catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 22 :: 2006.12.01 — 2006.12.15


Seeking boredom

“This is so boring," Madeleine announced one day when she was six years old. She’d been playing with two older neighbor children and mocked the same absolute disgust as she bit off each syllable.

“And what does ‘boring’ mean, Madeleine?” I volleyed back.

“I have no idea.”

Nothing could be truer: she had never been bored for a moment of her young life, and was merely playing with the word in imitation.

Do you remember boredom?

The last time I heard “boring” shouted at me was on a day topping a hundred degrees. My condo collects sun, so the temperature was hotter inside, even with the shades pulled tightly. So my son, himself six years old, announced his detestable boredom while we were playing at the beach.

“Brendan. It sounds like you are saying you miss playing with your toys at home, and I understand that. But I need to tell you that every person on this half of the United States wishes they could play at a cool, breezy beach today. Eat a snack. Take a nap. Stack those round stones or jump in waves. I’m sorry that we have no choice today, but I’m not sorry to be at the beach.” He rested under the sunshade for awhile, and then began to dig a river, and he forgot his boredom even though the heat seemed to pin us flat to the sand.

Each time I hear ‘boring,” nowadays, I’m hit with a wave of nostalgia. Boredom! What a luxury! Remember boredom? Boredom is a restless itch for change—but I have a restless itch for change, and I’m not bored. Boredom is a restless itch for change plus something else, and I am trying to lay my finger on it.

It takes time to be bored, time and a lack of options, a lack of urgent demands. I remember announcing my boredom as a child, to my mother in our kitchen. Often I would complain of boredom when there was “nothing” on TV. Mom would begin with her list of “why don’t you try this, or that?” and I would counter every single suggestion with “boring.” Then I would have to, oh drat, go to the playground and swing or goof off. Then I’d need to walk the four or five blocks downtown, sit on a twisty stool at the soda shop and listen to adults gossip. Then, oh drat again, I’d have to mosey into the library and run my fingers along the rows of books, right at the level of the Dewey decimal labels, with my head tilted to read the spines. Probably I’d need to pack my checked out books into a bag and walk the two additional blocks to my grandmother’s house to see what she was cooking, and maybe she would force me to bake chocolate chip cookies. How boring. Even if I continued to be bored, by then I had walked a mile or so and connected with my small community, gotten fresh air and a change of scenery. Usually, though, I was cured.

I was sometimes bored as a college student, and similarly I remember being bored when I was single and overemployed as a Residence Hall Director of a college dormitory. Boredom, then, meant I wanted to connect with someone who was not related to college students in any way. Boredom meant I needed to get myself off-campus and hike, or wander a busy downtown, or to lose myself because I could not lose myself on campus—everything on campus reminded me of urgent needs.

A boring job is so like hell, isn’t it? I remember a boring job, in which I felt stifled for eight hours a day, every day. I recently had a nightmare in which I was filling out a job application to work at that miserable corporate nowhere again. In my dream, I stood up and announced to everyone, tears still in my eyes, “Wait a minute! I don’t ever have to work here again! I don’t have to!” And I feel a sorrow for those who must go to those bleak offices and do work that does not feed them. I realize at any moment I might be required to do that kind of work again, regardless of the announcement in my dream. Time and lack of options.

How about this: boredom is the uncomfortable realization that there is more to life than all the busy-ness in front of my nose. Boredom is a little voice of sanity. Boredom says “try something else, for awhile, and see if you can find what you are missing.”

I’m trying to figure out why I don’t experience boredom anymore, ever, and I think the first answer is that there is no time to be bored. My life is filled to overflow with activities and projects requiring time investment. I would be bored, normally, when I need to wait for children, but any spare minute can be filled with a pen and paper, or a one-minute silent time with my eyes closed. Some of my activities are tedious, but even then I knit, if I can, or if my hands are busy with a dull chore, my mind is active writing a story or puzzling a thought. Could my absence of boredom indicate some little fraction of health and harmony? I’ve so many, many places and ways to apply my passion. I don’t feel balanced in any way. I don’t feel I’ve achieved anything close to wholeness. But I’m never bored.

In my favorite book of all time (okay, one of my several favorite books of all time) Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon says boredom is the chief enemy of loveliness, the absence of imagination and curiosity. Supper of the Lamb is a cookbook in which the first eight chapters cover one recipe in exquisite detail, with an entire chapter devoted to the exploration of an onion. It is funny and theological and outdated, and the book is how I learned to cook. Capon introduced me to the playful side of the God I love, through butter and flour and good sharp knives, and I’ve never been the same. I would quote it directly but all four of my copies have been loaned out, at the moment. Curiosity is the polar opposite of boredom.

The world is a beautiful place. Perhaps parenthood makes it all the more beautiful, to see through the eyes of children, and also to see time through a different lens. Parenthood is often about slowness, routine, steadying the ship of the family as we sail a storm-tossed sea. Steadyness. Slowness. Quietness in the tiny doses it is available. In some ways, I’d like to have a big stretch of quiet in which to feel bored—but even then, I don’t think I could manage it. The world is a beautiful place, every inch of it fascinating.

Do you remember boredom? It’s like a dream within a dream. I’m not altogether too busy, as many people report. But I’d love to try boredom on, just a little bit, to remember how time moves so slowly sometimes, to remember “nothing to do.”

My children are past the point of “no idea” about boredom. But they know, as I did as a child, that no one else is in charge of their curiosity. As adults, I wonder what would happen if we opened up our lives to boredom a little more, to hear it’s wisdom and silence.

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