I am not the world’s laziest person. I think. It’s hard to tell. But at any rate, I am capable of endless cat rotation; postponement of unpleasant chores; rebellion against what needs doing and general lollywagging and time wasting on a scale unseen since really lazy t-Rexes walked the Earth and lay about under fruit trees, eating the occasional apple that fell into their mouth, and eventually dying of starvation.
I’m not even the world’s laziest writer. I know, because Dean W. Smith SAYS he is that, and I refuse to arm wrestle him for the title. He’d win. I’d sulk. No one would like that.
And if you’re going “Woman, you do a daily blog, you write however many projects a year, you…
Yeah, so does Dean. Actually he writes more, and runs businesses and … yeah. But both of us feel lazy, because both of us know how much time we waste playing mah jong (well, that’s me. I have no clue what he does) or obsessing about stuff that’s not related to work.
What we do accomplish is in bursts of sudden activity, usually lasting no more than a few days, sometimes a few minutes, in a sea of cat rotation.
I used to describe writing the Musketeer books (which granted, not only were under contract, but which from book three on I knew the publisher was dropping on the floor) as “First I chase myself around. Then I make myself sit down and then I force myself to write. This usually involves weeks of chasing, then weeks of staring at the keyboard and refusing to write, before I manage to force myself to write.”
Of course, while I was chasing myself around, I couldn’t allow myself to do anything else even remotely interesting (in this context laundry is interesting. So is cooking) so the family started complaining about the conspicuous lack of socks and the house grew fuzz.
To an extent, it’s still the same, except no project is that bad anymore – and yes, for the ones of you who are fans – I AM looking forward to continuing the series (I should have the copyright back by March!) and I DID enjoy writing the books, but it was the equivalent of handing your baby to the sacrifice, which made it harder and harder to finish books.
However, with Noah’s boy, because I blocked on the end, and with the year before that, when I was ill so often, I’ve gone into the mode I went in normally after finishing a difficult book. It’s called “must clean.” In my defense, the house needs it. I’ve been doing maintenance cleaning for months, and the name for maintenance cleaning is “things get messy slower.” For instance, I can’t find any books, and there’s bizarre stuff on my shelves. (How bizarre? Games the kids outgrew ten years ago. Yes, someone was cleaning his room!)
Anyway – this long to say, I am still lazy, it’s just that people are lazy in different ways.
See, laziness was an evolutionarily favored trait for millennia. You caught mammoth, you ate for days. You didn’t run around killing more mammoths, because who would eat them? And why would you want to use the energy? And besides, if you deplete the mammoth population, you’ll have to walk miles for next mammoth. You get the point.
For the last ten thousand years or so more industrious people have done better – some places. My mom still talked about the people she grew up with (not a GOOD part of the country, or the region, or the town) the women made soup on Monday, it lasted the whole week. The more industrious swept once a day. The more cleanly ones did wash one day a week. The rest of the time, they sat around, watching the kids and gossiping.
If you planted and reaped, as opposed to walking about picking what the land gave, you had a more continuous supply of food, which meant more kids who survived to reproduce (though perhaps not longer life for you. That’s in dispute.) If you left the land where you had a season off, and went to the city and got a job in a factory, you did even better (dirty and backbreaking as those jobs were by our lights, they did provide a better living than the land in the country, which is why the industrial revolution TOOK and is taking in a lot of the world, still. Yes, I know. The Marxists think it was the enclosures driving peasants to the city, “disposed” and ready to be exploited. I’m not saying that didn’t happen, in some times and places, however, as we’re seeing in third world countries now, mostly the peasants drive THEMSELVES (or more likely walk) to the city and take up the better paying work, rather than starve staring at the south end of a north bound mule.)
And if you bought into social pressure about those outmoded bourgeois virtues and kept your house and children clean, you were more likely to raise them to adulthood and eventually have grandkids.
Where am I going with this?
Our state – all modern states – seem to be confused about which comes first the cart or the horse (possibly because they ARE the North Bound Mule – or its South End.)
They talk about the “causes of poverty” and the fact that poor people “collapse under a mountain of misfortune, and therefore can’t dig out.” They THINK by subsidizing people, they’ll give them the get up and go.
This is one of those nice theories, and it applies to a lot of us, of course. I’ve been poor. I’ve been so broke, and so depressed that I couldn’t think of the way to dig out. (Heck, half the time I couldn’t think of the way to dress myself or shower, or get out of bed before one pm – though post-partum depression might have been in effect there.)
What they forget is that in the long run, the people who are lazy like me – or Dean! – are still a minority. Evolutionarily, regardless of what has happened since there have been villages, and since humans figured out how to smoke meat (you have to shred it very fine, you need special papers, and it never burns very well. OTOH it contains no nicotine) and store grain, the majority of people are still programmed to not work unless it’s strictly needed.
