THE NOTION OF
When did onward, as a general guiding principle, along with forward and upward and (even, god help us all) excelsior, ever get such a good rap? What are we? Mountain climbers? Forward motion can be interesting, it's true. You've got your drag races, your high-school physics projects, your rafting trips, and Revelation end days. But moving onward in real normal everyday life? How can you hope to fool a world that's so explicitly, so clearly, so painfully cyclical? Such noble-seeming notions stink of weight loss,1 Manifest Destiny, manned space exploration, war,2 and all sorts of other dubious self-improvement programs. (Chances are, yes, you do look fat. Fatso.) What about slacking, or even quitting?3 Whose idea was it to slide that pair out of the virtue column?
Tenacity and earnest self-direction pale in the face of acedia4 that's embraced with courage and without apology. Personal progress is not only elusive; it often sucks. So any delay, whether you're talking about ennui, lethargy, simple half-stepping, or even full-blown anabhogya-carya,5 should be accepted and experienced thoughtfully. Aimlessness, even bumbling, can be admirable when it leads to something worthwhile and otherwise unforeseen, like regular unemployment checks or (even, god help us all) love or something. More to the point: There's this story about Bill Murray when he was writing for Gilda Radner. Whenever he would get stuck he would just write, "And then Gilda does something funny."
1. Some actual Christian weight-loss programs: "Help, Lord—The Devil Wants Me Fat," "Slim for Him," "Jesus Is the Weigh," and (perhaps the front-runner) "More of Jesus, Less of Me."
2. More graffiti from the Pacific Northwest Ballet: In one of the men's lounges, look for the dated but still bracing "May victory be ours!" and "On to Baghdad!" (in careful cursive, no less). A new citizens' initiative: preferential drafting of PNB season ticket-holders in the event of war.
3. In a just universe, Evan Harris retired to rule her own banana republic shortly after 1991's slightly premature The Quit: A Consideration of the Art of Quitting ("Quit to prove a point. Quit to see what you're made of").
4. A more dignified and lettered sort of apathy, a condition that St. Thomas Aquinas first ascribed to the more bored-looking monks running around in the 13th century. And, for the record, his actual name was the much sexier Tomaso d'Aquino. Historical estimates of how often this saint was, you know, performing miracles should be adjusted accordingly.
5. In Hinduism, any purposeless activity that helps you become detached from the world of goal-oriented activity. Try pronouncing it. Again. Again. Again. There you go.
Paul Hughes, Contrib.