have no problem leaving my do-over for another day—after all, procrastination is my best subject.