Saturday, February 21, 2009

Acedia, the Writer’s Demon

When the eight “demons” of the early desert monks mutated into medieval Europe’s seven deadly sins, acedia (the “noonday demon") was folded into sloth. 

A mistake. 

Acedia deserves special recognition. It is so uniquely active, especially in the lives of writers. Besides, it can hardly be called "sloth" since, more often than not, it demands a deal of activity. 

Evagrius said this about acedia (based on the translation from the Praktikos by Luke Dysinger). Just substitute “writer” for “monk,” “desk/computer” for cell, and “book” for “way of life.”
Acedia is the most burdensome of demons…First, it makes the day appear to be fifty hours long. Then, it makes the monk look out his window, forcing him to bound out of his cell to …look round in all directions in case any of the brethren is there. [Note: the desert monks were not isolated. Twenty or thirty might live in caves within a few feet of each other. Which is why there was a lot of instruction about visiting, mean gossip, and other social distractions.]

trns: “If I don’t walk the dog she’ll never leave me alone. *Walks the dog* Okay, now I’m energized to write. I’ll just get the laundry in before I sit down. *Does the laundry. Also vacuums.* Okay, really ready to write, now. While the computer revs up, I’ll make some coffee…*Cleans the kitchen before making coffee.* Oh. It’s 5:00. Time to make dinner.”

It makes him hate his way of life. It makes him think there is no charity left among the brethren; no one is going to come and visit him. If anyone has upset the monk recently, the demon throws this in too. It makes him desire other places where he can practice an easier, more convenient craft.

trns: “The writing life sucks. And I’m no good at it. Surely I can be equally creative doing something where I’d make some money. Like an actual job, for f's sake, something useful, not the navel-gazing, self indulgence of thinking I am a writer… Especially since this book is going nowhere fast.”

It adds remembrance of the monk’s previous way of life, and suggests that he still has a long time to live, raising up a vision of how burdensome his life is.

trns: “If only I had a regular job with a guaranteed paycheck. I'd have respect, a house, health insurance, and a retirement plan. Waah!!! The writing life is too hard. My stomach hurts. I'm so sick of hitting up my folks for funds to keep going."

To be a writer is to be on intimate terms with this demon.

So I just applied for a full time, nicely paid job as administrator for the youth arts program where I've taught classes off and on for years..

Letting the noonday demon eat my soul or a sensible move in a rough economy? 
If I'm offered the job, I guess I'll have to discern which.

Note: Evagrius was a proponent of Origenism. He wrote extensively on the passions – their vice side and their virtue side (yes, each vice, turned around, is a virtue). His writings were declared anathema in the mid-500s, along with Origen's, when their theology
- that included reincarnation and universalism - was declared a heresy. Yet Evagrius' teachings on monasticism infiltrated - and greatly influenced - the Western church through the writings of an ex-follower, Cassian.

* * * * * * * *


  1. I think that maybe a way to know if you are really called to do something is when it engenders both the very best and the very worst of time while doing it, trying to do it, worrying about doing it, ignoring it, etc.
    It seems that for both of us, our lot is to wrestle with the Writer's Demon.

  2. Oh yeah, Pardes, oh yeah. ;-)