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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bored-Um

Jodie Foster one time said she’s the most boring person in the world, but I believe I could give her a run for her money. If we had an out-bore duel, I could pull off the deadpan with aplomb, while her acting reflexes would force her to do something responsive, like maybe some dramatic twitch that’s a remnant of Taxi Driver or Silence of the Lambs. Surely there’s some latent simulated fear of hers that could be drawn out after those episodic ventures. But if I didn’t have to make money, I’m confident I could win human statue contests — even against Jodie Foster. And I could be very dull about it too.

Maybe patience is just the degree to which you tolerate boredom. I’d like to think I’m relatively patient. If I don’t get through the light before it turns red, I can happily wait for the next cycle. I’ve been to the other side of town, and there’s no finish line over there. Time is a renewable resource, and it doesn’t go away, even though it may seem like it’s moving. What goes away are opportunities, so if we focused less on time and more on opportunities, we’d probably be happier with our situations.

Have you ever wondered why they call it a rat race? Why are we racing each other in the first place? In a perfect world, it would be more of a rat stroll. Just a casual jaunt through town, a bunch of hip rats with sunglasses, gallivanting down main street, meandering about aimlessly while following Chuck Berry’s credo of having “no particular place to go.” That’s a much more pleasant visual. We make it too hard on ourselves, all in the name of being titillated. Don’t alarm the rats.

When people say things like “there’s nothing to do in this town,” that kind of sentiment doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t mind being bored, so then I guess that means it’s not boring to me. I say it matters less where you are than who you are or who you’re with. Life isn’t about places or even events, but more about people and feelings and attitudes. The Garden of Eden was more of a condition than it was a well-kept nursery.

And besides, I don’t really need to “do” anything to keep myself interested. When youthful folk say “there’s nothing to do,” ask them why it is that they would need something to do. Where is that written in the book of life? Is there an entitlement clause in there somewhere that I overlooked? Let’s see… There’s the part here about early mornings being the bane of our existence… yadda, yadda, yadda… death and taxes… it says there’s no fairness doctrine… and no free lunch… it says there will be peaks as well as valleys… it says you can’t draw blood from a turnip, though it would ruin your salad anyway… it says the only constant is change… oh, this is interesting… it says term life insurance is the best policy, not honesty as previously thought… it says don’t kill the golden goose… let sleeping dogs lie, but it’s OK to wake the cats… necessity is the mother of invention… greed is the father of invention… narcissism is the second cousin of invention… let’s see, what else? … Rome was built in 2 days… didn’t realize that… the proof is in the pudding, which makes for a rather messy thesis… and then fast and steady actually wins the race… hmm, no mention of life always providing something to do. Very curious indeed.

People who are always looking for something to do should sometimes just trying “being” instead of doing. Thinking is actually doing something anyway, it’s just that the movement is internal. It really is possible for the body to be at rest and still be conscious. You won’t sink to the bottom of the ocean, trust me.

It’s said that only boring people get bored. Whenever I hear kids say “I’m bored,” I would just respond with, “Boy, I wish [I had so little to do that] I could be bored too. You’re lucky,” letting them read between the lines and catch the dripping subtlety themselves. Then they correctly realize that the sympathy has shifted from shining on them to me. It’s very cumbersome to complain to someone who is in worse condition than you are. Really messes up the whole equation.

I think being bored can actually be good for you. It’s one of those dratted character builders. How do you deal with down time? If you’re stuck at a bus station for an hour with nothing to read, what do you do? Do you have to text somebody or go shopping for something? Or do you enjoy the time alone with yourself?

Are you ever listening to a speech that after about ten minutes starts sounding like the grown-ups in Charlie Brown? And you’re thinking to yourself, “What is it they’re saying?” You recognize the words all right, but you start to wonder if they know some mysterious sentence structures that you don’t, or vice versa, and so the message is simply falling to the floor before it reaches you, like a ton of bricks in July. This can be agonizing for some. But it doesn’t have to be.

