"All things incline to worse, and foundering backslide, back like one whose oar can scarcely thrust his skiff upstream; if perchance he slack his arms, sternward the coursing water drags him down the rapids."--Virgil, Georgics, lines 197-199. Translated by Kimberly Johnson
The tendency of all of our work to degenerate is relentless and never-ending. For example, today, my wife and I cleaned our house. No matter how many times we clean it, it becomes messy again. This is partly due to four children, under the age of six, who play with toys, change into costumes, create art projects, take books from shelves, build huts, wet the bed, go through 3 pairs of clothes a day, and dirty dishes. These are just the regular things. There are also times of wanton and unexplainable destruction.
The house can become a disaster area within a few minutes. Clean-up may require a few hours. On some days, keeping up with the house feels like fighting the mythological hydra. The hydra was a dragon with multiple heads. Brave warriors who fought the hydra found, to their dismay, that two heads would grow to replace every one head that they severed. In our house, it's four against two. When I'm at work, it's four against one. For each mess my wife and I clean, two more may be made somewhere else in the house.
The kids try to help clean, and they succeed sometimes, but they are physically small, mentally immature, and quite a few of the messes are more than they can realistically handle. We try to create systems, schedules, and commitments to make cleaning easy for ourselves and for our children, but consistently applying our plans requires immense diligence. If perchance we slack our arms, "sternward the coursing water drags (us) down the rapids."
Even in my intellectual and artistic pursuits, I find that progress is fleeting. I might be able to miss a day or two of guitar practice, but, even after twenty years, fingers start to stiffen up if I miss a week. Admittedly, I've accumulated a lot of guitar knowledge and skills over those two decades, and certainly that progress doesn't go away in a week, but, based on what does happen after a week, I would bet that what has taken twenty years to develop would require much less than twenty years to lose.
I have read many works of literature in my life. I like to think that I am full of things to write about, but when I sit down in front of a blank page, or a blank screen, I often find myself unable to write. When this happens, I get out a book and read, looking to prime my proverbial pump. Progress has happened over the years, because I find the pump can easily be primed, but I feel fairly certain, based on those minutes spent in front of a blank screen, that if I stopped reading, the pump would run dry much more quickly than it filled. I know that I don't remember things I read a few years ago, and that I repeat mistakes that I once had eliminated.
Entropy, bitter entropy,
Works against all our work.
A horizontal hour-glass
Teeters on a fulcrum,
Between two precipices.
We stand in one side,
Shoveling sand to the other,
Switching when necessary.
When we get old, and tired,
We lay down, and then.....
By Stan Szczesny