Well, Kathleen Norris (bestselling author of Amazing Grace, Cloister Walk, and the new Acedia & Me) thinks so. She said that this is possibly the best bookstore in the nation. Her words, not mine (although I, of course, am in total agreement!).
She had some very interesting things to say about acedia tonight, (acedia is a slippery word; the closest I can get to a definition is that it is kind of a hybrid between sloth and depression, where everything just seems so futile and difficult that you simply stop trying). One of the things that grabbed my attention was her observation that in the 30′s, the word was tagged by the Oxford English Dictionary as out of use, but it was picked up again post-WWII. I thought it was very curious that the word wasn’t used during the Great Depression, but once a devastating war was over and people went back to normal, boring, every-day life, they needed it again.
That, in turn, reminded me of an incredibly interesting class I took in college, called Ritual and Play. It was in the art history department, but almost all of the readings we did were about play theory, and we spent a good month trying to define both ritual and play (which we eventually kind of failed to do). One of them that really struck me was an essay by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yes, I could at one point pronounce it, no, I can not anymore), related to his book/concept, Flow. Flow is the state you enter when you lose track of time, when you are so utterly absorbed in something that you forget where you are. It is when someone is trying to get your attention for like five minutes, but you totally ignore them because you simply must keep doing whatever you are doing.
It occurred to me as Ms. Norris was explaining acedia that possibly it is the opposite of flow. If flow is caring so much about something you can’t stop, acedia is being unable to start, unable to enter flow. Flow doesn’t have to be fun- it can even be something as un-fun as taking a test, as long as you are very focused on that test. I often find myself entering flow when I’m writing a paper (or even this blog post- see?? It’s been half an hour! Where did that go??). So maybe acedia is anti-flow, the inability to “get into something”. Ms. Norris suggested fighting it by taking on small tasks- something that you can complete, and likely something that you’ll enter flow while working on.
Either way, it makes me want to read more on acedia and more on flow, and see what conclusions I can find. Certainly both things that are going on the list. We’ll see.