Make a game out of it. Play catchphrase bingo. (paradigm, synergy, empower, hubris, egalitarian, cowabunga, etc.) Or try to guess the next adjective they’re going to use. Think of a less-common three-letter word, and see how long it takes them to say it. Count how many “uh’s” they say per sentence. Or if you’re bored with them, look around the room. See which people are dressed color coordinated with one another. In a large auditorium, particularly with stadium seating, it’s fun to see how many people bring their hands up to their faces. Among a few thousand people, it’s happening constantly. A lot of scratching, rubbing and wiping going on. Like one giant centipede lying on its back. Listen for all the coughs, and time the duration between them. Play dot-to-dot with all the blondes’ heads, and see what shape it forms. See which person looks like the best candidate for falling asleep next. Pass a paper around the room asking to take roll, and see if everybody signs it. And ask them to also include some other obscure bit of data like their favorite toothpaste, with no explanation. And at the bottom, indicate to turn it in to some person who will be very confused when they get the list.

In more formal settings, some of these things may not be feasible, however you can always use your imagination. That’s your own domain. Dress everybody up in togas. Or gladiator garb. Or pretend it’s the 1700s, and you’re all part of a large spy operation to seize Western Europe. It gets much more interesting when the stakes are raised like that. Just be sure you know when to break out of your self-induced hypnotic state, otherwise there is the slight possibility you could be taken into psychiatric care. Well, yeah, there are downsides to everything.

Our friend television gives the mistaken impression that every moment should be filled with excitement or drama and entertain you non-stop, and that you don’t have to provide any of it yourself, but that it will be bequeathed to you as a birthright. Television careens into our living rooms, being so explosive and violent. And I’m just talking about the commercials. They’ll change frames about every half second, which can be a little unnerving when you’re trying to sit down to a calm cup of simmering beverage. I think they’re trying to get us to blink more often, and it’s working. Their sponsors are Visine and Claritin, so I’m just a tad suspicious.

The rapid-fire images are there for effect. They show us something and then quickly take it away. They keep moving from one thing to the next, as if there is some urgency to act in furious haste. Don’t dress it up. Just dress it down and show it like it is. Radio ad voice-overs are the same way. The narrator’s own voice interrupts himself before he can finish the last syllable of a sentence. It’s an attention grabber, or at least it was the first 4000 times they did it, but do they really need to try to fit 150 unintelligible words in a 30-second time slot? Is quantity to be revered above quality? Remember: less is more. I think that was on page 28 of the book of life.

Take time to stop and smell the roses. If you’re always rushing from one thing to the next, always looking to be entertained, then you’ll need to keep turning it up another notch just to stay satisfied. The key to satisfaction is not merely in keeping your expectations low — which is a nice trick in its own right — but in letting the little things in life keep you happy. How does the saying go… He who is rich is not he who has much, but he who appreciates what he already has. If you gather, you’ll always want more. If you properly utilize what you have, often you won’t have need for more.

We all have a pause button, but we seem to forget that we have one. Meditation — it’s a self-inflicted timeout, and a well-deserved one. You can live your life in running time for most of the day, but you can also hit the pause button and put life on hold. Try it. It’s very liberating. The “ohm” chant is optional. And the world will still be there when you’re done. Amazing, isn’t it?

So my advice today is slow down, be bored, and if you start to get overly disinterested, then just make it into a game. Boredom can be very invigorating if you let it.

2 comments:

Kacy said...

A perfectly respectable (and cool, without trying--important!) playlist. Way to include Simply Red. Hard to pick just one Van Morrison song. . .

Natasha said...

Mmm. Loving the Van Morrison.

I'm rarely bored. I was bored a lot as a kid, though. Like I said in my most recent post, I had no imagination. I read all the time or danced in my room to music. Or daydreamed about Mike Lattimer, lamenting how he and all the boys hated me.

Some fun suggestions there. Well, I know in the C.K. when telepathy is the usual mode of conversation, I will just sit beside you when I'm bored.

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