Whatever X, Day XVIII

Today, we’re going back again to 1999, and an in-depth examination of the overall state of my soul

JULY 3, 1999: The Seven Deadly Sins (and Me)

This morning I reached what is likely to be a nadir of personal behavior: I ate a banana. It’s not the banana itself which is the problem; actually, the banana was fine — a few brown spots here and there, and maybe a little more starchy than sweet, but, eh, what are you going to do. No, the problem lies in why I had the banana. You see, I didn’t really want the banana, I wanted a bowl of Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch cereal. But in order to enjoy the cereal, I would have had to get out a bowl, get out the milk, get out the cereal, put the cereal in the bowl, pour the milk into the bowl, put the milk and the cereal back, yadda yadda yadda. Whereas the banana was simply peal and eat, and then maybe throw away the skin if I was feeling ambitious. In short: I had a banana because having a bowl of cereal was too much damned work.

Now, I did have a bowl of cereal for dinner last night. Why? Because it was easier than cooking something.

There’s really something wrong with me.

I know what it is: Sloth, that most lugubrious of the Seven Deadly Sins. I am Slothful, perhaps not in the profoundly theological sense (although perhaps so, since, as an avowed agnostic, I am likely actively avoiding God’s will), but certainly in the day to day, hey-are-you-planning-to-wallow-in-your-own-feculence sort of way. Examples of this abound all around me. I’ve got a pile of soda cans to my right which should be in the recycling bin to my left, but I haven’t managed to get them from point “a” to point “b,” even though the points are six feet from each other. Perhaps this is because I’m sure in the knowledge that sooner or later my wife, in a fit of righteous annoyance, will come in and do it for me. Sure, she’ll get on my case about it. But it’s easier to be lectured at than to do it myself. I can handle a lecture. I don’t have to do anything but listen.

Root out the slothfulness in your life, you sluggard, I hear you say. Well, I would, but there’s this thing: I can’t really knock sloth, because it has worked so spectacularly for me in my life. Krissy, who has historically shown a rather amazing tendency to unerringly put her finger on the issue, whatever the issue may be, summed it up once by telling me: “You are the perfect example of the man too lazy to fail.” This is exactly the case; the history of my life is the history of my avoidance of real work. It began early, at age 14 or so, when I realized that I wrote better than most people could, with little effort on my part. Since doing anything else with my life would have entailed having to work at it, I resolved to become a writer.

My writing jobs: Movie critic. Music critic. Humor columnist. Not a sweat-breaker in the bunch. And, I just recently nabbed another writing gig in which I’ll review video games. Video games, people. (Less glamorously, I write newsletters, too, but putting those together also ain’t exactly brain surgery.) Now, I should note that I’m also good at what I do. I write well, and I make sure that what I write makes readers and clients happy. But (beyond being good business) that’s the path of least resistance, anyway. All other paths lead to me sacking groceries at the local Safeway for $6.25 an hour. Honestly, that’s the only other thing I’m qualified to do. So you see the options: Listen to music and play video games for a living, or work.

I have tried working working. Twice. I was fired both times. First time, I was sixteen, and I worked for a month at Del Taco, mashing pinto beans and melting lard into a fryer. This was also the era of fast food workers wearing orange and brown polyester uniforms. For future reference: The smell of lard never comes out of polyester. Never. I lasted a month; I was fired, if memory serves correctly, for telling the assistant manager that he was an ass. And he was, although to be fair, it’s not like he had a choice in the matter. He was 18, an age of much ass-ness in men.

The second time was when I was at America Online, when the job I had been hired to do (i.e., write and edit) had somehow transmorgified into a project manager position. Well, as you might imagine, this bothered me; project managing is work, and irritating work at that, and I went through a couple of months of general pissiness about it. Then I thought to myself: It’s not so bad. You like the people you work with, AOL’s a good place to work, you’re paid well, and your stock options are beginning to pay off. You can deal with this. And so, I resolved to change my attitude, get with the program, and be a good worker for the company. They canned my ass a week later.

Now, mind you, there is a substantial difference between my so-far successful avoidance of real work, and my decision to eat a banana rather than go through the effort of making a bowl of cereal. But the difference is in degree, not kind. Maybe if I had to work for a living, I’d also make more of an effort recycling my soda cans. Of course, if I had to work for a living, I’d also probably be miserable all the time. At least with sloth, I’m only subject to the occasional moment of self-loathing. So: Generally miserable and industrious, or generally happy and slothful? Which would you choose?

While you think about it, I’m going to go take a nap.

