20,000 role models

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When my parents bought their place in Florida, almost twenty years ago, there was a truly horrible vanity in one of the bathrooms. It had gold-flecked formica on the countertop and gilt around the edge of the mirror. My mother, who likes to live a gilt-free, fleckless existence, wanted to burn it. “We can have bonfire of the vanity,” she said.

She said it for years, until they finally got around to doing some remodeling. Then, they opted to for the less dramatic but much safer option of simply having it carted away. I happened to be on the phone with my mother when the guys arrived to do it. “I have to go,” she said. “They’re coming to take the vanity.”

The two-toed sloth, borrowed from photographer Roy Toft at National Geographic

“While they’re at it,” I said, “could you ask them to take the sloth and the gluttony?”

Cue the rimshot!

We’re all afflicted with our fair share of the Seven Deadlies, and sloth and gluttony are my assigned lot.

Not that I’m immune from vanity – or wrath, or greed, or envy. It’s just that none of those forms a fundamental part of my character. As for lust, at my age I wouldn’t mind ramping it up a bit, but I don’t think it ever should have made the list in the first place. I mean, really, if you’re making a list of the top seven sins of all time, is lust even in the running? Where’s meanness? Ignorance? I’d even take pomposity over lust.

But there’s no question that sloth and gluttony should make the list, and it’s those two that will be my undoing. There’s nothing I like better than to sit around and eat.

This has been a particular problem lately because there’s a lot of stuff that’s supposed to happen around here in the spring.

Already, we’ve hauled, shoveled, and spread three yards of compost and two yards of mulch. We’ve taken down two trees and planted one. We’ve cut, split, and stacked an ungodly amount of wood. We’ve built three raised beds and filled them with strawberries and asparagus. We’ve transplanted a whole patch of our neighbors’ raspberries, and gotten our lettuce, kale, collards, arugula, and sugar snap peas into the ground. We’ve cleaned out the chicken coop and put in new litter and straw. We’ve raked enough leaves to fill a swimming pool.

By “we,” I mean Kevin.

Oh, sure, I’ve helped. More than a little, even. But the bulk of the work has been done by my husband. Sloth and gluttony are not his sins.

I have some excuse. It happens that I had a lot of freelance work just as we hit the busy season, but I’m not so good at getting that done, either. There were lots of times when Kevin was out in the yard, slaving away, and I was inside, “writing.” Writing is an activity that lends itself to the exercise of both sloth and gluttony. Because your computer is on your lap, it’s very easy to do time-consuming things that aren’t, strictly speaking, writing. You can read the New York Times or check your Twitter. You can e-mail your friends or play ken-ken. And, naturally, you can’t be expected to do any of this without a snack.

I like to think of this as working, but it bears a striking resemblance to sitting around and eating.

Last night was the last straw. Kevin decided to go fishing late in the evening, and he asked me if I wanted to come. We’d gone the night before, with nothing but one schoolie striper (Kevin’s) to show for it, and I had had one measly nibble all night. So, last night, I decided to stay home and “work.”

Kevin left the house at about 8:15. An hour later – one hour later – he called me to tell me he was coming home because he’d caught his limit, which is two striped bass 28 inches or longer. He was home inside half an hour.

Anyone who fishes will understand what a remarkable night of fishing this was. Kevin had to drive the boat to the marina (about three miles away), put it in the water single-handedly, park the truck, motor out to our favorite fishing spot, catch two gigantic fish, motor back, get the truck, take the boat out of the water single-handedly, and drive back home. He did this in an hour and a half. Door to door. It takes almost that long to go the fish market. That’s how good the fishing was.

And I missed it.

And I didn’t miss it because I had to work. I missed it because it was warm in the house and cold on the boat. I missed it because I was a little bit sleepy. I missed it because a book and another glass of wine sounded better than fishing. I missed it because I am slothful and gluttonous.

I’ve been making a lifelong effort to be less slothful and gluttonous, and it clearly hasn’t been entirely successful. As of last week, though, I have an advantage I’ve never had before – two hives teeming with role models.

We opened our hives for the first time on Thursday, and were amazed at the progress the bees had made in a mere five days. They had freed their queen from her cage so she could start the business of populating the colony. They had drawn out comb on most of the frames, and were busy loading them with pollen and nectar. They had cleaned out debris and dead bees.

The bees are everything I’m not.

The bees are everything I’m not. Focused, industrious, selfless. They begin their day as soon as the sun warms their hive, and don’t hang around for a second cup of coffee. They know what’s required of them, and they spend the entire day doing it, without dawdling or catching up on Facebook.

