Not Your Average Sloth by Mary Beth Stuller

I am a sloth. Not like the ones that populate memes – cute ones with bug-eyes on upside down faces, their furry arms slung over branches, announcing, ‘It’s Tuesday; hang in there.’ Or the horny ones that whisper dirty comments about their sexual prowess. Or Sid, the animated sloth from the Ice Age franchise that is patient and caring through various adventures. I mean old-school sloth – the lazy, slow-moving kind that lounges for perpetuity.

Some people claim to feel sloth-like since the pandemic halted activities. They say they watch too much TV, drink too much wine, gain too much weight. But those are consequences. My slothiness is a disposition.

People who know me would argue I’m not a sloth. How could I be when I teach full time, take night classes for a master’s degree, and, in spare minutes, fight deer over garden territory?

But my students suspect it. They witness my heavy sighs, my belabored complaints, my dawdling as I start a lesson. They endure my lazy tangents that take me from Hamlet’s soliloquy in iambic pentameter to my existential crisis and irregular heartbeat. Surely they wonder why their papers aren’t graded faster.

After class, once they’ve left our Google meet and their faces have evaporated in a black hole Internet vortex, I’m left with myself. I see my shoulders hunching, my head leaning toward the screen, my reading glasses inflating my eyes’ size – I look like a sloth.

The only person who knows the extent of my slothiness is my husband. He tolerates me on weekend mornings when I reveal my disdain for movement. It doesn’t matter what time I wake, I cannot be productive till I’ve emptied my bowels, which back up in the course of a week. Similarly, sloths relieve themselves of solid waste only once a week, a routine so fascinating The Washington Post videotaped it a few years ago. Graphic.

As for me, if things don’t move quickly, my husband will ask, ‘Is this a nooner?’

‘Probs,’ I say.

Then he does the dishes and laundry, pays bills and stacks firewood, while I read the newspaper till noon. And research real estate. I spend hours looking for a coastal home. We don’t have the money for a second property, but that doesn’t deter me. Even though our budget is zero dollars, I pretend we have more than that – but not a lot. I don’t want people to be jealous of the coastal home we’ll never have.

With mugs of coffee, I’ll scour real estate apps and find a trailer home near the ocean that’s in our fake budget, or a dilapidated Victorian near the bay, and I’ll reimagine them transformed. It’s so easy to picture the glory of a renovated waterfront manse with refurbished clapboard siding and new windows anchored with flower boxes full of billowing baby petunias. And boxwoods lining the repointed brick walk, and the mowed lawn humming its welcome, and soon Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson arrive to play touch football as sailboats coast by.

When I show my husband the properties, he focuses on the negative – that the trailer has no floor and will blow away in a hurricane or that to fix up the Victorian we’d need 500,000 dollars. And I’d need a telescope to see the water from the bedroom – add another thousand.

I dismiss him with my hand. Spoil-sport. I proceed to price roofing, calculate replacement floors, and shop for furnishings. Once I’m finished, it’s a nooner.

Then this sloth starts her day. My orthopedist said that, since I have an arthritic hip, I shouldn’t run for exercise anymore. Oh, darn. Walking it is. Even a sloth can put one foot in front of another – sort of.

I live close to the North Central Railroad Trail, a former train line that connected Baltimore to York, Pennsylvania. It’s a flat path that meanders alongside and over various streams through its forty-mile course. I love walking here, but starting is the hardest part.

Sometimes I forget my goal. My husband has found me in our yard after I have declared plans to go to the trail. ‘What are you doing?’ His voice conveys patience as if he’s talking to someone with limited faculties.

‘I don’t know,’ I say. I realize I’ve been caught unaware of time.

‘I thought you were going to feed the chickens and go for a walk.’ He puts his hands on his hips, pantomiming my mother. ‘Why are you standing in the middle of the yard?’

I show him my eggs, proof of my chicken–tending.

‘Very nice,’ he says. He waits.

I point to my border garden across the yard. ‘I wanted to see if my daylilies bloomed.’ We both know if I look at my garden I will lose an easy half hour mindlessly pulling weeds, snapping spent blossoms, admiring the swoosh of colors on my live canvas.

‘I’m only trying to help,’ he says.

He wouldn’t care except that, whenever I announce I’m going for a walk, I take an hour to leave, and this affects his dinner plans, around which every day revolves for him.

Before my walk, I consider my stomach. How does it feel? Am I hungry or might I become hungry while on my walk? Yes? Need a snack.

It’s very hard to eat a snack and not read something. Luckily, despite my nooners, I rarely get through the Sunday edition of The Times. I can nosh on a serving of nuts in the time it takes to read an article, but the thing is, once I start reading a section of the paper, I can’t stop till I’ve read the whole thing. So, there’s thirty minutes.

Next, I regard the weather. Unlike sloths, I live in Maryland, which hosts four seasons – sometimes in the same day. I don’t like to under- or over-dress, so I go outside to assess the temperature, wind, humidity. It’s always colder on the shady, damp trail. Maybe a sweatshirt?

The trail is one mile from my house, mostly downhill. If I really cared about my health and the environment, I’d walk there. But I’m too lazy to walk a mile uphill after treading a few on flat terrain. So I drive.

Most days, when I pull in the lot, sleepiness overcomes me. My car feels sunshiny warm while the day’s fatigue weighs on me like an X-ray apron. Time for a power nap. A couple of years ago, I read When by Daniel H. Pink in which he relays the art of power napping. I’ve been practising ever since. I check my watch, note the time, and give myself ten minutes. Lo and behold, within a quarter hour I awake from slumber to the sound of snoring. My head reclines on the headrest and my jaw slackens on my chest. I look like an abandoned marionette. How many people park and gawk at me? Eh – shrug it off.

But I do feel groggy, so as motivation to get my feet on the ground, I bribe myself: On the floor of my car I keep a three-pound bag of Goetze’s caramel creams. I slip one or two in my pocket, and after each mile, I allow myself a chewy, cream-filled nibble.

The beauty of walking the same landscape is in noticing the season’s changes. I never tire of the treetops – whether in-leaf, yellow-leafed, or bare – and how they brush the sky.

I should paint – take a class or dabble at least.

And piano. Gotta pick that up again.

And another language. A proficiency test for grad school hardly makes me bilingual.

Really, I need to travel. When this pandemic is over….

And that’s how it goes. Lots of thinking, little product.

American culture favors busyness, even during a pandemic. Trapped at home? Reorganize your closet. Learn crochet. Grow a Victory Garden. Do not sit down. I prefer to lean on the words of Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “Extreme busyness…is a symptom of deficient vitality.” He lived in a slower time, before blue laws dissolved and the Internet blossomed in our hands. What did busyness even look like in the 1800s?

Maybe old-time busy is today’s slothy. Or maybe all sloths are created equal, or maybe this is too much to think about. Time for another nap.

Photograph by Maryland based Commercial photographer Robin Sommer of MidAtlantic Photographic LLC

Mary Beth Stuller is a high school English teacher who lives in Parkton, Maryland, where she tends chickens and dreams of becoming a flower farmer. She is pursuing an M.A. in Fiction Writing at Johns Hopkins University. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in The Baltimore Sun, Little Patuxent Review, and Montana Mouthful.