THE DEADLINE.[final draft].


What a connotation.

“Finish, at the time appointed, or you’ll be dead.”

We were taught, as early as first grade, to complete a task by a time determined (by somebody else), or pay the consequences. I’ve been wondering, lately, where this concept originated, let alone how it came to be integrated into society.

My initial guess, prior to research, was that at some point during either the Middle or the Dark Ages, some emboldened ruler imposed the principle. Or, perhaps a Roman device, as they structured the city state. Seemed taxation may have played a part. One subservient owed some lord and, in order to insure the debt was paid, the servant was coerced into paying via a fixed date.

But, etymologists, those who dedicate their energy to determining the roots of terminology, put “dead – line” during the period of the American Civil War (1861-1865). Apparently, the stockade had an established line over which prisoners did not pass. Later on, during the 1920s, the newspaper business adopted its use to establish a time limit to insure that current news made print.

Perhaps the idea was so effective in keeping the dispersement of news ahead of the clock that it found its way into the organized workplace. Indeed; neither the assembly line nor public education would have survived without deadlines, and I speak from experience.

Into the third year of retirement from my day job, I cope daily with the realization that, finally having free time, any deadlines feel almost jarring. I alternately either procrastinate against them, or address them with compulsive obsession, determined to beat the clock in order to dispense with their effect on me.

I can vividly recall the yearly musicals, fully staged by myself and my elementary school students, on or about June 1. Most other schools produced theirs either at the beginning of the fall semester, or right after the holidays. By contrast, I waited; my kids and I only had one night per week to rehearse, non-curricularly with zero budget, and sometimes no more than ten rehearsals in total, given the various holidays and dentist appointments and basketball practices and soccer scrimmages that ensued. In spite of these crushing constraints, we always produced: two, double cast performances of one show, 9 am and 6:30pm the next day, without fail. Or, I should say, at the utter and complete multi-system exhaustion of both my students and me.

But, in the real world of the creative, masterpieces make their own schedule. Most don’t consider, comfortably nestled in their plush recliners at the cinematic multiplex munching popcorn, that the two hour visual escape they are about to enjoy took from ten months to five years to complete. Years, of daily effort, by hundreds of people and truckloads of sophisticated technology – just to make one movie. The Cistine Chapel ceiling set the precedent, and I seriously doubt whether we would have that magnificent evidence centuries later had Michelangelo been required to meet a deadline.

Showing up on time to perform for others, whether it be in court, on stage, or at the corporate meeting at the end of the fiscal year, also wreaks a certain effect on the human body. Apparently, the immune system runs at peak efficiency during performance stress. The downside is: once released from such an environment, said system becomes more vulnerable to infection. Might the immune system just be compensating, interpreting command performance as an actual threat?

One might argue that an ordered civilization requires performance deadline. Social expectation, and all that. Keeping pace with the marketing machine. But, in our generation, computers displace humans every minute, performing virtually every task of which mankind has been historically capable. Why not relax the deadline mentality on humanity? Let’s see what we can produce with only fertile minds, able hands, and just one, unlimited vista of possibility.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 1/11/16 All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you.

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