When they fly out to forage for pollen and nectar – get this – they bring it back to the hive and put it away, to be eaten later. They don’t eat it in the car on the way home, or leave it on the kitchen counter for a couple of days. They create different meals for different members of the hive – larvae, drones, the queen – and make sure dinner’s on the table every night. They keep portion size under control.

They keep their house spotlessly clean, turn in all their stories on time, and still find time to go fishing with their husbands.

There’s lots yet to do this spring. We have to get the rest of the garden in. We have to finish building the wood-fired oven. There are bushes to prune, and yet more leaves to be raked. We need to bait the lobster pots and take them out to the bay. We should force another set of shiitake logs. And there’s fishing to be done. Not only are the stripers running, there are bluefish out there, and we just found out the scup are in, too. Then there are the bees themselves. They’ll need feeding for a while, and then we’ll have to try and keep them disease-free and amply housed.

If I can manage to tackle all my jobs and temptations with even a fraction of the bees’ industry and restraint, it’ll be an excellent spring. I’ll get lots of work done, keep the house in good order, and lose a few pounds. But my role models take me only so far. If I have to live in a monarchy where the men don’t do any work and your jobs are assigned to you in a set rotation from the moment of your birth, I’m going back to sloth and gluttony.

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Comments

  1. Ah…sloth and gluttony…I know them well too. I can go for days being industrious and productive, and then, knock off for a week. Easily. Steve and I take turns being the grown up, and lately, it’s been him a lot. Which makes me just a teeeensy bit guilty, since he works all day and I’m unemployed. I try to chalk it up to depression, but I’m just lying to myself, because I know damn well I’m just lazy. And I’m not depressed. I’m gonna go to hell. He’s also a lot better about the gluttony thing. We had pasta for dinner – lousy pasta, as we’re out of Romano and had to use the old dried up Parmesan in the back of the cheese drawer- and a couple of hours later I realize I’m empty. “Ya wanna salad?” I ask him. “No. I’m full. I have a swelly-belly.” Where did he get a swelly belly? He’s 220 to my 135 and I didn’t give him that much more than I gave myself. But since he’s being good, I’ll be good. Except that I’m really empty. So once he’s asleep, I’ll get up and go chug some buttermilk and come back to bed. Actually, what will probably happen is I’ll go chug some buttermilk and decide that wasn’t enough and make myself an ice cream cone, and then probably eat a few martini olives and then wish I had some crackers….maybe we should just skip sloth and gluttony and call it guilt and remorse….

  2. You know, we all only get 1 shot at this life, do what makes you happy (as long as it’s not hurting anyone) and leave the guilt for someone else to carry around. This takes practice but it can be done!

  3. I love the way your stories start…..and then, the big surprise, it’s all about something else indeed!
    And once again, Tamar, you have written in a timely fashion; today’s NY Times Magazine has a great article “Working Out In Our Genes”. There is a quote: “One of the affected genes is thought to influence how people respond to fatigue, suggesting that, for some people , the same amount of exercise may be more tiring – and less appealing than for others…..Yet another gene has been linked to how well the body regulates energy, which can have an effect on the desire to exercise.” And we know gardening, fishing and living off the land often provide exercise of the most intense kind.
    So there you are – you can blame your parents again!

  4. I’m with you, on the gluttony/sloth front. I love my bees, but there’s no room for a rebel in the hive, nobody gets a day off!

  5. Some would say that Sloth and Gluttony are some characteristics of drones, and Lust seems to be their only purpose in life. So they do no work, eat a lot, and go out cruising for queens so they can…and then they DIE. Maybe this idea of using the bees as role models is a good thing. At least the worker bees. The drones are too much like bad examples.

  6. Girlfriend, you are way way way too hard on yourself. Just think, your choice not to go fishing may have been the reason Kevin did so well. If you had gone, you would have been there sooner and he would not have been in exactly the same spot where he cast, so those two fish may not have been swimming by just, then. The tide would have been just a bit different, etc etc etc …..
    Then, who knows, your buddy “not even on the list ,-lust” might have jumped in the mix and then it would have been just a fun boat ride with no fish to be had. So be happy you had that glass of wine and read your book, because the combined result was that your two as a team have two big fat fish to eat!!!
    If it would help your quilt factor, next time you feel slothenly, come over here and you can tell yourself that I need help with the kids and we can eat, drink, and be sloth like together.

  7. Paula — I see you and I have the same affliction. It’s why I don’t keep anything that could remotely be considered a snack in the house. Fruit, maybe, but no crackers or chips or ice cream. Everything in my house is an ingredient — you understand why.

