I was brought up to believe that to experience boredom was to exhibit a character flaw. “Only the boring are bored,” was the unhelpful response if I dared utter the words “I’m bored,” on some hot, endless summer day when all my friends were away and I needed a new library book.
Boredom is the least sexy of the emotions. It has been called acedia, tedium vita, melancholia and ennui. Boredom definitely sounds more interesting in a foreign tongue. According to Toohey, author of a new book on the subject, there are two types of boredom: the simple type and the existential type. The simple type comes from repetition and routine, often accompanied by confinement. The existential type comes from wallowing in the “Futility Of It All.”
Toohey writes about what prompts boredom, such as dull tasks or negative existential experience. Whatever the reason for boredom, though, the feeling of boredom, the inability to settle, to engage the mind, to focus on anything, is as potent as any other strong emotion. Boredom is that foggy, logy, uneasy, agitated, restless feeling. Against one’s will, attention flits from one thing to another without being able to engage. But does the feeling of boredom arise from some unexamined anxiety or from participation in a dull, unchallenging, or overly difficult task? Which comes first? Do the “mood” and emotional state precede the lack of focus or do the repetitive or painful existential tasks provoke the boredom? Whatever the cause, boredom is an uncomfortable emotion that we humans don’t usually welcome or value; in fact, we take great pains to avoid it.
It’s no mean feat to be bored in today’s world with all the new forms of entertainment and technology everywhere you turn. There is always something interesting to read, to listen to, to google. Parents keep kids moving from one activity to another. The long car trip has even lost it’s ability to bore since movies have found their way into the back seat. Is it possible that boredom in on the wane?
But, wait, before dissing boredom and celebrating its demise, let’s examine some of its positive consequences. Perhaps boredom portends a period of regeneration and creativity. During a state of boredom, within the unconscious mind, bits and pieces of the old and the new may be churning, roiling, and recombining into something fresh and unique. Boredom may mark the interstices between the old and the new. It may be a necessary period of transition from one “state” to another. So boredom deserves a place among the pantheon of emotions- it’s part of what makes us fully human. So let’s hear it for boredom! If boredom (to paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield) “don’t get no respect, ” it’s up to us to embrace it. Boredom isn’t just a throw-away emotion. If children are never bored, they lose an opportunity to draw on their inner resources or surrender to the feeling by napping the afternoon away.
Dream Song 14
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) “Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.” I conclude now I have no
inner resources because I am heavy bore
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad a Achilles,
who loves and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into the mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.