Vicky Mochama confesses her cottage sins: Sloth

illustration of the word sloth with people on the beach around it Illustration by Sam Island

Pride, wrath, envy, sloth, lust, greed, gluttony—the cottage can bring out the best and the worst in us. We asked seven of Canada’s top writers to come clean about their cottage sins.

I Have a Confession to Make…

I have always considered myself a jack-of-all-trades of laziness. I have done nothing in every way possible on at least three continents and in every outfit I own. I can be indolent standing up and sluggish sitting down. I have achieved feats of laziness that are inspiring: for example, I have regularly taken three-minute taxi rides to the gym.

I was, I thought, more than prepared to sacrifice all activity in the service of the nation and global health. The many were being asked to give up all activity in service of the few.

Yet I, a practiced hand at eschewing work, was working harder than ever during the pandemic. I had a seemingly endless task list. One that I was deeply committed to. I need, I said to my boyfriend through gritted teeth as we strolled one night, to be more productive.

But staying at home and keeping away from other people/disease vectors had worn me out because I was working all the time; when I wasn’t working, I was working on what else I could do. I had to reclaim rest. I had to be lazy again. I had to learn to be lazy again.

Sloth has a bad reputation—which is truly unfortunate because, of all the sins, it is the most enjoyable. Productivity, however, has an excellent PR firm. (I’ve heard that they also represent Anxiety and Peloton.) It is the most successful marketing campaign since advertising firms of the last century pitched young women on smoking cigarettes by calling them “torches of freedom.” Keeping busy has become a bad habit.

And so, the scale of events demanded open skies and blue water.

Determined to get to the beach before noon to begin immediate relaxation, I would put on swimwear, pick an outfit to go over that, and pack my beach bag: lip gloss, sunscreen, moisturizer, two water bottles, a bottle of wine, fruit, an ice pack, cookies, a towel, a beach blanket, a fan, a book, a magazine, a portable phone charger and cord, earbuds, and a back-up outfit for emergencies I’ve never had. By the time I was ready, I was late to the beach.

The beach I chose was a profile of the city at its most insular and resplendent. Its location down an industrial road in a not-yet-developed part of the city made it effectively an island community—a cottage town with no cottages. And it didn’t feel like any cottage I had ever been to because I have never been to a cottage alone; with friends or family, it has always been a group activity. One cottage trip to Tiny, Ont., was a literal multi-day group game with a gamesmaster and a schedule; it was exhausting and awful but my flip cup skills remain unmatched.

On my little no-cottage cottage beach, however, I was alone in a crowd. Subcultures took up real estate on the sandy strip: water activities took place east of the lifeguard stand while nearby, young people in crop tops gossiped. Further west, families popped up their beach tents. There were the ravers, the rowers, the construction guys on lunch, the hapless bylaw officers trying and failing to catch drinkers. And me.

On the sand, I searched for something to do—swim, read, respond to emails. I’d long given up on reading at the beach; the books would just get sand-filled, and reading is itself a devotion to the activity of the mind, she says philosophically with, like, an Austrian accent. If anything, all I’d done was take Productivity out so it could practice its backstroke.

So, instead of looking for things to do, I just looked—and listened. Teenage gossip remains incoherent and extremely fascinating. Toddlers wobbled towards birds. The ravers knew the bylaw officers’ schedule.

Sitting on a towel in the sun, I could finally see it. It is hard, after all the work Productivity has put in, to choose to produce nothing. I had to work on not working until I developed a new habit: doing absolutely nothing at all. I forgot about being late to the beach.

Vicky Mochama is a writer and editor. Her work has appeared in The Walrus, Hazlitt, The Globe & Mail, and The Washington Post.

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