Bad Angel

All my life I have -- writing automatically, the words to follow would be "suffered from", but that runs contrary to what I want to say -- I have experienced something that probably has a name but I don't know it. Here's one name: laziness. It's the one I have believed all my life. It's simple. It's a vice: sloth. It fits in the theological/ethical framework of my upbringing. And it runs contrary to the beliefs of the modern therapeutic culture I inhabit because it means I'm a bad person. A bad lazy good-for-nothing person, though I am drawn to the archaic elegance of something like n'er-do-well.

However, I prefer to think of it as a failure of the will. That implies agency: will power. And therefore responsibility, as in bad lazy good for nothing. But also something beyond agency: a failure, a short circuit, a glitch programmed by faulty DNA or a demonic entity or the Creator Himself. I can't help it that I can help it but won't. 

In writerly terms it gets called writer's block, though that doesn't explain a thing. As if an iceberg suddenly appeared and blocked the writer from going forward. Too damn hot where I live for icebergs. The Titanic would've been safe in the Gulf of Mexico. But I'm not.

Luis Buñuel played with a failure of the will in The Exterminating Angel, as earlier Melville had done in Bartleby, the Scrivner. I would like his words on my tombstone: I would prefer not to. Which would include meaning, of course, not preferring to lie there dead. I should leave it as my wish in my will, but I do no such thing. I would prefer not to.

But I've done things. Gone to school. Held jobs. Helped raise kids. Cooked meals. Painted walls. Mowed grass. Driven cross country. Crossed countries. And I've had agency in matters that changed my life. Moved far from home. Chased women. Interviewed for jobs. Made and acted on decisions about health. Even Bartleby himself must have done something, for by the time we meet him, he has a job for which he must have acquired schooling, and he has managed to dress himself in the morning. There must be some things he has preferred to do.

And me? What do I do when Bartleby possesses me? Who responds to my bad lazy good for nothingness? Where do I find the agency to counter a failure of the will? How do I wrestle with the exterminating angel?

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