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Laziness and Beer

The writings indented below are excerpted from Stienbeck's Log of the Sea of Cortez, published in 1951, Chapter Eighteen.

Reflect on this all you busy people out there!

On the morning of the twenty eighth we slept.  It was a good thing, we told ourselves;  the eyes grow weary with looking at new things;  sleeping late, we said, has its genuine therapeutic value; we would be better for it, would be able to work more effectively.  We have little doubt that all this was true, but we wish we could build as good a rationalization every time we are lazy.

For in some beastly way this fine laziness has got itself a bad name.  It is easy to see how it might have come into disrepute if the result of laziness were hunger.  But it rarely is.  Hunger makes laziness impossible.  It has even become sinful to be lazy.  We wonder why. 

One could argue, particularly if one had a gift for laziness, that is is a relaxation pregnant of activity, a sense of rest from which directed effort may arise, whereas most busy-ness is merely a kind of nervous tick.

We know a lady who is obsessed with the idea of ashes in an ashtray.  She is not lazy.  She spends a good half of her waking time making sure that no ashes remain in any ashtray, and to make sure of keeping busy she has a great many ashtrays.  Another acquaintance, a man, straightens rugs and pictures and arranges books and magazines in neat piles.  He is not lazy either;  he is very busy.  To what end?

If he should relax and, perhaps with his feet up on a chair and a glass of cool beer beside him - not cold, but cool - if he should examine from this position a rumpled rug or a crooked picture, saying to himself between sips of beer (preferably Carta Blanca beer), "This rug irritates me for some reason.  If it were straight, I should be comfortable;  But there is only one straight position (and this is of course, only my own personal discipline of straightness) among all possible positions.  I am, in effect, trying to impose my will, my insular sense of rightness, on a rug,  which of itself can have no such sense, since it seems equally contented straight or crooked.

Suppose I should try to straighten people", and here he sips deeply.  "Helen C., for instance is not neat, and Helen C." - and here he goes into a reverie - "how beautiful she is with her hair messy,  how lovely when she is excited and breathing through her mouth."  Again he raises his glass, and in a few minutes he picks up the telephone.  He is happy;  Helen C. may be happy; and the rug is not disturbed at all.

How can such a process have become a shame and a sin.  Only in laziness can one achieve a state of contemplation which is a balancing of values, a weighing of oneself against the world and the world against itself.

A busy man cannot find the time for such balancing.  We do not think a lazy man can commit murders, not great thefts, nor lead a mob.  He would be more likely to think about it and laugh.  And a nation of lazy contemplative men would be incapable of fighting a war unless their very laziness were attacked.  Wars are the activities of busy-ness.

With such a background of reasoning, we slept until nine A.M.


Such reasoning is inevitable - even today - in Cortez's sea.