    Sue — I’m in favor of happiness, but the difficulty is the trade-off between long-term and short-term happiness. Short-term, I certainly enjoy sitting around and eating. Long-term, though, it makes me happy to use my time constructively, to try new things, to be productive, and to keep my weight down.

    Judy — I saw the NYTimes piece, and I do believe that just about everything we do has a strong genetic component. My parents definitely also like to sit around and eat, but they manage to keep those impulses in check most of the time. So I’m hoping I have some vestige of the self-control gene, as well as a full complement of the sit-around-and-eat genes. And I’m glad you like the meandering stories. I don’t set out to write them that way, it’s just that I start thinking about something, and that makes me think about something else, and then I remember something … and I subject you to all of it.

    Kathy — Yeah, I’d last about 15 minutes as a worker bee. Kevin was talking about what an excellent society they had, and I pointed out that there’s not much room for entrepreneurship, and both he and I would be voted off the hive in short order.

    Greg — Good point! It just goes to show, you have to pick your role models carefully.

    Linda — You’re right, I know. But I’m actually not that hard on myself. I recognize my shortcomings and I try to do better, but I can assure you I’m not wearing a hair shirt. As Kevin pointed out, I wouldn’t have felt bad at all about not going if he had come home empty-handed. I was just bummed because I missed the action. Of course, the next night, when I went with him, we DID come home empty handed.

  8. Judy’s right, we’ve evolved to consume fat and sugars, and to conserve energy whenever the opportunity presents itself. It’s in our genes. Don’t blame yourself, blame Mitochondrial Eve.

    Of course I realise because of technology and cultural adaptations that we have ample opportunity to sit around and eat, but that’s besides the point…

    If bees had facebook and ken-ken, I bet they would be less productive too. They might be on-line all day pollinating virtual flowers in their virtual hives and “poking” each other.

    Also, we wonder if we could borrow Kevin for awhile…

  9. GREAT post! You and I live parallel lives in some ways. After a long day of beekeeping (we are commercial in Montana) my husband will beg me to go fishing, and the chance to write, to read, to drink a glass of wine, will tether me to the house. And then when he leaves I wish I had gone with him. And then I will Twitter, Facebook, and surf instead of actually reading and writing literature. Sigh.

    Also: your mom is hilarious!

  10. David Redfern says:

    Does sloth include intellectual activity as well? or rather the lack of it.

    I am constantly amazed by my more industrious friends and colleagues, most of them rushing around frantically organising everything, even if it doesn’t need organising. One of them, at the age of 55 and having led a life of relative health, non smoker, daily walker, slim, enjoyed a few beers but not a glutton by any means and one of the industrious types I described was recently diagnosed with a life threatening heart condition.

    I, on the other hand, although an active Rugby player in my youth and having spent most of the 11 years I spent in the Police force walking, have spent the last 20 years or so in sedentary occupations. I am overweight now, drink far too much beer and only 10 years ago quit a 20 a day smoking habit; non of this is helped by a ‘manyana’ disposition and almost self imposed unemployment for the last 18 months whilst I set up a new business, my excuse is I’m taking care of our kid’s whilst my wife pursues her successful career. So last year I went into the local Accident & Emergency dept. to deal with a trapped nerve in my shoulder, and quite routinely, for a man of my age and size, they conducted an ECG that my wife commented when she saw it, that it was probably the healthiest heart profile she had ever seen and she has been in the medical profession for 30+ years!

    I refer back to my initial question and although I recognise my physical sloth, intellectually I am astonishingly active, in complete contrast to my youth when I couldn’t get past the lust bit to even recognise an intellectual impulse far less entertain one. Strange how life goes, initially brawn over brains but down the line a bit it’s now brains over brawn; guess I’ll just have to continue smelling the roses………that is until my business is up and running!

  11. Jen – I’m perfectly willing to blame all my shortcomings on my genes, but it just so happens that technology is playing to my weaknesses by eliminating the requirement to exercise and develop skills just in order to feed myself. As for borrowing Kevin, we’ll have to work a trade with Mike, in a kind of G-rated husband swap.

    Courtney — Nice to know I’m not alone! And I’m really enjoying your site at http://www.glaciercountyhoney.com. I hope you don’t mind if I start hitting you up for beekeeping tips. (And you’re right about my mother.)

    David — I suppose I’m intellectually active in the sense that I’m always thinking about something. Usually, though, it’s trivial stuff like are we out of toilet paper or did we remember to register the boat or what the hell am I going to make for dinner. Certainly a life of the mind is important, but I’m feeling the need for a little more brawn — and the gumption to use it.