Downtime

Cut-and-Paste Shrines

Why I spend hours making collages of inspirational women that I never print out.

Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey.
Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images, Bertrand Guay/Getty Images, CF Publicity via Getty Images.

Rabbit Holes is a recurring series in which writers pay homage to the diversity and ingenuity of the ways we procrastinate now. To pitch your personal rabbit hole, email humaninterest@slate.com.

When my train of thought inevitably pulls up to Procrastination Station, I always determine to use my time wisely. I turn a firm, dismissive hand to YouTube videos of seals slapping their stomachs on a 10-minute loop, and I shake my head at the alluring pull of a refreshed Twitter feed. Instead, I buckle up for a session of intense inspiration gathering. The goal: to take a procrastination-induced mental plateau and turn it into a power-up, to crawl myself out of the rabbit hole by using the very activity itself as my grappling hook.

My procrasti-motivation activity of choice is making digital collages of women I admire. Powerful women, fearless women, funny women. It is, after all, 2018—when we’ve called Time’s Up on abuse and inequality, and sang and danced our way to legions of fans renaming a music festival after us (this example only applies to Beyoncé, sorry). I scour the internet to curate various images; paste them into a Word document; then set off applying sepia tones, removing backgrounds, and adding decorations. Sometimes I’ll insert speech bubbles filled with quotes from my subjects, dragging the tails to sit right between the celebrity’s lips—so realistic!

Though I occasionally become overwhelmed by the sheer amount of formatting I’ve heaped onto an unsuspecting .docx and abandon the project halfway through the cropping stage, the collages usually turn out great. They’re eye-catching and bright, polished and powerful. I get a real kick out of having perfectly matched the color of a border around a picture of Lady Gaga with that of the leotard she is sporting, or the font of a Meryl Streep quote with the tone of her latest movie. Once, I audibly gasped at how the cropping shape I’d applied to a photo of Jessica Chastain aligned so nicely with the mood she was evoking.

All that’s left, then, is to print the collage, perform a little extra snipping and tacking, et voilà! I’ll see it stuck against my wardrobe and immediately write a movie script, build a rocket ship, make a recording of myself coughing over a beat, and win a Grammy for it. I’ll have #inspo every time I wake up in the morning and right before I go to sleep every night.

Trouble is, I never get as far as printing my creations. Cursed with Frankenstein’s abundant hubris and lack of follow-through, I condemn them to an eternity of neglect. They spend the rest of their lives in the doomed “miscellaneous” folder on my desktop—the death row of documents, just a stumble away from the recycle bin. And without a physical copy to stick against my closet or mirror, inspired action will forever remain but a theory.

There are many reasons for this abortive tendency. The printer is at the other end of the house, so very far away. And I don’t want to waste neither paper nor ink, because Time’s Up on irresponsible printing, too. Besides, I have plenty of other things I’m supposed to be doing and Time’s Up on not doing them, and I could easily get them done if only I wasn’t spending so much time trying to motivate myself to do them. The most prominent factor in this failure to hit Print, however, is the simplest of all. I just can’t be bothered.

It’s a shame, really, because throughout the creative process, I do feel genuinely inspired by the people I include—at least intellectually. Sometimes, the salient figures in these designs are veritable legends: Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem; other times a comedy power couple like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.* Often, I’ll simply fill any remaining chunks of white space with various shots of my mother. And occasionally I forgo the traditionally inspirational figure altogether, opting instead to take a deep dive into a cinematic bath and emerge dripping wet in stimulating aesthetic. This could mean a screenshot from Pretty Woman that inspires me to achieve hair as fabulous as Julia’s, a still from a Roger Deakins film that permits me to pretend I’m as rich as his cinematography, or a close-up of Ally McBeal–era Lucy Liu as motivation to achieve similar facial perfection.

So it’s not as if these women aren’t inspiring enough. I just expect too much of them. It’s like I’m waiting for Mariah Carey to instruct me to print her, stick her, stare at her while I’m on the toilet. Oprah’s power doesn’t extend to dragging me to the printer, and Rihanna can’t make me move my laptop from my lap. To quote Tinashe—inspiring singer, dancer, and patient name pronunciation corrector—“I got an angel on my shoulder, but the devil keep me colder.” It’s nice to see all those accomplished angels on my journey through Procrastination Station, but at the end of the day, the devil’s driving the train.

The exercise isn’t a complete waste. To my mind, this method of procrastination is still nobler—at least in its intentions—than a plunge into the cesspool of YouTube. I enjoy it, the distraction these women offer in their achievements. I like admiring them from afar and doing absolutely nothing to emulate them, sue me! If nothing else, it reminds me that I can reach the same heights as them, if I so choose. It just so happens that I do not so choose.

And you know what? Maybe that’s me reclaiming my own power, just like them. I know what I want: I decide how I want to procrastinate! Excellent. It’s settled, then. I think I’ve earned myself two hours of binge-watching Vine compilations. See you at the Grammys!

Correction, Dec. 13, 2018: This piece originally misspelled Amy Poehler’s last name.