Dan Mackie: Never Be Bored Again!
I recently heard a girl tell her mother, in the sing-song manner of childhood, “I’m bored.’’ The actual sound was more like, “I’m baw-oared.”
Her manner suggested exasperation. Sometimes kids seem to assume that unattended boredom can be dangerous to your health, like suspicious spots on your skin, or rickets.
I’m sure I said the same thing many years ago, but it wasn’t something I said often. I made peace with boredom early, accepted it as part of the human condition. Animals, too. If dogs are bored, they start a yawn and are asleep before they can properly finish it. Cats embrace boredom. They stare out windows and hatch plots for feline world domination even as their eyes grow heavier. Every cat is just waiting for the right moment to strike, and is conserving energy until then.
But where was boredom in my childhood? My brother and I could throw a rubber ball against the steps and play a game of “outs” for very long stretches. I could read articles in The Sporting News about Stan Musial’s outlook for the coming season, again and again, though Stan’s prospects didn’t otherwise occupy my thoughts. I’d reread an article about Joltin’ Joe Charboneau, who had a brief career in baseball but had another talent that made me dream and wonder. It was said that he could crack open a beer with his eye socket. (He was also traded in the minor leagues after a barroom brawl, and attacked by a crazed fan with a penknife in Mexico.)
School was boring in my parochial school days when we were confined to solitary desk confinement, and church was boring, with the ritual in Latin, but almost nothing else was.
These days, I don’t know if I’m ever bored. I have two lifetimes of house chores to do, and it takes great effort to avoid them. It is only when I should be writing that I think of stripping paint.
There is always something to wonder about, look up, or look at. Once my daughter called from an airport where she was waiting for a connecting flight home from college and declared that boredom had taken her hostage. Bored? The people-watching there is magnificent. Cologne-soaked businessmen talking loudly into headsets about their dealings, forcing you to overhear. Women in Disney sweatshirts — why do they identify with the depressive Eeyore? People speaking languages and dialects that make you guess where they are from. Ukraine? Azerbaijan? Kansas?
When I was a kid, you accepted boredom because there weren’t ready alternatives. No iPads, few TV channels, no parents flitting about, bringing you to sports and “enrichment programs.” If we complained about being bored, an adult dismissed us with, “Find something to do.” Or, “Go clean your room,’’ a prospect that made everyday malaise look like a trip to an amusement park.
So what should kids of today do? The stakes are higher, because they have to start building their Ivy League resumes by second grade, at the latest. If they aren’t alleviating poverty in Bolivia or building social connections in Namibia, they are falling behind.
I could go sit under a tree and read a book on a hot summer day, but that wouldn’t do now. We could also run through a sprinkler for a few hours, but I suppose that squandered the Earth’s resources, although water seemed pretty ample in New England.
No, kids of today need to be learning a third language like Icelandic, because they are going to have to top the kids who already know Spanish or French. Old Icelandic might even be better, because they could turn to the source material when reinterpreting folk tales of the fylgjur, attendant spirits who were sort of like guardian angels. You need a niche, kids.
For the science-oriented, building robots is old hat. “Go build an atomic particle accelerator,’’ parents could snap at kids when they complain of boredom. “And find your own Higgs Boson particle, while you’re at it.”
Boredom is underappreciated by the young, who don’t realize that having nothing to do means you have nothing you have to do. Someday they might recognize the sweet, still freedom of that moment, even if they momentarily seem becalmed. The gales will return soon enough.
You don’t want to overdo boredom, it’s best to dabble in it. A modest amount settles the mind and soothes the soul. Both need a turn in the hammock now and then.
I’m glad I grew up when the stakes were low and boredom was still acceptable. It left me time to think about the likes of Joltin’ Joe Charboneau, who hit 23 home runs for the Cleveland Indians in 1980. You think Joe Charboneau was bored? Not likely, not as long as there were games to play and bottles to be opened.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.