Dani Shapiro
December 24, 2010

On Sloth

What a great word.   Let’s all say it a few times: sloth, sloth, sloth.  It sounds like just what it is.  Notice the way the whole mouth sort of goes lax and limp, weary from the effort. Sloth.  Now let’s take a look at the actual animal. They move only when necessary, and very slowly.  They are known to sleep fifteen to eighteen hours a day.  They eat, sleep, give birth while hanging from limbs.  Occasionally, they fall off.

For a writer, sloth might just be the most easily overcome, in practical terms, of the seven deadly sins.  When we don’t sit down at our desks, when we don’t push ourselves, force ourselves–in the face of distraction, disenchantment, resistance–to sit down anyway, sloth wins.  It can be a tricky thing, sloth, because it can take on other guises.  What appears, on the surface of things, to be cleaning the house, doing the laundry, checking email, even blogging, can actually be, underneath all the frenzied activities, a form of laziness.  Of inertia.  Of–I love this definition–emotional apathy.

One of the simplest and truest things I know about the writing process is this: when I sit down, something happens.  The work I produce on any given day may not be perfect, or even any good.  I may end up throwing it away.  But if I don’t sit down, it doesn’t happen at all.  And of the many complicated psychological and emotional reasons I could give you, I think emotional apathy–a kind of disconnection from myself and therefore to the rest of humankind–is at work somewhere within me when I’m not able to write.  Fighting that gravitational pull, fighting it with everything I’ve got, is how I get to my desk most days.

Another definition of sloth: a wasting due to lack of use.

And yet another: the destroying of charity in a man’s heart.

I know I am  most alive when I’m connected to my writing.  I feel more.  More empathy, more of the pathos of life, a deeper understanding.  More useful.  When I move away from our work–whatever excuses I might make to myself–deep down I know that I am also moving away from that which allows me to connect with the world around me.