The Necessity of Sloth

March 12, 2010

When you just can't move. . .

Posted by Deborah Atherton

We have been talking on the blog for the last month about Other People’s Opinions of how we should conduct ourselves as artists.  This week the subject is how Other People (and we ourselves) feel about seeing us lying on the couch on a fine Saturday afternoon staring out into space, or perhaps watching reruns of television that was mindless the first time around.  Creative types like to think we are known for our brilliance, but we may be known just as well (certainly in our immediate circles) for our capacity for doing absolutely nothing.

We probably had good intentions when we rose on that Saturday and looked out our windows at the sun smiling down on us.  We no doubt had a full slate of worthy activities, from doing the laundry to finishing a chapter of the novel/breaking out the box of watercolors/editing our videos—I’m sure you have your own artistic to-do list. But instead of engaging in any of these worthy and either necessary other fulfilling activities, we somehow find ourselves lying on the couch, paralyzed into inaction.  It may not be the couch for you – it might be computer solitaire or not getting out of bed for a day or sitting on a chair in the back yard. But you probably know the condition well. You would like to move. You fully intend to move. But you cannot move.  Except, of course, to get a sandwich or to order pizza.

What’s going on?  Well, your significant other probably has his or her own theories, but this is mine:   the part of your mind, or your unconscious, or whatever is that is driving your creative efforts, needs some time off.  It would be lovely if this part of your mind sent the equivalent of a Tweet a few days ahead, to say @artist, clear the decks, expect no movement on Saturday, but alas, your inner artist is unlikely to be this helpful.  It just seizes control and leaves you in the grip of whatever vintage series basic cable is offering that day (and I hope for your sake it is not any iteration of The Brady Bunch.)  This may run into a second or even a third day, while pizza boxes pile up around you and family members and friends start gathering in corners and muttering about interventions. But they may not be nearly as irritated with you as you are with yourself; you had Great Things Planned, and instead you get an overdose of pepperoni.

One morning, however, most likely you will cast off your slothful behavior, and emerge, full of energy and ideas, and ready to tackle the project you were originally planning. (And of course if this goes on for months instead of days, you may be dealing with something more serious than sloth, in which case yield to the well-meaning interventions of your loved ones.)  The period of frozen interaction may in itself lead to Great Things, if not quite on the schedule you had hoped for.  Sometimes your creative side just needs some time off—a little sloth never hurt anyone, and as long as you pay for your own pizza and clean up after yourself, it’s okay to give yourself the time you need to regather your creative energies.