Lassitude

Titian, Danae

Me rather all that bowery loneliness,
The brooks of Eden mazily murmuring . . .

Alfred Tennyson: “Milton”

I’ve always sort of envied the industrious. My former neighbor Dale Petite, for example. Whether his compulsion for constant upgrading stemmed from a virulent strain of Protestant Work Ethic Syndrome, a wish to be alone, or an inability to relax, I cannot say. All I know is that while I lay on our deck in a hammock flipping through Victoria’s Secret catalogueshe could be heard hammering or chainsawing or pile-driving for hours on end. I can’t hope to reconstruct an epic catalogue of the projects he completed in the 7 years he was my neighbor; however, among those wonders were an industrial grade boat lift he erected on his self-built dock and a 1500 square foot bunker-like underground workshop[1] he burrowed into his back yard.

Thomas Hart Benton: Boomtown

Except for a few wretches afflicted with bipolar disorders, members of my family on both sides tend towards lassitude, and I myself do sorely suffer from a prevailing passivity that yields mildewed porches, un-replaced flood lights, income tax extensions, and never-sent manuscripts.  One might hope (or at least John Bunyan would) that with the ever-widening vistas of retirement opening before me, I would use my ample free time productively, but already I sense that this hope is probably a vain one.

My trifling nature I consider genetic. My maternal grandmother was so lazy she paid a boy to retrieve her paper from the driveway each morning. On the other hand, her son Jerry (whose ashes[2] rested next to a bowl of ticket stubs on a shelf to my right for over a year) was the Dale Petite type, though not as successful in his grand schemes (e.g., attempting to transplant 80 year-old house-high camellias from his backyard to the front).

So, in the nature/nurture argument, I give the nod to nature – certainly Jerry’s parental units were not go-getters, and his industriousness must have been the product of some recessive gene.

Gustave Courbet:  Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine

Of course, given the Protestant bedrock upon which this mighty nation stands, idleness is the devil’s workshop (i.e., if like Milton, you consider every non-Christian deity demonic).  The Buddha – though not a deity – never seemed much in a hurry, nor did, come to think of it, Jesus himself.

When [Jesus] had heard therefore that [Lazarus] was sick, {Jesus] abode two days still in the same place where he was.

snip

Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him.

The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.

Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.

snip

And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?

from John 11

Uh-oh. I see a malpractice suit coming.

Duccio Di Buoninsegna: The Raising of Lazarus

Chill thy selves.  No problem, brothers and sisters.

* * *

Of course, we ain’t got the get-out-of-jail-crypt-free card that Jesus had up his sleeve. Laziness is not our friend. Nor is, by the way, compulsive project completion. It’s the Middle Way we should be seeking, but nowadays technology has amped up the exchange of communication so profusely and instantaneously that seemingly every work minute is spent juggling a proliferation of disparate responsibilities that require further bureaucratization to harness, which, of course, creates even more avenues of endeavor as self-inseminating bureaucracies breed ever more complex matrices of responsibilities because it’s not enough for a corporate entity to be competent but it must also be forever improving, soliciting feedback, raising standards . . .

Yawn.

John Bonner: Waiting in Mass Ave T Station

As my erstwhile pal Ed Burrows pointed out one happy hour, human beings’ nervous systems, which are essentially identical to the nervous systems of our earliest ancestors, are not equipped to be bombarded by a never-ending barrage of flashing lights, honking horns, quick-cut images, thumping basses, distant sirens. In our pockets and purses we carry tiny devices with which we can communicate but which detonate like little time bombs throughout the day and night.

[cue blood-freezing scream]

Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much with Us”

 

William Holman Hunt: Our English Coasts

I do wish we could relax a bit more in our workplaces. This never-ending ascent in effectiveness defies the arc of aging. No way could I summon in my last years at Porter-Gaud the energy I possessed in 1985 when I greeted my first class there, nor in my latter years did names and places come to me as quickly, and I’ve been around long enough to know that the latest pedagogical hula hoop is destined someday for the attic. It was just as well to let me muddle along pushing active verbs and introductory subordinate clauses. You can’t do much harm there.

And, while I’m at it, allow me one more desire. May my lassitude never devolve into ennui, may my lassitudinous expression be that of Titian’s First Danae (this week’s covergirl) rather than the expressions of the women below (nor, come to think of it, the expressions of the dogs).

Vittore Carpaccio: Two Venetian Ladies

 

“This is the curse of our age, even the strangest aberrations are no cure for boredom.”

Stendhal


[1]also suitable for surviving a nuclear winter

[2]My mother didn’t want Jerry’s remains in her house, so my late wife Judy Birdsong placed them in the back of her Highlander and toted them around for a week or two but finally hauled them upstairs into my study where they languished until my brother Fleming came by one afternoon, hauled them into one of my kayaks, and spread them in the tidal creek behind my house.

 

4 thoughts on “Lassitude

  1. “This never-ending ascent in effectiveness defies the arc of aging.” Love this sentence! A worthy topic.

  2. The one above the picture of a “yawn” blew me away. That second line was good. I mean REAL good. It just felt cathartic to hear someone explain why you can’t stay in survival of the fittest mode, otherwise known as capitalism. Well… that’s what I call it, but it could be worse than anything Darwin ever spoke of.

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