Molly Fisk: Normal Sloth & Torpor

5709998073_c4149d9eed_zPhoto by Flickr user (Creative Commons License)

Last night I was talking to some friends about cooking. Both of these women raised children, so you know they put a lot of food on the table over the years, whether they felt like it or not.

I have not had children, nor have I spent long years living with and feeding another adult. Every time I get into a new romantic relationship I’m shocked all over again at how often dinner comes around, and the expectation that as a woman I might somehow be responsible for satisfying any one else’s hunger. It’s not that I don’t like cooking — I do. But I go through phases, and right now reservations are what I make best, or a quick  phone order from the local pizza joint to be picked up on my way home from work. I tested this again last week, inviting a new friend over, and lasted until 4 p.m. before I caved and had to suggest we go out instead. I wanted to want to make dinner for her, but I just couldn’t manage to start the prep in time. It all seemed way too exhausting.

Does this happen to you? Do some of those do-it-every-day-or-week jobs like cooking, cleaning, laundry, flossing your teeth, getting your oil changed, and mowing the lawn suddenly turn into Mt. Everest without warning? I am wondering if this is normal, or whether I’m having a very delayed mid-life crisis.

It’s not just cooking. Lately I’ve been doing laundry in a very noncommittal fashion. I get the clothes and soap into the washer and turn it on, and I can usually get the wet clothes into the dryer within a few hours and turn that on. But then I’m likely to forget the whole project and days later wonder where my blue bra has gone to, and my favorite bird socks.

Sometimes they’re still in the dryer, smiling up at me when I open the door. Sometimes they’re wrinkling in my laundry basket where a kind renter has put them so he could dry his own laundry. For a while the embarrassment of having 20-something male renters handling my underhauls was enough to keep me on track, but lately even that has gone by the boards.

Eventually I manage to carry the basket into my bedroom, but I almost never fold the clothes any more. I dump them onto my bed, providing my cats with instant new sleeping arrangements, and dust off the cat hair when I want to wear them. At night, when I’m supposed to climb under the covers, what do I do? I just climb under the covers.

A friend says she envisions this as a layer cake: bottom sheet, then me, then top sheet and blanket, then a layer of clean laundry, and sprawling cats as the frosting . . . Can you imagine? All my female ancestors are spinning in their graves. I hope this is not a sign of early on-set decrepitude.

I hope it’s just normal every-day sloth and torpor.


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  • Trish Percival August 15, 2016 at 1:56 am

    1. You are a writer? This means, when you are lucky, you lose track of time while you are writing, look up….oh, no! Not enough time to make the thing you had planned. Same thing can happen when you are reading. These are important tasks for you, so don’t beat yourself up. Order in.

    2. My problem is often CHANGING tasks. When I am doing something, whether it is writing or weeding or cooking, I often don’t want to stop in the middle to do something else. Some tasks, like writing or weeding, are never really finished, so interruptions are daily annoyances. Dr. Pat might be able to explain this. I think being interrupted from a task causes psychic distress.
    A corollary is that the desire to keep working on what I’m already working on often makes me LATE for other things. Setting timers when I have obligations to others helps a little by removing a decision, or rather making it in advance before I get involved in a project, but sometimes I turn them off and keep working….just a few more minutes.

    3. The clothes on the bed with the cats sounds a little extreme. But teenagers live like this for years, when their moms quit doing their laundry. They survive.
    Personally, if the clothes make it as far as my bed, I’d be up late folding them when I found them there at bedtime, even if that is the middle of the night, which it usually is. But it really only takes a few minutes to fold them…oops, now I’m late for getting enough sleep.

    All in all, sounds like you keep busy doing a lot of things and housework and cooking don’t always make it to the top of the list. Those women who want their homes ready to receive company at any moment probably have their sense of identity more tied up with their housekeeping than you do. Their friends might have been the same and would have been judgemental if they saw things in a mess. How to spend your time is a value judgement and I believe you should be in touch with your own values and do just as much of these menial tasks as necessary to keep your own inner critic off your back, and not a whit more. Steven Covey has a good little system for dividing your to-do list into 4 quadrants to give you time for what really matters. (7 Habits of Highly Effective People.) To-do lists are one of my favorite flights of fancy….

  • hillsmom August 14, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    @ Dr. Ford: I have a little hanging which says, “A clean house denotes a misspent life.” Fortunately, I don’t need to worry…

  • Cecilia Ford August 14, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    While Dr. Pat is right that failing to “keep up” the house or our self-presentation can be a sign of depression, it isn’t always. People have wildly different standards about these things. While most of us feel better when things are kept in some order, there are those who really don’t mind mess and would rather spend their time doing other things.
    The problem is that this is sometimes a source of guilt or shame for people. If you are failing to keep things up to your own standards, but finding it’s harder to do it in the summer heat, then give yourself a pass. It’s not a matter of law, but preference. If living in “sloth” is beginning to wear you down, on the other hand,” then it’s better to work at improving your surroundings.
    As Dr. Pat said, for many it’s a matter of pride and self respect to meet certain standards. There’s nothing wrong with lowering them if you really feel like it, though. One friend joked with me that her wardrobe choices have come to deciding between “clean sweatpants” vs. “dirty sweatpants.” But she has a life as a poet and is devoted to intellectual pursuits, which are her priority.
    Staying active overall, and engaged in the things you love, regardless of how, is the way to avoid decline in mental functioning.
    One thing I know (to paraphrase another saying): no one ever said on their deathbed “I wish I’d spent more time cleaning up.”

