Monday, February 22, 2010

On boredom...

Coincidentally (are there such things?) I stumbled upon an article about boredom, cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education's Arts & Letters Daily (a great site to find unusual articles). I've been telling people since my return that we all wish for free time, and then when you have it, but really can't do much with it (like me right now), it drives you batshit crazy.

What I'm experiencing is different than what Aussie writer Colin Bisset calls "grand boredom," then. Writing in Philosophy Now, Bissett says:
Like melancholy and its darker cousin sadness, boredom is related to emptiness and meaninglessness, but in a perfectly enjoyable way. It’s like wandering though the National Gallery, being surrounded by all those great works of art, and deciding not to look at them because it’s a pleasure just walking from room to room enjoying the squeak of your soles on the polished floor.... 
...It’s about a certain mindset. Perfect boredom is the enjoyment of the moment of stasis that comes between slowing down and speeding up – like sitting at a traffic light for a particularly long time. It’s at the cusp of action, because however enjoyable it may be, boredom is really not a long-term aspiration. It’s for an afternoon before a sociable evening. It marks that point in a holiday when you’ve shrugged off all the concerns of work and home, explored the hotel and got used to the swimming pool, and everything has become totally familiar. ‘I’m bored’ just pops into your mind one morning as you’re laying your towel over the sunlounger before breakfast, and then you think ‘How lovely.’ It’s about the stillness and familiarity of that precise moment before the inevitable anxiety about packing up and heading back to God-knows-what. (Full essay here.)
Ahhh, that's it. It's hard to get that type of exquisite boredom in my circumstances because my ability to balance the boredom with physical or mental action is limited right now, as I still get tired easily, both physically and mentally. Or is that just an excuse?

I think I've been in tune with Bisset's "grand boredom" idea for some time. For example, I've always been a proponent of what I view as the "European style" vacation--heavy on the relaxing, meandering, slowness, to the point that at the end of your vacation you are ready and willing to go back to your "real world." In contrast, I've always been slightly annoyed (okay, more than slightly) by the "U.S. style" vacation, which consists of running around frantically to visit as many crowded and overpriced tourist sites as can be fit into a 5 day stretch. And then with one day on each end for frantic and stressful travel, there you have your typical 7 day "U.S. style" vacation. Who is rested after that? I don't want to sit and stare at the walls on vacation, but I'd rather walk and look without an agenda.

Bisset also writes about the wonderful boredom he experienced as a child (wow, does that bring back memories). I think it is good for kids to be bored every once in a while. I refuse to constantly play cruise director for my kids.

I go back to work next week. I am really, really, looking forward to it. And then I will be able to enjoy being bored again, but in a productive manner. As Bisset says:
"Wasn’t Newton sitting underneath an apple tree staring into space, and Archimedes wallowing in the bath, when clarity struck? In my own insignificant way, I think I have always understood that doing nothing is the key to getting somewhere."
My dog understands that....


Big Fish Diaries said...

"BATSHIT CRAZY"...never heard that one before...but I like it!Hang in there like the song says.....The sun will come up tomorrow...tomorrow !

Meg said...

We're looking forward to seeing you on campus, Dan!