When I was a kid, it didn’t take me long to learn that there was no point in complaining to my mother that I was bored. Her answer was always the same:
“Well, you could always knock your head against a wall. Then it will feel soooo good when you stop.”
Ha, ha, mom.
Back then, I wanted to fill the emptiness of boredom with fun, games, or mischief. My unquestioned assumption – that boredom represented emptiness which needed to be filled – has stuck with me. As an adult, though, I usually want to fill it with “getting stuff done.” Activity of any kind – knitting, reading, writing, cooking, exercising, making overdue phone calls, paying bills – is better than none. In terms of using time “productively,” my To-Do list can be my best friend.
But I’ve recently stumbled across a few essays with a different take. Very different. They actually seemed to be saying that boredom was a “something” rather than a “nothing.”
It reminded me a lot of a smack-on-the-the-head experience I had from “Drawing on the Right Side of Your Brain.” Before I read that book, I thought precious little about drawing or two-dimensional art. It was pretty straightforward for me: A picture of a tree is about, well, the tree. Duh.
Not so fast. It turns out there are other parts of the paper, non-tree parts, to be considered. The shapes of the spaces between the branches, or the part of the sky that borders on the tree can be important, or the space between the cheetah and the branch. They’re actually something, not nothing. They can be beautiful or harsh, smooth or jagged. They even have a name: negative space.
Intervals between activities – previously considered absences, breeding ground for boredom – are like negative space. Presences of a different sort. I could just observe the light changing on the trees outside my window, or notice the shape of the gooseneck lamp on the other side of the room, think about a plot point in my writing, or – radically –none of the above: I can float, stop doing, just be. No time-filling necessary.
I like this way of looking at time, and have had some opportunity to try it out lately. (Hint: I live in the northeast. Think snow More snow.) However, since I have many years of task-orientation under my belt, it’s going to take me a while to get the hang of it. But I can do it, I’m sure I can! I can learn! Maybe I should draw up a schedule: 5 minutes of nothing on Monday, 10 minutes on Tuesday, etc. I can keep a journal about my progress…..
Oh wait, that’s not the spirit of the thing at all. Never mind. I’m sure I’ll find a way. As a last resort, I can just force myself to do nothing by knowing it will feel so … normal … when I stop.
How about you? Are you ever bored? What do you do — or not-do — about it?
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