Free Choice

In yesterday’s Author Minute, James Bach discussed how he did not believe in laziness, that calling someone lazy was like calling an unplugged microwave oven a broken microwave oven. I couldn’t agree more.

Still, there is a reason laziness got lumped in with the Catholic seven deadly sins (sloth, technically, but there’s no need to niggle here). Like the unplugged microwave of Bach’s example, the lazy person seems from the outside rather useless. Or, more accurately, the lazy person seems to view life as useless. Unlike the microwave, however, humans do not have a visible cord, and the source of their energy remains mysterious, even, quite frequently, to the lazy person himself.

There are two sources of energy: fear and love. Fear can run you pretty hard. Much can get built, written, or painted under the secret impetus of fear. The thought, “If I don’t write this, run this, build this, do this, whatever this . . . I will be no good,” is quite motivational to some. It is particularly effective if as a rule we require proof of our value. In fact, if we require proof of our value, it is virtually the only form of motivation we will respond to. Until, that is, it exhausts us, gives us cancer or depression, or simply kills us outright.

Which is why the person we call lazy can sometimes seem strangely proud of his laziness. Though he is unhappy in his energy-less state, he understands that at least he is not a slave to that other, ersatz form of motivation. In this way, the lazy person has taken the first awkward step toward freedom.

But it is only the first step. Doing nothing is an extremely limited freedom. Eventually, doing nothing runs its course, and he is faced with the same quandary as the man creating frantically out of fear: How do I give my life meaning? Freedom then – and the energy it provides – can only come when we accept that there is no right answer. The overseer needed a whip because he had deprived his slaves of the energy of free choice. To get up off the couch we must make peace with that freedom. Being told what to do is simpler than choosing what to do, but no ex-slave ever wrote a song about the joy of the plantation. The moment you locate the source of your true interest you will have more energy than there are hours to spend it, and the couch will reveal itself for what it always was – a prison of your own making.

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World Without End

Although I have always been the sort of person who gets his work done on time, and helps out whenever he can, and arrives five minutes early, I long believed that I was secretly lazy. All the assignments I met and promises I kept were met and kept primarily not to disappoint other people. Somehow, I thought, if other people could be taken out of the equation, I would do much less.

Laziness remains a stealthy threat to the writer. What if you should just decide to shirk for a day, or a week, or a month? You aren’t chained to the desk, after all, and for the writer still trying to break into the publishing world, there isn’t even anyone asking to see your work. Everyone has felt the desire to chuck some difficult task and go watch television. What if, in the end, that desire ultimately wins out?

Laziness, like so many criticisms, is greatly misunderstood. A person we call lazy is merely someone who is unmotivated. Some people are on a constant hunt for that thing that will motivate them. These people, when they are having trouble finding that motivating idea, will sometimes say they are bored. But the lazy person seems resistant into motivation itself. They would rather do nothing, it seems, than something.

And therein lies the half-truth. The lazy person would rather do nothing than something that does not interest him. Because perhaps, within that nothing, something interesting will appear. Except doing nothing can be worse than doing something you don’t like if you don’t do that nothing with purpose. If you want to do nothing, you must do it receptively, optimistically, enthusiastically. Then, indeed, something interesting will soon appear. Otherwise, the nothing you are doing only encourages your own disinterest in the world.

It reminds me of a useful writing trick. When you don’t know what to write, sometimes it’s helpful to write as quickly as you can. Much of what you write in this way will eventually be discarded, but more likely than not something will be kept. It will be kept because, once you allow yourself to begin anywhere, you move inevitably toward somewhere better, somewhere that interests you. It is almost impossible not to. It would be like asking a magnet not to lift a paperclip.

Anywhere can lead somewhere good.  There are no dead ends, only the dead feelings that come from believing your interest in the world has ended.

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