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. August 14, 2016 at 9:20 am


    I never know if you are writing from real time experience or past experience or just something you made up. I decided to wait a day and let my response to your presumed real time experience stew in my crock pot over night.

    The jobs of everyday living could turn into Mt.Everest for many people. For some, the cause is depression and for others, fatigue from illness may produce this kind of extreme torpor. But in general, most people work hard to avoid disorder in their home environment because it can cause early onset decrepitude…not be the result of it.

    My elders in my parents line, most of whom lived into their 90’s, never considered not having order in their homes and daily lives. I think it helped them live independently and with the confidence that they could carry on alone. They were always prepared to have visitors and that gave them self respect.

    Many women I talk to get tired of cooking after years of producing the daily three. But they find ways to have simple meals that may be the same old same old every day but meals with enough nutrition and aesthetic pleasure to be worth the effort: even if for one.

    Many other women who live with another adult, change the rules of engagement for shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry without waging a world war and find that companionable meal preparation and household chores that are shared are often meditative experiences to be enjoyed every day.

    It may take more effort to extract oneself from the doldrums for those who live alone compared to those who have a healthy partnership. Since you are under the weight of that layer cake (at least in your essay), call trusted friends to help remove it. Get to the bottom of the to do list and start fresh. Find a new way to deal with food and simple chores in between the important work of thinking and writing that give us the gifts of your imagination and creativity run wild every week.

    It may be harder for the creative person to deal with the chores of daily life. I can’t know this since my work is best when there is order in my life. I find that my mind is clearer when I take breaks from work for laundry and tidying up. And, my spirits are lifted when I have a simple meal at home with a beautiful table setting.

    If this was a just a humor post and I missed the point…it won’t be the first time. But, you did ask if your readers had these experiences so I hope that my general response to your essay and to the responses of some readers will only be considered as potential solutions or as a new way of considering how to live with more beauty in daily life.

    Thank you dear Molly for your food for thought that we serve with joy here at You are a great cook in the kitchen of the mind…you clearly never order it in.

    Dr. Pat

  • Mickey August 13, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    Whooooaaaaa, is it a virus?! I, too, have a Mount Washmore, down to 2 pairs of clean underwear now; never folded the last batch of ‘clean’ laundry; sigh….My son, oh, God bless him, wants his mom to cook for him, for us. Augh, no! I don’t feel like it, wah! I can’t think of what to make, wah! There are 2, count ’em, TWO adults living in this house and the cooking job should NOT be mom’s job! The patio, no, I won’t write about the patio; yes, I will. The regulation is only 25% of it can be used to ‘store’ things. Well, you guessed it; more than half is ‘debris’ as described by the insurance inspector person who took pictures, augh! Sigh. What a life. Hugs, Molly. I borrowed the book, With a Measure of Grace; contemplated the two of us driving to Boulder, Utah, at the end of March, rent a room for three days, eat at Hell’s Backbone Grill as a birthday present to my son who loves good, wholesome food; but, the reality is we are reclusive and homebound. So probably won’t happen. Thanks for the essay, though. Loved it. Love the book. Would love to go to Boulder, Utah.

  • deanna allen August 13, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    Well, Molly, there’s a good and a bad part to having a husband/partner (as you well know). Good is when they cook, bad is when you have to.. and , for my hubby, a meal is not a meal without fried meat of some sort….even breakfast most of the time. But I’m with you, especially in the month of August, when torpor takes over and laundry, eating, cleaning fall behind the need for a fat novel with a big ceiling fan overhead….

  • Molly Fisk August 13, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    Look at it this way: we are not axe-murderers! I consider that an enormous win. Anything else is secondary. 😉

  • hillsmom August 13, 2016 at 11:41 am

    How nice to know that I’m not the only one experiencing those feelings. I’ve had a lifetime of cooking and am not interested it it anymore. My DH wants to eat at the barbaric hour of 17:00 or 18:00. I prefer 20:00 or even a bit later. To be honest, though, I can still crank out our traditional Thanksgiving dinner when pressed.
    Here I sit reading away on the computer when the laundry is turning into Mt. Washmore…underwear getting low, too. There’s a basket of clean clothes ready to take to the Goodwill for 3 months now…sigh. Perhaps today will be the day? Oh, good grief it’s much too hot to even go out…”and so it goes.” Well the cleaning problem has been solved by having someone come in twice a month. That also took a long time to decide.

    One thing which does not get put off is scooping the litter box. Kitty should not suffer due to my sloth and lethargy. The birdbath and the feeder get taken care of with regularity, too. So maybe there’s hope for me still?

  • Wendl in Manhattan August 13, 2016 at 8:12 am

    When I feel like this, I prefer to think that my mind has managed to throw off its slave-program shoulds, musts, and have-tos, and has hooked up with the natural flow of the universe. Having a fairly low threshold of squalor, however, I usually snap out of it ere too long. But it was enjoyable while it lasted.