Life on the Other Side of Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll
When my friend Nancy asked what was going on with my memoir, I told her I wasn’t writing it. I waited for her to ask why — it was a conversation I’d had frequently, and it unfolded like a script — but she didn’t. Instead, in the consoling tone one uses when talking to a lunatic, she said “I understand. You don’t want to live there.”
“YES!,” I cried, genuinely enthused. I’d been searching for what to tell people when they asked about my book, and Nancy had come up with the perfect response. It was inaccurate, but it was reflective, self-aware, and deep, and that’s what I was going for.
“That’s exactly it,” I said “I’m not writing a memoir because, you know, I want to move forward.”
When I was in fifth grade, and in trouble for the gazillionth time, I was sent yet again to the principal’s office. I’d figured out that the teachers at Noonan Elementary didn’t actually check my math homework; they only looked to see if the blanks had been filled in, and I’d finally gotten nailed for the random numbers I’d been writing in as answers to math questions since sometime in Kindergarten.
“Do you know what your problem is?” scary Principal Caffrey asked as I stood at her desk. “It begins with an L and ends with a Y.”
I looked at her blankly. “Lady?” I said, knowing the answer was wrong, but stumped by the question. “I’m a lady?”
“WHY WOULD IT BE A PROBLEM TO BE A LADY?” Miss Caffrey bellowed, losing her shit. “The problem is that you’re lazy. L-A-Z-Y. Lazy.”
After she calmed down, she escorted me to a chair outside her office, and told me I’d be spending the rest of the day there. “Don’t even think about moving,” Miss Caffrey snapped, somehow unaware that sitting still for a few hours was about the best thing that could happen to a lazy person on a school day. I thought about telling Miss Caffrey that her problem began with a Clue and ended with a Less, but thought better of it; she would have sentenced me to more time in the chair, which would have prevented me from getting home to my TV and a comfortable couch.
I was in no way disheartened by Miss Caffrey’s assessment of my very big problem; it was the least disturbing of my character-related trips to her office. She’d accused me of succumbing to each of the 7 Deadly Sins by the time I graduated from elementary school, and while I may have chosen to be lustful, envious, greedy, wrathful, prideful and gluttonous by the time I was 12, sloth wasn’t a choice. It was a genetic imperative. It was the Portnoy Gene.
It was first identified in my grandmother – a Portnoy by birth — who once told me when I called and asked what she was doing that she was looking at her feet. My cousin Rick, the most successful Portnoy grandchild, tells people that his management style is based on laziness. “The first thing that enters my head when someone asks me to do something or something I need to do arises is who I can get to do it,” he says. My father is more extreme. The Portnoy Gene kicks in without the burden of conscious thought. In other words, he automatically avoids any effort.
Of necessity, most of us developed work-arounds. My Uncle Ed is a fancy New York lawyer who plays tennis four days a week, and my Dad — who’s worked up the daily motivation to support himself as a freelancer for 40 years – reads big fat books. Rick is a monster entrepreneur, which outweighs his passion for meditation, an activity which requires silence and sitting still for hours on end. As for me — and as previously noted, I went on three dates this year, and regularly do multiple sets of pull ups just for kicks.
What I can’t seem to do is sit myself down in front of my computer every day and write. Despite the fact that little movement is required, writing is hard. Try though I might, I am a carrier of the Portnoy Gene, and relaxing with a nice bowl of cereal demands too much energy to resist.
Still, the next time I’m asked why I’m not writing my book, I won’t say it’s because I’m lazy; I’ll say it’s because I don’t want to live in the past. I’m committed to rigorous honesty, and living right here right now is far less strenuous.