13 September, 2005

Breaking bad habits

I guess I got a little cocky after my first punishment. I thought that just knowing neither W. nor I liked the experience would be enough. And I did make myself do some work that week.

But I bewildered myself—I was doing the absolute bare minimum, holding (just barely) to the letter of what I had agreed to do. And, as it turned out, I hadn’t even been doing that, since it wasn’t until we checked in about my work later in the week that I remembered I had agreed to work five, rather than four hours a day, until I had “repaid” the hours that I wasted this summer.

I couldn’t understand it: I do like my dissertation topic, and while the chapter I’m working on is less interesting, it’s not completely boring, and I do understand why I need to do it now, rather than after I’ve written some of the more “fun” chapters. Thinking about it, there were probably two reasons I wasn’t working well.

First, I really dread writing, and I haven’t written a paper less than a week before it was due… in my life. I wrote my first last-minute paper at eight. I pulled my first all-nighter in the sixth grade. It’s just how I operate. Unfortunately, it’s absolutely not going to work with a whole dissertation (or even with a single chapter).

And second, I was testing my wife. Much as I hate to admit it to myself, a huge part of me needed to see if she was going to come through with the punishments, just so that I could relax into having a reason to force myself to write. And I hate to admit even more how I needed the punishment to be a disincentive all by itself. Because as it turned out, the fact that I knew W. didn’t like to give the punishment just fed into the guilt I always feel about how not doing my work hurts both of us. It’s too abstract to work very well as a motivator.

Actually, there are two more reasons that I hate even more to acknowledge. I wasn’t going to bed until quite late, and I wasn’t eating properly during the day. Both of these combined to give me a lot of trouble concentrating. I don’t have the sheer stamina I had in college, and I’m just not able to do without sleep and good nutrition and still get to have good use of my brain.

I brought the first two reasons up two weeks ago, and she gave me what felt like a very token spanking. She was looking at things from the outside, and felt very proud of me for having managed to get any work done at all. From the inside, I knew I had been setting the goals too low, and really failing to meet them even then. But I kept trying to make myself work, and getting at least a little bit done each day, which was an accomplishment of sorts.

And then came Labor Day weekend, and things went truly awry. Somehow, I couldn’t get back into the habit of working after taking three days off. Reading a dissertation that should have taken me perhaps two days of serious work was filling up my workdays. In a manner of speaking, because those “work days” were really much more filled with reading email and surfing the web. And even though I know perfectly well that my best work hours are in the morning and early afternoon, I would come into my study and check email before I started work. By the time I was done with all of my fooling around, I was lucky to get started with what I was supposed to be doing before noon. And even though I had suggested a perfectly reasonable rule—that I do my required work by 4 in the afternoon (to have some down-time before W. got home from work)—I was just not getting it done.

When W. asked what I had accomplished each day, I was appropriately vague, trying to make the small amounts of work I had done seem like enough to have filled up four or five hours of diligent work. She finally called my bluff last week on Wednesday. When I vaguely said that I had read two chapters, she asked me whether that was really sufficient. I admitted that it wasn’t. It was painful, because much as I didn’t want the punishment, I needed to know that she was going to follow through. But I felt so guilty for that, and I had soothed my guilt in perhaps the worst way possible—by not being open about my procrastination. I didn’t want her to have to punish me, since it seemed so self-indulgent, if a punishment can be self-indulgent. So I was keeping my guilt to myself.

She finally said, “I feel like I should do something about this.” I couldn’t look at her, because I didn’t want to prompt it. We moved on to other topics, and I went to take out the trash. When I came back to the bedroom, I noticed the loopy toy on the bed. Relief and fear: she was going to follow through.

But either because she had noticed the power waiting for the punishment had on me, or just because she wanted to finish up with everything we had to do that night, she didn’t initiate the punishment yet. I tried to casually read in bed while she finished with her online stuff, and talking to her sister, and all of the other things she was doing.

But finally she told her sister she was going to sleep, and hung up. I felt mingled disappointment and hope—if she was going to sleep, that meant I wasn’t getting punished. But we cleared the bed, and she told me it was time. We chose music, so we could avoid disturbing the neighbors with the noise of the spanking. I took off my shorts and underwear, and lay across the bed in front of her, clutching a pillow to muffle my squeals.

This was not a token punishment in the least. It started off hard, and before I had gotten three strokes, I was desperate for it to be over. This wasn’t about not wanting W. to have to do it again. This was about not wanting to get the punishment again. And it kept going on.

I don’t reach back to cover myself, because I don’t want to be hit on the hands any more than I want to be hit on my backside. What I do is twist to the side to get my bottom out of the line of fire. But I remember with perfect clarity the second time I did that, when W. paused, put her hand firmly in the middle of my back, and calmly said, “You have to accept it.” And she went on.

She has given me harder spankings, in total. She has given me much longer spankings many times. But this one was, bar none, the worst spanking I had ever gotten. It was hard and fast, it didn’t give me time to relax between strokes, and it was completely unpleasant.

When it was over, she held me and comforted me. But we talked some more. She warned that I really wanted to avoid getting another punishment spanking.

“Because the consequences are worse for repeated offenses,” I acknowledged.

“No,” she said, “Because I’m getting more able to give a hard punishment spanking.” It wasn’t that she is comfortable with it, she explained, but that she was understanding how to give a punishment spanking and not back off from it.

We cuddled some more, and went to sleep. And on Thursday, I got up, read the paper, and got right to work. It was amazing: I had done a good solid five hours of work, and was finished by 2 in the afternoon! I had tons of time free! I could read my email without guilt, and surf the web, and even bake a little celebratory cake for the first day of school.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the increasing ache I’d been feeling in my back all day was due to a case of the flu. By evening, I had a temperature of 102°. So I spent the next four days in bed drinking fluids and sleeping.

But when I was finally able to be out of bed today, I remembered the spanking I had gotten last week. And even though I knew neither of us expected me to get any work done today, I also know myself. And spending the day fooling around online would just reinforce bad habits. So I decided to just do a little work, taking breaks as I needed them. Because while the theory of not reinforcing bad habits is little motivation, the reality of getting an even harder punishment spanking not too long in the future is not one I look forward to. So this time, I really think I’ll be able to start changing my habits. I hope.

1 comment:

Handspan said...

Leaving my own guilt (about my own crap not being done, OC) aside, it's important to me that the flipside of punishing bad habits is that good habits are rewarded and acknowledged. YOU KICKED ASS this lsat two days. I am VERY proud of you. I said it and I will say it again. Please think of something we can do to celebrate a good week's work this weekend.

Other than a yard sale.

I love you.