Genesis 3:19, or a Justification for Laziness

A Friday off. It’s noon by the time I get out of bed, the worse for wear, one by the time I get in the shower. By two o’clock, I’m sitting at Waffle House while the waitresses bicker and forget my coffee.

What started as an ocean of time in which I could float like a swimmer buoyed up by the saltwater, all possibilities up to the shoreless horizon, is already diminishing. As the hours pass the time when I will have to go to bed to be ready for work tomorrow is like a sighting of land, a doubtful line on the horizon looming nearer and taking shape – the end of the vast obligation-free day and relief from it.

Without thinking, I divide the possibilities into productive and nonproductive. I have to do things in column a before I can allow myself the things in column b. In column a: writing, reading, errands that can’t be done on a work day and social obligations to include replying to the ignored texts and emails accrued from the past week. Column b includes having a few beers and watching television, or meeting friends out and toeing the line the crossing of which results in a miserable Saturday at work, or not going at all.

Naturally I only want to do the things in column b. By writing this I am working towards permitting them to myself by fulfilling the obligation to myself to write and the social and quasi-professional obligation to my dear editor who texts me as I write to ask about this week’s contribution.

I’ve often wondered about this feeling that my real life consists of the things I don’t have to do, and that my greatest happiness is found in the gaps between obligations. When I travel it’s the white spaces that seem to hold the most pleasure looking back: the time between going through security and boarding at the airport, the hours spent looking out the window of a moving train. Arriving in a new place, I don’t really want to see the sights because of the implication that I should. Arriving in Paris, I’d prefer to have a beer, sitting with the Eiffel Tower at my back.

I don’t think this is laziness, or lack of ambition. Like Augie March, who takes as his motto, “easily or not at all”, but works hard from job to job, and strives and struggles towards “the right things” as a high school teacher of mine once put it, I write, I go to work, I call my mother back. I put in my time. But easily is the ideal, and I react with spite to a world where laziness even exists as a concept. If there were not things to be done, I couldn’t not do them, and it seems my default state is supposed to have been that of inaction.

In Genesis, God seems to have made man with this in mind (and supposedly in his image, an essential laziness perhaps accounting for a lack of evidence of his meddlings) and places him in a paradise characterized by it’s lack of need for effort – all the fruits of the world forever ripe and at arm’s reach. The greatest possible punishment was to expel him into a world organized contrary to his nature, so that he says to Adam, “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, ‘til thou return unto the ground.”

As a child I was accused of laziness, so I hesitate to credit myself with a precocious insight into an essential mistake in the world’s organization – it may be I’ve arranged my views to accommodate my nature. Whether the world is wrong, or I am, I can still rebel, and take pleasure in it, a happy spite multiplying the pleasure of being aligned with the world through sloth, happiest in doing what I don’t have to, or in not doing, loving most and finding beauty in things without use.

And now, having come to the end of my thought, I’m done and can pour myself a beer and sit on the couch to eat peanuts and watch TV as the sun goes early down, quieting the dread of another early morning waking with a pavlovian melancholy at the sound of my alarm.


Tal was a teacher and writer in Asia before moving to North Carolina. He is an editor, poet and is a regular contributor to The Talking Book.