I'm reading a biography of Georgia O'Keefe. In it, writer Laurie Lisle notes that O'Keefe once commented that she never felt bored.
This is a quote, in one form or another, that I've heard more than once and can typically be summed up by the cliche: only boring people get bored.
There seems to be this idea that if one is intelligent enough, bohemian enough, driven enough and in charge of one's own destiny, she'll never crouch so low as to be affected by something as banal as boredom.
Obviously these people have never had to endure a Thomas the Tank Engine birthday party with a handful of three year olds at which you have to watch a parent you know only socially play the part of enthused conductor.
Readers: I get bored all the time.
I get bored when the day ahead of me includes nothing more than cleaning toilets or scrubbing floors.
I got bored on the train ride from the Grand Canyon back to Williams, AZ, when the landscape was barren and my thoughts (which do not bore me) were punctuated by my children fighting, complaining of their own boredom or asking me for food, bathroom breaks or my phone - none of which they got.
Books sometimes bore me, as do movies.
People sometimes bore me, and I'm sure I've bored someone to tears myself.
I get bored, and I think everyone gets bored. Sometimes I'm able to assuage the boredom, to fill the gap, so to speak. I can pick up a book, turn on Audible (for those toilet/floor scrubbing sessions), go outside for a walk, cook a meal or do any other host of activities to stave the boredom.
Sometimes I can't.
Sometimes I'm stuck at a boring event, and there is no way to opt out, even mentally. So, I endure the boredom.
Sometimes, I can't find anything compelling enough to pull me out of it. The books aren't engaging. The TV shows are stupid. The conversations are insipid. I'm rancid and in a mood that only a good night of sleep can change.
But boredom itself is, I think, not only natural but probably at the heart of many of our addictions, much of our pleasure-seeking behavior and, of course, the impetus behind so many of our greatest accomplishments.
Out of boredom come ideas - some of them are good; some of them are not. But without the initial boredom, without that painful space of restlessness and ennui, would we be compelled to pick at the idea to begin with? Would there have been mental space to let the idea germinate? Would we have been so impulsive as to pursue a course of action that tumbled from one choice to another until we found ourselves knee-deep in debauchery, invention or love?
The idea that intelligent people aren't bored is ridiculous, as is the idea that only boring people are bored.
I think boredom is natural. It must sometimes be endured, and sometimes it's the exact impetus we need to move forward with life. Some of us find boredom painful; others seem to shrug it off as a fleeting feeling that will be gone when the sun goes down.
But I'd argue we all experience it, and the idea that knowing boredom means we're somehow less imaginative or smart or in command of ourselves is hogwash.
Ha. I've always wanted to inject that word into something.
Here are a few quotes on boredom I particularly like:
When you pay attention to boredom it gets unbelievably interesting.
He who seeks rest finds boredom. He who seeks work finds rest.
Boredom: the desire for desires.
Your true traveller finds boredom rather agreeable than painful. It is the symbol of his liberty - his excessive freedom. He accepts his boredom, when it comes, not merely philosophically, but almost with pleasure.
In the U.S., you have to be a deviant or die of boredom.
William S. Burroughs
The Tolstoy quote speaks to me most.
I do agree that boredom is the desire sometimes to simply have desires, particularly when so many of our immediate needs are met.
And what about that Thomas quote? He who seeks work finds rest. I mean....is that true, or is that true?
It really reminds me of the whole reason I began blogging in the first place, to explore the idea of a well-spent day, which has always felt solid to me after a good dose of hard work. If anything brings happy sleep, hard work is it.
What do you do when you're bored?
I usually try to combat boredom in a few ways:
1. Get physically moving. For some reason, when I move my body, my brain comes along for the ride. I get new ideas, get excited about something I previously felt lackluster about and generally just feel I have more energy. Also, when I'm trying to work through a writing issue, physically moving is the only way my brain will untangle the knots. If I sit with it, physically still, I only stew.
2. Learn something. Whether I'm reading an article online or a biography on a famous artist who only wears black, if I'm learning and engaged, I'm not bored. I was once asked to write about energy security. I didn't even know (with any solid faith) what a fossil fuel was. In the three weeks I had to research the topic, I learned so much. My brain felt like it was on fire, and let me be clear here: energy security never lit my socks on fire. But the process of learning, even about something I wasn't 'interested in,' was exciting. Boredom is doing the same things over and over, so learning something new is literally boredom's anti-venom.
3. Struggle. If I'm truly bored, I need a challenge. I need a little struggle. So, I may choose to write something I've been putting off, to really dig in and do my research and rewrite each sentence until it shines. Or I might clear out the pantry and wipe it all down and organize my shelves by alphabetical order. When I work hard, and when there's a little struggle in that work, there's no space for boredom.
4. Meditate. I often feel bored when I don't know what to do. Sure, there is always busy work to be done, but I'm talking about bigger life choices. When I'm not sure where to go next, I freeze. When I freeze, I get bored. That boredom is a sign I need to think about it, but thinking about it can sometimes turn to overthinking, which leads to its own paralysis (a.k.a. analysis paralysis). So, I sit down on my floor in a quiet place and meditate. It sometimes comes to me quickly, and sometimes it takes days or weeks, but I've never failed to move through a sticky situation by quieting my mind and letting my thoughts really come to me.
5. Accept. Sometimes, stuff is boring. Life is boring. I've been to the ballet and been bored to tears. I've had to read boring-ass books. I am sometimes in social situations and it's boring and there's not a thing I can do. So I accept that this moment (whether it's an hour or a few days) won't last forever and that I'm not going to fill my bucket here. I also try to accept that this feeling of boredom is the flip-side of all my moments of engagement, flow and brain-on-fire, so I try to embrace those moments as the rest I need to appreciate that book that grips me, that dinner party with fascinating conversation or my own ideas that truly do light my socks on fire.
I'm now committed to a day of hard work so that when I lay my head tonight on my pillow, it will be to embrace happy sleep.
I hope everyone had whatever sort of weekend you needed: full of people and excitement, quiet and meandering or perhaps a bit of both.
I'm off to get kids to camps, clean out my pantry, walk the dog and finish up some writing gigs.