Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Do You Suffer from Acedia?

John Plotz opens his NYTimes Book Review essay (Dec. 25, 2011) with the following paragraph.

"By some miracle, you set aside a day to tackle that project you can't seem to finish in the office. You close the door, boot up your laptop, open the right file and . . . five minutes later catch yourself thinking about dinner. By 10 a.m., you're staring at the wall, even squinting at it between your fingertips. Is this day 50 hours long? Soon, you fall into a light, unsatisfying sleep and awake dizzy or with a pounding headache; all your limbs feel weighted down. At which point, most likely around noon, you commit a fatal error: leaving the room. I'll just garden for a bit, you tell yourself, or do a a little charity work. Hmmm, I wonder if my friend Gregory is around?"

Does this state sound vaguely familiar to writers? And perhaps to other readers too? Dr. Plotz identifies the syndrome as acedia, described in the writings of monastic monks in the 4th and 5th centuries:" . . . the ills that come with solitary, sedentary, cerebral work." Yes, those monks were writers too. I'm not suggesting that acedia is the same as writers' block, but similarities arise for contemplation. Acedia sounds more intellectual, historically interesting, and even more mystical than plain writers' block. I'll have to start looking for a place to use the word.

As it turns out, John Plotz is working on a book project titled, "Semi-detached: Absorption and Distraction Reconsidered." I'm eager to know more since detachment and distraction are topics of interest in general for intelligentwomenonly.com: useful in stress reduction, letting go of negative self-talk, meditation, self-hypnosis, focus. Remember Mischel's marshmallows and strategic allocation of attention?  For writers, absorption (when we can arrive at that level of focus) produces tremendous spurts of writing productivity. But it's difficult to summon at will.

Plotz provides no magic medicine as treatment, but tell us of a mental exercise. Divide oneself into two, "one the consoler and the other the object of consolation". Although he doesn't specifically say to talk to yourself, I assume that's what you do as both the client and therapist. He notes that this exercise and others from Evagrius (Fourth century monk and ascetic), ". . .  unmistakeably anticipate the self-disciplining (and self-forgiving) exercises of modern cognitive-behavioral scientists." Hm-m-m-m. Sometimes the connections are wide and tight at the same time: Fourth century and twenty-first, monks and psychologists, negative self-talk and realistic self-talk, the continuum of states of mind.

My absorption is waning. Or is it decision fatigue? I must need a shot of sugar. It's late afternoon after all. How about you? I'm sure some of my writing readers already know about acedia. Any thoughts about similarities and differences related to wb? Any treatment suggestions?
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