Maybe it was the second dessert of ice cream, a brownie and Irish cream. Or that pick-me-up White Russian. Or the fact I spent almost all of yesterday either reclining on a couch watching movies and TV or sleeping, while the house continued to look like a post-Christmas dumping site. Whatever.
The point is — and it kills me to admit it, since I harbor the desperately pathetic notion that I’m a lot of fun sometimes — a little sloth and self-indulgence go a long way with me. Just too many dour-faced Scots-Irish in my lineage. People who sat on hard, splintery benches for hours in drafty churches while furious ministers ranted and shouted and told them they were going to burn in hell — well, anyway, that’s what they did for enjoyment and enlightenment when they weren’t working double-digit hours every weekday, performing dreary, meaningless, backbreaking work that they hated.
If you sport a background like that, along with a family history of scolding children with, “Shame on you! For shame!”, you may think you’ve escaped the austere, frigid churches and joyless hymns of your childhood just because you haven’t been dragged to a church since you were 21 and you’re free at last, thank God almighty. But that kind of punishing background has a remarkable resilience. Those harsh voices begin to whisper to you about the time the shadows have gathered and you realize you haven’t accomplished a thing all day.
It’s why, I’m inclined to think, I’m one of the few people I know who doesn’t like spas. It just seems wrong to lie around and pay other people to wait on you and wax your legs and polish your toes. Wrong! Practically sinful! In any event, not enjoyable.
So, as the holidays pass, I begin to get restless. Too much free, unstructured time, too much food, way too much drink, too many people around. I begin to long to get back to my real life with the schedule, the expectations, the work — my own loosely defined idea of salvation in this world. My thin-lipped ancestors wouldn’t have approved of the fact that the work I do is often enjoyable and fulfilling (although, they’d be happy to notice, it doesn’t pay well. It’s one of those touche moments life serves you).
Who knows? Maybe my forebears are looking down on me, disapproving the lack of religion, the occasional hedonism, the rejection of rigid standards (“We came across that icy ocean so she could sleep late on Sundays?”). But they’ve got to feel a little sense of satisfaction that too much sloth makes me feel guilty and that, the truth is, I’ll be happy to get back to work. “See how guilty she looks?” they ask one another, nodding their heads approvingly. “She’s still one of us, after all.”
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)