***

I’m back (and yes, I really did take a nap). Talking about my propensity for sloth has made we wonder about my predilections for the whole raft of deadly sins, which, in addition to Sloth, are Pride, Avarice, Lust, Envy, Anger and Gluttony. As you may or may not know, each of these sins are cardinal sins not just because they are bad in themselves, but because they are so often the root of other sins as well; the domino theory of God’s wrath, as it were. As such, each of the sins has its own demon associated with it, as well as its own eternal punishment. What do you have to look forward to if you partake of any of these sins? Well, let’s just find out, shall we.

Sin: Pride
Your Demon Will Be: Lucifer
Your Eternal Punishment is: To be broken on the wheel
John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin Is: High

This is a big one for me — I have to say that I generally think I’m pretty hot shit most of the time. This fact may explain why everyone who’s ever known me for more than three weeks makes it their mission to take me down a peg or two. I don’t mind; being strapped to a wheel for all eternity doesn’t sound like much fun. Theologically speaking, Pride is considered to be the worst of the cardinal sins (you’ll recall that the devil was cast out of heaven for pride), but on a day-to-day basis the most pride generally does is make you an asshole. Pride is why movie stars, CEOs and sports personalities think people should bend the rules for them — because they’re better, you see. It may or may not be the greatest sin, but it’s almost indisputably the one that’s the most annoying to everybody else.

Sin: Envy
Your Demon Will Be: Leviathan
Your Eternal Punishment is: To be placed in freezing water
John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin Is: Low

Envy has never been a problem of mine, which is a good thing, because my peer group out here are a bunch of folks who became millionaires when their AOL stock went through the roof. I figure if you’re not envious of people who can buy entire sides of mountains in the Shenandoah valley, you’re not likely to be envious of most people. This is not to say that I wouldn’t want to have the sort of money they have. Oh my, no. Please, let me have some of that. But life isn’t a zero-sum game: Their success does not come at the toll of my misfortune.

Also, there’s the fact of my own low-impact, high-enjoyment life. I get to stay home and do what I love to do: Write and play with my baby daughter all day. If I ever envy anyone when I have that, someone please pour cold water on me and snap me out of it (which is, as it happens, the eternal punishment for this sin. Convenient).

Sin: Anger
Your Demon Will Be: Satan
Your Eternal Punishment is: To be dismembered (I guess the limbs grow back)
John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin is: Moderate

I don’t generally get angry — getting angry is an admission that the person you’re getting angry at is worth getting angry at, and frankly, most people aren’t worth the effort (no offense). However, when I do get angry, I stay angry for a very long, ulcer-producing amount of time. Years, in some cases (how did you think I kept my trim figure?). However, I don’t like being angry, and additionally, I’m not very good at it. Despite all attempts to a contrary nature in my teen years, the fact is I’m almost pathologically cheerful. We all have our crosses to bear.

I do get irritated easily; I’m the guy you on the road who is yelling obscenities at the person in front of him driving 5 miles slower than he wants to go. I’m also reasonably excitable and have to keep myself from calling everyone around me a stupid freakin’ moron when I get wound up. However, that’s not really anger, that’s just being a jerk. You don’t get dismembered alive in hell for being a jerk; they just stick you in an eternal traffic snarl with the one station on the radio playing Paul Anka. I can live (so to speak) with that.

Sin: Avarice (or Covetousness)
Your Demon Will Be: Mammon
Your Eternal Punishment is: To be placed in a cauldron of boiling oil
John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin is: Low

Covetousness is related to Envy, I think: You envy someone their fame, or possessions, or relationships, and by natural extension, you then covet those things. Well, I pretty much have everything I want in this world, and most of the things I want that I don’t have I can get without undue stress. So there you are; covetousness-free. I should note that I am fortunate, first to have a good relationship with my wife and my child, second, to have a career that’s mostly happy and productive, and third, that the material possessions I do want usually list for under $500.

Covetousness is one side of this coin; the other side is avarice, in which wanting something is for the fact of having the object (or person) rather than for what the object can do. I see “avarice” and I think of all those morons on eBay, bidding hundreds of dollars on junk, just, you know, to have stuff. I like stuff (you should see my CD collection), but I also tend to use the stuff I have. Having just to have seems awfully pointless. I know, I’m a bad consumer. I’ll try harder.

Sin: Lust
Your Demon Will Be: Asmodeus
Your Eternal Punishment is: To be smothered in fire and brimstone
John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin is: Moderate

Hey, I got urges. That’s all I’m going to say about that; I rest assured in the knowledge that most of you don’t really want details on that topic. But lust is probably the most tricky of the sins, because it’s the one with the most real world consequences (i.e., it’s almost never just sex). Once you slake your lustful thirst, you have to deal with the clean-up phase, and there’s always a cleanup phase. This is what they mean by one sin leading to other sins: Lust leads to lying, guilt, anger, blah, blah blah. What a freakin’ hassle. Like Jimmy Carter, I have lust in my heart. Generally speaking, that’s probably where it will stay.

