The Art of Laziness


Here were my New Year’s resolutions: Clean out my house, get in shape, finish my novel, yada yada — the same ones I made last year. And if the first two weeks of 2005 are anything to go by, the next 50 are sure to bring about failure in this endeavor.

But at least I’m succeeding at one thing: sloth. Yes, one of the quote/unquote seven deadly sins can actually be viewed as a virtue — no, a lifestyle program, according to Wendy Wasserstein’s new book, “Sloth: The Seven Deadly Sins” (The New York Library/Oxford, 2005).

“Sloth is the fastest-growing lifestyle movement in the world, and that’s because it’s completely doable. If you embrace sloth, it’s the last thing you’ll ever have to do again,” Wasserstein writes in her “introduction” — purportedly the only thing in this book she’s penned; the rest of the book contains the actual sloth “program,” and Wasserstein is simply “delivering” it to us (because the “real” author was too lazy to write it).

Although it’s a bit gimmicky, it’s only mimicking the original form: the self-help book. (Introduced by some expert, written by some guru, or found in the mountains of Peru.)

This slim volume of a sometimes weak spoof not only pokes fun at the modern world’s intense obsession with self-improvement, it also mocks its antithesis, the new trend of guides to — let’s call it relaxation. On one side of the bookshelf we have “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and on the other there is “The Lazy Way to Success” and “The Art of Slowness.”

Apparently, we need a program for everything, even for doing nothing. “Sloth,” one of seven volumes by various authors on the sins, gives us that program, from how to tell everyone in your life to get lost (“Say to your kid ‘do your own homework’ and leave the dirty pots and pans to someone else…”) to helping you focus on the two-week “lethargosis” period (not unlike Dr. Atkins’ two-week carb-cleaning “ketosis” process). Other tips include anti-improvement concepts like, stop competing, do not clean up, do not wash, don’t be good — or bad — and nothing is urgent.

Although I didn’t know it, for the last six weeks I’ve actually been following the sloth program pretty closely. Now, if only I can retroactively sneak that resolution into 2005, I’m well on my way to success.

Wendy Wasserstein will be appearing in conversation with Madeline Puzo, the dean of the USC School of Theatre, on Tuesday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. as part of the “Aloud at Central Library” Series, Central Library Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 228-7025.