Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Spiral of Indolence and the Summer of George

The advent of summer is the twilight of education. Never is the profession of teachers or the tradition of learning in a poorer state. Teachers either hasten to finish the curriculum or strain to stretch the remaining material until the end. Struggling to grade final exams is always a huge tell of laziness: those who complain about it aren't giving any work during the semester. Then moments after the students flee and as administrators and secretaries settle into summer mode, the teachers are gone. What do we do? Where do we go?

It varies, but too infrequently does it wander into intellectual territory. Students would surely revolt if they knew their teachers had no intellectual inspirations beyond the bounds of their master's degree. (Here's a mean trick, kids: ask your teacher about the latest developments and literature in his field.) Yet the annual sabbatical otherwise known as summer vacation seems seldom to further serious academic advancement. Such intellectual infertility owes not to any illness within the profession, though, but to the simple fact that indolence is a heinous vice.

Indolence can and will suck down any individual who does not guard against it. Yet we need not quote fire-and-brimstone sayings about idle hands, but rather may look that model of modern man, George Costanza. The story of The Summer of George (Season 8, Episode 22) tells with blistering hilarity the sad and true story of indolence. With a season of severance pay from his employer, George settles in a for a summer's hibernation. He starts with high aspirations to reading and frolf, but when indolence sets in, decompression from the tension of work yields to decomposition. After he's wiped by 10:30AM, his muscles are so atrophied by months of extreme inactivity that a tumble down the stairs renders him paralyzed.
The physical and intellectual paralysis seems hardly an exaggeration. What to do? Inspiration goes a long way. I have busts of Aristotle and Schubert on my desk, and the fecundity of their minds is no small part of my inspiration, or intimidation, to stay parked in my chair and write. A little history helps too, for example knowing of Mozart's packed schedules and Jefferson's infamous 15-hour study days. It may seem preposterous to compare oneself to the greats, but we doesn't need to measure up to their genius, only the humility and diligence with which even their talents worked.

Sometimes, though, you just need to throw yourself into activity. Moodiness and ennui will set upon anyone and a blind leap can break the pattern when the will falters. Today, for example, I couldn't summon the will or interest to do anything, so I decided to vacuum the steps. Instead of coming away tired from heaving that hoover around in the heat, I was provoked to take up other tasks which I had forgotten in my idleness. Activity exhausts, but it is indolence which enervates.

We don't need to have something momentous to show for each day, but the disgust we feel at our indolence is a sign that we should make the most of our day even if we don't have the highest aspirations. Something, even the tiniest bit, is surprisingly more satisfying than nothing.

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