This makes it sound like the only reason I don’t engage my lustful urges is because it’s too much bother. Rest assured, that’s not the only reason. But it sure doesn’t hurt.

Sin: Gluttony
Your Demon Will Be: Beelzebub
Your Eternal Punishment is: To be force-fed rats, toads and snakes
John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin is: Low

Look, I can’t even rouse myself to make a bowl of cereal. Gluttony just ain’t gonna happen.

Sin: Sloth
Your Demon Will Be: Belphegor
Your Eternal Punishment is: Writhing in a snake pit
John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin is: Moderate

Moderate? I know, I’ve been expounding on my own laziness. But true sloth isn’t necessarily laziness (which is merely a subsection), it’s also inaction; basically, you allow bad things to happen because you cannot be roused to halt them. It is abundantly true I am lazy and a slob, but I’m also not one to idly stand by and just let things happen that will affect my life — You see, in addition to being lazy, I’m also a control freak. Bad combination, I’m aware. But you are what you are. And it is my life; might as well be an active participant.

There is the theological matter, slothwise, of rousing one’s self to do God’s will, and as I previously mentioned, I may be in trouble there, since I posit that it’s impossible to know God’s will; you can’t play the game if you don’t have the instruction manual (or you can, you just won’t be able to know when you score). I just lead what I think is a good life. It may not be enough; I may be in for an eternity in the snake pit. But snakes aren’t so bad once you get to know them (although I’m sure the snakes in Hell’s pits are nastier than your average pit viper). We’ll see.

11 thoughts on “Whatever X, Day XVIII

  1. Good post.

    I think I’m pretty low on everything except Sloth. Though I yell at other drivers too. Hell is going to be damned crowded (pun half-intended) if everyone who yells at other drivers is headed there, though.

  2. You’re slothful, yet you typed out the whole word “moderate”? If you were truly slothful, you’d have typed “low” — it’s much shorter.

    On a similar note, I recall a lecture from Scott Adams of Dilbert fame (there are other Scott Adamses out there, thought it worth clarifying) who said he chose his profession because he wanted a job where he could stay in his pajamas, and could only think of two, with Hugh Hefner’s not likely to be vacant for some time.

  3. But life isn’t a zero-sum game: Their success does not come at the toll of my misfortune.

    If success == money, and most people use money as a counter for success, then it appears that money for individuals behaves as if it is part of a zero-sum game.

    IANAE so I don’t pretend to understand Nobel-caliber economic theory. “On the ground,” though, I’m poorer today than I was five years ago, and so are my neighbors. The top 1% of earners in this country are significantly wealthier.

    It’s like the inverse of quantum physics; the more money you have, the more the rules change.

  4. What makes you think that being industrious would make you miserable? If you were an industrious sort of person, working harder would make you happier, yes?

  5. You laugh at your bananas before eating them? Isn’t that a little cruel, Scalzi?

    Like the Native Americans, you should cherish your bananas, maybe whisper a little prayer of thanks to them. Please, no more pealing.

  6. Being busy doesn’t make you miserable, just being busy at the wrong thing does. At least in my short, miserable experience.

    I’m going to go listen to sit in the dark, listen to Linkin Park and cut myself.

  7. I find myself being so much more slothful since leaving the cubicle world behind–unless, of course, I have a deadline hanging over my head. I think it’s because of all of those years industriously working away for, well, nothing really. TPS reports. So now, I’m industrious when it’s about *me* but “meh” otherwise…

    Oh, and Dude, you are so west coast. You said “Safeway”! (yes, I know there are Safeways in the east… but as a fellow displaced west coaster, I’m allowed to get all giddy at the mention of non-Kroger supermarkets. so there.)

  8. Your description of the bannana problem suggests it’s own solution: Relolve only to eat 7 course meals consiting of the highest level of gastronomic excelence.

    See a bowl of cereal is SO much easier than that!

  9. I think inability to tolerate honest work is a very common characteristic of writers. In my case, it’s not sloth. I am the kind of person that would take care of those popcans for you. In fact, it kind of bothers me, all these years later. (I am also still waiting to find out what happened with last week’s pickle juice.) Nevertheless, industrious as I am, I can’t stand regular jobs. Somehow I become the person with an attitude, the one that is bringing down everyone’s morale, is not a team player, is a screwup and can’t do anything right, etc., etc. Which one of the seven deadly sins is “sullenly resentful” and “doesn’t want to work for the MAN?”

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