Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I am not a busy man. I am lazy. Thankfully!

The expedition that resulted in The Log from the Sea of Cortez was in 1940.  John Steinbeck was well aware of the war that had broken out in Europe; remember the following from a previous post?
Hitler marched into Denmark and into Norway, France had fallen, the Maginot Line was lost--we didn't know it, but we knew the daily catch of every boat within four hundred miles. It was simply a directional thing; a man has only so much. ...
This was not a matter of ignorance on their part, but of intensity. All the directionalism of thought and emotion that man was capable of went into sardine-fishing; there wasn't room for anything else.
The expedition returned to California, and Steinbeck worked on the book "throughout the spring and summer of 1941."
It was finally published during the first week of December 1941.  But the reviews in the papers of Sunday, December 7, were hardly noticed as readers were distracted by events of much more immediate importance.
Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor happened.  America was now at war.

Everybody was suddenly busy with the war effort.  Busy people don't have the time and the inclination to read books like The Log from the Sea of Cortez.  An army of lazy ones is needed if we want people to read and think.  Oddly enough, in the book, Steinbeck had written about war and human behavior and how "it has even become sinful to be lazy":
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 time for such balancing. We do not think a lazy man can commit murders, nor 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.
I love how Steinbeck has phrased "a weighing of oneself against the world and the world against itself."  In many posts I have attempted to articulate such an idea, but the incapable wannabe-writer that I am, I could never have strung those words together, even in a million years.

All of a sudden, "all the directionalism of thought and emotion that man was capable of" went into the war.  Even Rosie flexed her muscles.  I would think that the fishers found time for war and not only for sardines.  There were not many lazy people around to read the newly published book.

The older I get, the more I wonder what exactly everybody is rushing around for.  As Steinbeck puts it, "to what end?"  Why can't more people be lazy like I am, or even lazier than me?  As they rush from one meeting to another, do they wonder about the loss from not having read some of the greatest books that have ever been written?  As people shift their attention from the television screens to their iPads,do they pause to wonder whether they might gain a lot more from life by simply not doing anything at all?  Are people busy because they are worried that laziness might force them to think about their own existence and send them down a rabbit-hole of emotions?  Or is it as Steinbeck notes:
 [Man] is the only animal who lives outside of himself, whose drive is in external things—property, houses, money, concepts of power. He lives in his cities and his factories, in his business and job and art. But having projected himself into these external complexities, he is them. His house, his automobile are a part of him and a large part of him.  
A "modern" life in which we answer "who am I?" with comments about our work, the home and cars that we own, the money that we have invested, the places that we have traveled to.  But, unless death is that rare expected cardiac event or an accident, at some point the cosmos will force us into laziness.  We won't be able to travel. We won't be able to drive. Even walking will become difficult.  The eyes and ears will fail.  In that laziness, the "external complexities" will be reduced to the simple questions of "who am I?" and "what is this life all about?"

I like to think that I have gathered more views to construct my own answer to those questions, through my lazy summer approach to acquiring wisdom.

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