I have often been accused of being absentminded. I’ll admit, I kind of fit the stereotype—I’m a grad student with professorly aspirations, a man known to lose his keys in his own pockets while he’s still wearing the pants. Give me something to hold onto, and within thirty seconds you can bet that I’ll have absently placed it on a ledge, shelf, fireplace, mirror, or the occasional microwave. Occasionally, I find ‘lost’ objects carefully stowed away in my shoes. Not even I understand what that’s all about.
My room is stuffed with so much clutter that even the dust bunnies seem embarrassed. I’m prone to arriving five minutes late to appointments—except when I really TRY to be on time, and then I’m usually fifteen minutes late. Of course, that’s assuming I even remember that I was supposed to be somewhere. I generally equate recalling—and making it to—an appointment as an event equivalently fortuitous as winning the lottery. (Though, admittedly, the pay isn’t quite as good.)
Yes, I’m completely hopeless. But, here’s the kicker: I don’t really mind.
In our culture, people generally regard absent-minded types with a tolerant fondness. “That old professor,” they say, “he just can’t help himself.” From an insider’s perspective, however, I find this opinion just a bit defective. We’re not stupid, folks. We’re distracted. And so, I offer you this claim: We absent-minded types aren’t ‘forgetful’ at all. We simply know how to prioritize.
In my freshman economics class, I learned about a valuable concept called opportunity cost. Lets say you wanted to go to a Britney Spears concert, but instead decided to go pay someone to let you repeatedly ram your head into the wall. The money you pay in either case is the same, so the ‘cost’ is identical. However, the ‘opportunity cost’ is the thing you missed out on doing because of your choice. In this case, the opportunity cost was a verbal assault on your eardrums and soul via Britney’s music. (A poor trade for the aforementioned head-bashing, in my opinion.)
The absent-minded person understands opportunity cost. Every time you do something, you must let other things remain undone. Every time you think about something, you must let other things remain unthought. It isn’t that we are so incompetent as to let ourselves languish, it’s that we simply have better things that we must first achieve. Dreams to consider, theories to postulate, novels to write.
Perhaps if Einstein had wasted time combing his hair every morning, we’d all be speaking German right now.
So, don’t focus so much on our missed appointments and lost keys. Instead, be comforted in the fact that we’re engaged in endeavors that are far more important. Wondrous, vital endeavors—like, for instance, thinking up elaborate justifications for why we can’t be bothered to clean our rooms.
Now. . .when is this column due again?
[Editor’s note: You were early this time. Don’t let it happen again!]
EUOL, aka Brandon Sanderson, writes epic fantasies for Tor Books. Find his column on TWG on Fridays, where he will discuss whatever random topic pops into his head—including, but not limited to, reviews, articles about writing, and con reports.