Even we, driven though we might be (d*mn you, voices in head, d*mn you. Also, mom’s training me to live in a house where you could eat off the floors. The storage room floors, even) those of us who manage to exert some strictly not needed (for eating) activity, like learning a skilled profession or keeping a clean house, or producing stuff on contract, KNOW how much time we waste. Hence the “I’m the laziest” competition.
Because wasting time, playing around, the dolce fa niente is humanity’s default mode. And doing no more than we consider strictly needed was a survival mechanism for YEARS.
Right now, I’d bet 90% of the homes in America would make our ancestors weep. And I’m not even including mine, though if my mom came to visit, I’d need six months lead time just to get it to “she won’t kill me too badly.” Yeah, part of this is that we’re all so much more massively busy. But another part is that no one is enforcing the cleaning standard anymore. Cleanliness in the house is no longer a “must be” to be “respectable.”
We’ve dethroned the bourgeoisie, and its virtues with its faults. There are no neighbors coming into our house to pry and see if we waxed the floors. And so, we don’t wax the floors. We don’t throw away the old mail, we don’t straighten the books – etc. The neighbors who come in have also forgotten this, so it just doesn’t get done.
No, this is not an ode to housekeeping. Trust me, most of the time, I dust because otherwise I get ill, being allergic to dust and inclined to respiratory issues.
It is however, a way that absent pressure – in this case social pressure – humans default to not doing it.
The same goes for work-work, of course.
And this is a problem, because in the future we’re all contractors. (Okay not all, but probably a higher number than ever before.) This means we’ll (all of us, in general) will have to learn to work without someone cracking the whip.
Most of us know that. Most of us in the skilled professions had to learn that – but evolutionarily speaking, the rest of the world simply doesn’t have the drive.
Then there’s minimum wage, minimum payments, indefinite welfare with no work requirements.
Are these helpful to the poor? Well, in the – what? – seventy years since the war on poverty was started, the only victories have come from innovation in the market place, and therefore more widespread prosperity. NOT from the welfare state and its copiously flowing teat.
Oh, yes, of course you know a success story or two. J. K. Rowling comes to mind – though in another country – but we tell each other those stories because they ARE extraordinary. They are also, people we’re “likely to know” – i.e. the skilled, those working in artistic professions, those who might be “the laziest x in the world” but only because they see where their drive falls short compared to what they wish to do.
It doesn’t take in account the majority of NORMAL humanity which doesn’t do more than it NEEDS to, because that would be stupid.
THOSE people, sanely, take the minimum and stay put and do the things we all do when we have time – or are playing hooky: they play games, watch TV and socialize.
So, in the end, “a hand up” turns into endless dependence and a dysfunctional way of life passed on to the kids, who in their turn simply don’t KNOW how to do more than needed. (And before you tell me welfare is no picnic – remember we’re talking by evolutionary standards. Life in a sleeping bag on the streets of NYC is better than what your nomadic ancestors could command with continuous industriousness. Life in a project is better than most kings in the middle ages had. It’s more sanitary and you have better food and clothing. REMEMBER what part of the brain is deciding “this is enough.” It’s NOT the part that craves a late model car or a meal in a five star restaurant.)
Which means that any “hand up” would benefit from local knowledge – i.e. people who will watch the people receiving the aid, and let these people know they are watched, so they feel social pressure to make something of themselves.
It also means that the idea of “help without judgment and without limit” might be exactly backward, and the idea that “giving enough to bring this person to middle class standards” would get the person to actually live a middle class life.
Or, of course, I could be full of it. I’m just going on my own experience – which is all any of us can go on – of both being very poor and being very lazy.
If we’d got enough money to live on, handed to us, so we didn’t have to worry about where the next load of groceries would come from, would I have got off my expanding duff (potatoes are cheap. Unfortunately they also expand the duff. It expanded a lot through what could be ironically called the “lean years.”) and made the serious effort to figure out how to write a novel someone else might want to read? Would I have made the even more considerable effort of figuring out how publishing worked, so I could get published?
Or would we still be living in Columbia, SC, in a rented house, on a budget that would break if I bought an extra paperback book?
I don’t know. I might not be the world’s laziest writer, I might not be the world’s laziest person. But I’m close enough.
And now excuse me – I have a floor to wax – the shade of my grandmother is frowning at me. And after that I have some chapters of WF to write, because I have a bunch of hungry blog commenters. Still after that I have a YA to fix/edit so I can publish it and help pay the kids’ tuition.
Would I do it, if I didn’t have any of those? I don’t know. But I very much doubt it. I think I’d spend the day re-reading Heinlein and Christie and playing mah jong.