Boredom Abounds, But Is That Bad?


Photo by Thomas J Abercrombie (courtesy National Geo)

Photo by Thomas J Abercrombie (courtesy National Geo)

I’ve often marveled at my husband’s ability to find pleasure in the mundane. He finds projects around the house and property that need attention and applies himself to them without complaint. He is currently scraping, sanding, and repainting individual pickets on our veranda. On the other hand, I vocally suffer from what Dostoevsky referred to a “the bestial and indefinable affliction”: Boredom.

It wasn’t until I stumbled across an essay by Joseph Epstein, Duh, Bor-ing, originally in Commentary Magazine, and then again in Best American Essays 2012, that I contemplated what boredom is exactly, and why it is not such a bad thing.

Like Epstein, and probably most other tweens and teens, I was brought up short by my parents when I complained about being bored. Epstein’s father told him to beat his head against a wall and he’d soon quit feeling that way. My mother was equally sympathetic; she told me only boring people got bored and to get out of the house. It was a version of the children-are-starving-in-Africa answer to my complaints, brushed aside as being unimportant and predictable.

According to Epstein, some people are more prone to boredom than others, and I guess my husband and I are proof of the opposites attract theory of marriages. But even he is apt to be temporarily bored by a dull speech or a hour-long wait in the doctor’s office. We all have it from time to time. Even animals become bored. I think my little basenji, who loves to run on the beach, was bored to death when recuperating from a broken leg. When we finally took him for his first walk, his whole face lit up and we could see his inner dogginess ignite realizing there would be a life for him outside the confines of his kennel.

There is transitory boredom, ennui, weariness, apathy, and or dissatisfaction. This can also descend into longer term monotony and eventually clinical depression. But Epstein seems to say that every human being has uttered the teen phrase, I’m bored, at some point or another.

I found it interesting that Epstein suggests that boredom occurs more often when there are high levels of distraction—Facebook? Twitter? TV? He also notes that primitive cultures seldom complain of the affliction. And I have watched any number of people in this country work at drudge jobs that would drive me insane, but I have yet to hear one complain about it.

But neither Epstein nor my parents bothered to suggest to us the possible benefits of boredom.

It seems to me that boredom forces us to look closely at ourselves. It puts our existence into perspective and can steer us into a place of contemplation and reflection. If we can push past the frustration of sitting—without action—we can come out the other side with something to show for it. This is the challenge of meditation, of yoga, and of writing.

We writers lock ourselves in rooms and purposefully create this kind of environment, specifically to induce reflection and creativity. Inspiration. Sit long enough and thoughts will come and pages will be written.

I wonder what it would be like if parents told their children that their boredom was good for them and that it proved they were imaginative people. Would it change how we look at it?

Thoughts On Memoir and Angles of Repose

Angle of Repose

Finding the angle of repose, that easy place where story flows

is no easy task.

First, pour your heart out on the page

until a pile forms— sufficient text for a memoir, say.

(Example: if the memoir has 360 pages, write M=360)

Using a life span and brutal honesty, measure the amount of truth versus myth you have created, and divide M by half (most probably).

M ÷ 2 = 180

Edit and rewrite to create that desired book-length document.

Remember, the steeper the slope the more likely the pile is to slough off, slipping until…eventually we find that angle

where the story stands and the truth prevails.

Three Little Pebbles

Another canine traffic jam at the door.
Sit. Stay…. Okay
Like lit bottle rockets they launch, rounding the corner of the house to some imagined danger I cannot see.

A thousand toads bleat and honk,while rain sizzzles on the roof.
The pond is full.
Finally, the drought ends.

Sharp air, frost on the ground, my horse snorts whorls of frozen breath

Resolutions for the New Year

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.” Henry Ford

New Year’s resolutions, like laws, are for breaking. Yet, I feel inclined to make some this year. Nothing big, mind you, because high and mighty dreams lead to failure.

The biggest and hardest of these involves disconnecting my Internet connection for a certain period of time every day (how much time is still up for negotiation, but I’m thinking four hours minimum). This must be first on the list or the others are doomed from the start. If I can force myself to turn off the WiFi connection, I may be able to accomplish the second commitment, which is to start rewriting my Green Hell Chronicles.

Most of you who read this blog are unaware of my memoir in progress. I haven’t written about it here because… well, the story is still, to use a military euphemism, playing out on the ground. Until there is a solution I really can’t talk about it. Suffice it to say it is a saga of historic proportions and has involved the trio made famous by the songwriter XXXXX XXXXX: Lawyers, Guns and Money. (And here is a perfect example of exactly why I need to disconnect from the Internet. I couldn’t remember the songwriter’s name and was about to look it up online, which would lead to checking my facebook page and, jeez, it would be hours before I got back to writing. So, I put some XXXs there and will check the information later. Or, my brain might kick in and I will remember…. Ah, Warren Zevon!—  see? I don’t need the Internet all the time!)

But back the the Green Hell Chronicles— I can tell those who are interested that I have written meticulously about our travails in a journal (safely stored online?) over the past five years, and I think I can now begin editing and rewriting.

So that is one and two. The others resolutions are much easier.

I want to get back to my yoga practice and do it at least twice a week (note the vague term ‘at least’ twice a week). That shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish, though. When I do it, I feel better and am more centered in everything, including my writing.  It also keeps my back and hips from buckling from the seated position of writing ( I once read that John Irving writes standing up, and I know why).

The other resolution is a cinch, to walk every day. I have four dogs and they are constantly on my case about getting out for some exercise. So, really this one is cheating because I already do it. I’m including it, though, in case I fail at the others; I can always fall back to this one success.

There you have it, my resolutions for 2011. Nebulous, but as good as I can do.

Order & Chaos

 According to Victor MacGill, life is caught in the tension between order and chaos. If there is too much order, everything becomes the same and there is no room for creativity or anything new. Everything must fit the one pattern. If there is too much chaos nothing can last long enough to create anything useful; everything is just a jumble that destroys everything before it can get started. Between order and chaos is found the Edge of Chaos, the point where there is enough chaos for novelty and creativity, but also enough order for consistency and patterns to endure. This point is a magic point, where new and unimagined properties can emerge.

Victor MacGill

I’m not sure which side of the continuum I’m on at the moment, but when I get back to The Edge I’ll let you know.