Boredom, by Carole Howard

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.

 507Cool negative space: a cheetah stalking a jackal in Tanzania.

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?

*  *  *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Publishing.



Filed under musings, writing

20 responses to “Boredom, by Carole Howard

  1. I loved art in school but never thought of viewing those spaces as analogies to boredom. Perhaps I was to busy enjoying their mathematical patterns. But in answer to your question, my rule was always if not doing, dream. I really enjoyed this post.

  2. this makes boredom almost seem fun! 🙂

  3. Thanks, Sheila. Dreaming is a great idea; I’ll give it a whirl.

  4. Thanks, Tinkerer! Boredom as fun: a great oxymoron. Or is it?

  5. Great essay, Carole! It brought back memories of when my sons were young. When they’d say, “Mom, I’m bored,” I’d tell them, “How lucky for you — now you have a chance to sit and think! I’d give anything for free time to just sit and think.” Other times I’d say, “Now you get to enjoy the pleasure of your own company! What fun!” Interestingly, they (a) stopped telling me they were bored, and (b) learned to appreciate those things as young men. Thanks for the memories. 🙂

  6. My husband, Robert can sit and…think? Dream? Stare? Daydream?…for amazing amounts of time. I always think he should get up and do something:) or at least read, or talk, or make lists! But no, he enjoys his “boredom.” When it doesn’t drive me nuts, I think he’s on to something!

  7. What a great thing to tell your kids, Nicole. I wonder if my mom had said that to me, instead of her crack about knocking my head against the wall, if I’d have come to my late-in-life appreciation of boredom a little sooner.

  8. Sarah, I could have written the same thing you wrote, word for word, about my husband — and you know what I’m talking about!

  9. Gretchen Gibbs

    Since I’m on medication that takes away some of my energy, I “do” less, but I am trying also to value time in itself, even when there are no accomplishments. Cat-on-the-lap time is good.

  10. I love it that you put “do” in quotes. Cat-in-lap sounds great except for those of us who are allergic. Computer-in-lap definitely won’t do, but I’ll think of something. Thanks.

  11. My mother answered complaints if boredom with chores. But I was never bored. I loved empty time. Besides, I had a library card and went almost every day to get my three books.

  12. Oh, yes, the public library. I remember the smell, the women who worked there, and how the different sections of books were laid out. But I didn’t go every day. Three books a day, wow.

  13. Polly Macpherson

    Well said, Carole. Like all “valuable” skills, this one does indeed take some effort, some investment and some time to practice and openess to unfamiliar concept. Is that why retirement begins with “re” i.e. do over, repeat, etc. As John Lennon said, “time you enjoy wasting is not wasted. “

  14. Carole, Wow, I can’t remember ever being bored. I’ve always had things I HAD to do, so I’d hurry up and get them done, so I could get to the things I WANTED to do. But feeling bored? Hmmm. Maybe, because I was adopted and never knew anything about my roots, I always wanted to try everything, perhaps to find where my natural interests lay. Although there were unrecognized indicators, I didn’t realize I wanted to be a writer until I found my sister after searching for her for over fifty years. Thanks for sharing this post. I’ll have to ponder a while longer on it.

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