In Praise of Sloth

Have you ever noticed that when we make fun of people who multi-task, it’s often in a way that’s a little bit admiring? It’s sort of like how you feel about the guy who juggles chain saws on Venice Beach: I wouldn’t want to do it, but wow, that is certainly amazing. This is the mom equivalent of the chain saw juggler: a woman piloting a mini-van, dressed to the nines for work, throwing juice boxes over her shoulder into the back seat, thrusting her dry-cleaning at someone who runs out to her car to get it so she doesn’t have to stop, talking all the while on a Blackberry and putting on eye shadow with the brush clenched between her teeth. (That last move is not, strictly speaking, possible unless you have a specially engineered, curved eye shadow brush, and that woman probably does. She bought it while she was buying Christmas presents, a late birthday present for her best friend and getting her pants hemmed.)

I think we could all benefit from embracing sinful laziness. And not just the kind of laziness that is actually just a rest between massive efforts to catch up on things, but true sloth, which is without guilt, without an end in mind, without any goal but to have no goal. You can’t see this, but I’ve been looking out the window wondering what that might look like. Maybe because I’m a sort of industrious person, and one who feels guiltily unproductive as a way of flogging myself into accomplishing even more, I am not certain how to go about being more slothful. This has not stopped me from trying. Here’s my action plan (the truly slothful do not have action plans. the rest of us, though, have to begin somewhere):

  • Ping-pong. This summer, I bought a competition sized ping pong table. It’s German and it’s beautiful. It took my industrious husband an entire morning to assemble it, but it’s so well made (and it folds up in half for storage under its very well made cover) that it will last forever. We also have enough paddles and balls for everyone to play forever. I mention this because I believe one of the keys to sloth is to have plenty of diversions available when you think you maybe should be alphabetizing your spices. When that urge comes over you, all you have to do is find a person who’s willing to play ping-pong. (Or scrabble, or monopoly or Parcheesi, or poker.) Games. There is always someone in our family who is looking for an excuse not to take a bath, or clean their room, or do their homework. They are the Sloths in Training, the Young Pioneers Who Stayed Home (being too lazy to get on the wagon train). They will always be available to play games with you.
  • Never, ever eat standing up. And don’t eat until as many people as you can rustle up in your family are sitting down with you. And then chew your food. Sloth and gluttony (which is really, to my mind, just the normal voluptuous experience of enjoying your meal) are important partners.
  • Lose your cell phone. I know many people aren’t good at this. I, however, am. I can never find my cell phone and, periodically, that state becomes permanent. It’s good not to be easily interrupted when you are busy being idle. The people who are looking for someone to bring the snack to the PTA meeting will move on when they see how hard you are to get in touch with.
  • Go to the movies. A lot. Enough said.
  • Stay in bed. Read in there. I know this isn’t supposed to be good for people who have trouble getting to sleep, but I love reading in bed.
  • Engage everyone else in slothfulness. There’s nothing more inhibiting to a good lazy day than an industrious person cleaning up around you. Tempt them into evil. I mean, suggest they go for a good long bike ride, so you can laze around in peace.

That’s it. I’m too lazy to think more about this, or to go look up the origin of the word sloth or to even think about what other deadly sins I would like to embrace.

Wishing you a lazy day,

BL

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26 thoughts on “In Praise of Sloth

  1. Tempt others into sloth is an important element of creating a lazier world. It would be too much work to evangalize, of course (I can’t even spell that correctly), so it has to be accomplished by simply being slothful oneself.

    You do raise an interesting question, Jade, which has to do with the difference between sloth and procrastination. My guess is that those who achieve true, blissful slothfulness do not experience the guilt that is one important aspect of procrastination. To be slothful is to not care about what else could be done in that time. It is an end in itself, a higher state. And to even ask, well then, who will pay the bills and make the beds? is a question that need not be asked, indeed shall not be asked. They can be done after a long soak in the tub, and a good long night’s sleep for which no bed making need be done.

    I salute you (too much work, I nod my head in your direction) BikeProf.

  2. I am a practitioner of Sloth from way back. In fact, I’ve perfected the art of multitasking slothfully, with the ability to watch TV while reading a book as I lay on the sofa eating dinner (often with a plate balanced on my stomach). Sometimes I even add the chore of screening phone calls at the same time. If I ever get a laptop and add blogging to the mix, I believe I’ll be ready for a nomination to the Academy of Lazy Busy-ness.

  3. That’s a twist that you and Susan appear to have mastered most impressively. I had no idea there was so much time to waste. But if you are going to waste all of it there is to be wasted, I can see how you’d better get cracking.

  4. I LOVE reading in bed. It’s sooooo cozy and relaxing and worth thousands of pounds of therapy, I reckon. I agree wholeheartedly that there is just too much rushing about. When my child was born I was doing my PhD and then teaching and I got a lot of credit for ‘having it all’. In fact, I was mostly knackered and enjoying very little of it. One thing at a time, and everything in its time is now my motto, and these days I only tell myself off when I catch myself moving swiftly up into fifth gear and staying there. I’m living proof that you can’t get pleasure from things you rush. By the way, I liked LK’s comment and will try it out for myself later on!

  5. When I make fun of people who multitask, I mean it. I don’t really wish I could do it, because if I could, I probably would, and I don’t want to. I read, I stroll, I stroke the cat. One at a time. Lovely!

  6. Getting credit for having it all is terribly insidious — it makes you think you it’s a GOOD thing to be the person who enjoys almost nothing because they’re so tired out. Litlove and Edwin, How wise you are to adopt One Thing at a Time as your motto.

