A couch potato stands as the modern beacon to sloth. All forms of sloth have a long arc and never truly die. As for laziness, it knows how to hang low and act as if it is defeated and never truly cares. But this is not a defeat but the mode of its existence, long forgotten cat urine lurking in the fibers of the carpet, waiting for the first hot day of summer to singe the nose hairs of the unsuspecting.
Labor Day 2018: I sit on the back patio, not a big surprise. Looking up the history of Labor Day, I feel a bit guilty. 12 hour days? 7 days a week? Yeah, I’ve got it good. My Labor Day is just a break from a not so hard job. It’s another day to debate on how little I will do, assuming reading is not doing.
On this Labor Day, I finally declared a few minutes of cleaning after a morning of sloth. The boys obliged. I could hear their thoughts, “If we do this, we can get back to the X-box.” They were not wrong. My habits brought me back to the patio and ebooks and writing and not much else.
The old habits I fight on a daily basis are my own, of course, but they were learned at the feet of masters. My lineage has one big accomplishment in a tribute to sloth. We of my ilk excel in a special kind of doing nothing. And yet, our sloth is a type of watching and waiting marred by sin. When applied rightly, it morphs past the bounds of laziness as we sit-for-hours while the busybodies buzz around us. Maybe we sit in front of the television or a video game or, more nobly, we devour a book in one sitting, or maybe all three books of Lord of the Rings in four days of Christmas Break. (I speak from experience on the latter.) We sit, we contemplate, we absorb. All of which looks quite like doing nothing from the outside. Okay, it looks like nothing from the inside, too.
I don’t know who actually started the family pastime, but my grandfather was the first person I was aware of who practiced it best. I can see him now, in front of the Atari with asteroids floating across the screen. Hours might be spent reaching different levels. He could sit with a book or nothing at all for longer than seemed human. Perhaps his father or grandfather did the same in some analog version of the world— hours of card games, shooting the bull, or sitting with a glass of tea on the porch— my imagination can conjure so many possible versions of the modern equivalent to the couch potato. Perhaps my mind runs away from me, perhaps not.
Passing the Mantle
From what I know, we are at least onto our 4th generation and that is a pretty long streak. You can trust that my eldest, a rabid fan of action movies, football stats, Riordan novels, and all things with war in the title on Amazon prime is a champion in a long line, all accessible while sitting in front of a screen for hours. Who knows what records we could break with our next descendant?
These inheritors of the golden potato are almost all entirely from the men of the family with yours truly being the only exception — unless one of the ladies of the family wants to lay claim to a share in this inheritance.
From personal experience, I can say that most of the time these hours of relaxation with a book or movie have very little to do with doing good. Shocking, I know. In fact, I don’t even mind admitting as such. I am of the breed who believes the simple pleasures of life ought to be enjoyed for their own sake without the justification of doing good for the masses of humanity. I no longer believe in making a difference. How does one even measure such an abstract concept?
Someone complains that I am not accomplishing something or helping someone, and I simply blink several times while staring them down into silence. Or, I mount an all-out verbal attack on the do-gooders, manipulators, and planners of the world who would, intentionally or not, create a hell for other people all in the name of making the world a better place. I like to see them squirm. I have too much time on my hands.
You see, there may be benefits amidst these slothful feats of contemplation. I don’t personally know a group of folks who can concentrate on any one problem or system or process as long and as well as we, the couch potatoes. Sure, there is the stereotype of a researcher stuck in a lab for hours or an author slaving away at the keys of an old typewriter or a lawyer investigating and digging in case law books. We could most assuredly compete with the likes of these, not that we actually do. But, if we wanted to, it is within our grasp.
When I hear what others think of as long periods of “research” in the library or online, I often think at first they must be making a joke. I cannot name the number of topics I have read more about that all these supposed amateur experts purport to explore.
When I hear my productive friends talk about scheduling 15 minutes to read a book as if they performed an Olympic performance, I realize there are all kinds of disciplines in the world. Concentration and focus are an amazing byproduct of our family business. On occasion, I wish such powers of intellect could be applied to something more than the latest Netflix episode of a British mystery or the inner workings of the latest version of Halo. Then again, one should not get too ambitious.
Survival in the Virtual World
I find that being busy fits well into the dire warning of rearranging chairs on the Titanic. I don’t think the origins of Labor Day included the busyness of the technological world of today. We just make up crap to do now. If you’re still actually a part of the middle class, you’re not really surviving. It’s a mirage we tell ourselves. We’ve moved past survival to contrived uses of our time.
It’s not in my nature to endorse the contemporary calls for productivity. I do get it. In some sort of residual longing for life and death purpose, we pretend that creations from Pinterest and endless entertainment are somehow actually essential to our survival. We spend so much time doing trivial stuff while simultaneously existing in a virtual world that flies in the face of our very real mortality. With our endless connectivity, we long to boast and share and like and praise and jeer. I feel the pull, and frankly, I like Facebook and all the corresponding social media sites. Baby pictures and videos of happy dogs are a strangely seductive way to spend my time. I sometimes dream I am actually doing something.
As a gold medalist in the couch potato life, I confess to looking down on all the busy people. When we are both dead and gone, will my lack of modern accomplishments look any different to the pseudo-creations of the soccer moms? Yeah, that’s mean, but I think it, and that means I end up writing it. My next post ought to be, “Confessions of a Total Jerk.”
At the end of the day, I admit to a bit of envy at all those productive people, falsely projected or real, who knows? This couch potato longs for a bit of purpose, so bring it on. Perhaps you will inspire me. Of course, this outdoor chair feels pretty nice, and the rain is falling. My kids have a day’s worth of school clothes. They’ve been fed. My grade book looks decent. My house smells ok. Maybe I’ll just stay right here and keep scrolling through your projects. . . Ooo, that chocolate cream cheese cake you just posted looks good and easy to make. Nah . . . you’ll share, right?