  7. Thank you for this. All I want to do today is lie in bed and eat ice cream with the baby while someone else takes care of my move. When I’m out of here, I am planning on spending loads of time in dark movie theatres: eating popcorn, watching stupid comedies, and slowly forgetting my own name. Ahhhh.

  8. While I am no multitasker…I need to be a better sloth. I am a fringe sloth. I do well for a while, but it is usually after I have “finished something” first. Or I start out good, but then think I really need to finish….in theory I am all for slothfulness, I just need to refine my technique. Then again, maybe I am more slothful than I think now that I look at all the dust by my computer…
    BTW–I would love to be your bookmooch friend, but which Lily are you? There are two! πŸ™‚

  9. “What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” – The buddhists call it “mindfulness” – that sense of being totally aware of what you are doing.

    Me, I admire my cats, who do whatever they are doing with total care and attention, be it staring at the valley, killing mice, sitting on my hands as I type, or lying on their backs in the sunshine pretending to be hot waterbottle covers. Apart from the killing things bit, cats are very buddhist creatures.

    So – yes – let’s hear it for sloth!

  10. I’m mailing out the sloth membership cards tonight; I can see there are some artful practiitioners among us.

    Dorothy — I don’t know how it is that busy-ness became something to praise rather than sympathize with. It’s one of the things I like least about being a parent, how hard it is to resist saying yes to everything that involves your child because you feel that will make them happy even if it’s sure to make you crazy.

    Cee — It counts.

    Ella, I hope the instant you step off the plane you’re whisked away to a movie theater where you get to watch movies until the cows come home.

    Perhaps it is wrong to call the condition of lazing around, not doing anything very urgent, “sloth,” Aphra. I like mindful feline-ness.

    Hi Nova — Look out for that membership card. (Not that you need one, or anything, All that’s needed is a sincere desire to embrace idleness.

    Fringe is good enough Danielle. And how could there be two bookmooch lilies? (I’m the one with the Ha Jin on her list.)

  11. I used to be an excellent sloth, raised as I was by parents who would wake up, make the coffee, then go back to bed with a book for a few hours, and who prioritized relaxation and fun over just about everything else in the world. And then I married a NON sloth, one who definately does clean up around me if I’m being slothful, and it’s been down hill ever since. Thanks for this reminder that it’s okay to say, leave the laundry for a day and go to the movies. I need to get back to that. And like Dorothy, I need a lot of down time. I’ve never once claimed to multi-task, not even in my interview for this particular job, and I don’t believe in multi-tasking at all. One thing at a time, with my full concentration. That’s about it! I think this Sunday is going to be full of sloth, now!
    Courtney

  12. just think, what if Attila was more slothful? What if Hitler fought on only one front at a time? What if Clinton had only one sex partner at a time? What if Buddha had a mortgage to pay?

  13. Hi Courtney, I guessed, from your description of your husband at the renaissance fair, that he would not be a sloth. I am married to a similar sort. I knew it when he described my family as liking to “sit around” — as though this was an activity when, in fact, it’s actually a way of life. We do indeed “sit around” — and read, and daydream and watch movies. I’m glad your Sunday will be that way.

    Q — Exactly! But then look at Bush. Maybe we can call what he does not so much sloth as indolence, or insolence, or …

  14. BL,
    Sometimes I wonder if you and Litlove conspire. Between her praise of play and your song of sloth I suspect the pair of you are trying to make the world a better place?
    Sounds like the way to handle life though I do hate not having a cell phone. I also hate having it ring, but not as much as I hate not having it!
    Otherwise I will make a conscious effort to be both more playful and sloth like!
    Eoin

  15. Have you read How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson BL? If not, I recommend it.

    I think downtime is very important too and I wish I had more of it. On the other hand I find I enjoy it most when it follows a period of intense productivity then I feel like I’ve earned. I’m such a slave to the Protestant work ethic…or perhaps its Catholic guilt:)

  16. I was once an accomplished multi-tasker. These days, the extent of my multi-tasking is to eat my lunch while catching up on reading. Sometimes though I miss the thrill of juggling multiple tasks…

  17. BL – Great post πŸ™‚ Although I get extreme satisfaction out of multi-tasking when there is much to be done, most of the time I am multi-tasking I am wishing I were lounging on the porch reading a book. But I too, as a previous blogger mentioned, married a man who (and I am quoting here) “likes to maximize his efficiencies.” So that means there is little time for sloth in our house. Whereas he lives his life by order, neatness, and productivity, I lead a life of disarray, clutter, and daydreams.

    I tend to make every room I leave look like a tornado has blown through, and ALWAYS leave everything until the last minute. I frequently come home to (again his words, not mine) “clutter bug piles” of my crap in neat stacks waiting for me to go through them. And I think he if finds one more “gd” book stacked on the floor of our bedroom he is going to lose it. I think what gets him most is to the rest of the world I am a closet slob – I have learned to give the aura of being neat. So when he tells people of the chaos that often ensues in our house, no one believes him!

    Ha ha ha – what can I say? Opposites attract πŸ™‚

    Love your blog btw – I have enjoyed reading it.

  18. Pingback: Chillin’ « Aphra Behn - danger of eclectic shock

  19. I have one other: don’t replace the watch battery when it dies. Unfortunately, because I’m still on a huge sloth learning curve, I happen to have a solar watch, so I can’t do this one anymore.

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