I started facilitating an online group of thirteen and fourteen teenage girls in my Butterfly Series in mid-June. In our first session during the check in, everyone said how “bored” they were sheltering in place and not being able to be out in the world, especially during this time of social movements taking to the streets with Black Lives Matter at the forefront of America’s consciousness.
When I heard them talk about being bored, I understood. I too have felt bored, not just with the vast limitations placed on my movement and social interactions, but at other times in my pre-COVID life. And because of that, I’ve been pondering boredom.
My quest began with seeking a definition: Boredom (noun) – the state of feeling bored. That didn’t help much. So, I continued. Bored (adjective) – feeling weary because one is unoccupied or lacks interest in one’s current activity. Okay, more to the point. Then I came across the word ennui defined as a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from lack of occupation or excitement. I like this word better because it identifies external factors as responsible, unlike boredom which insinuates something is wrong with the bored individual. Ennui has a mystery to it, a suggestion of something sultry, almost enticing. I’m already feeling better.
Then I start researching quotes about boredom to see what those deemed thoughtful by the mainstream (aka notable white men) have concluded. I don’t typically go to mainstream sources for insight, but I did find this inquiry interesting (a real testament to my boredom). Turns out there are a few clusters that the quotes tend to fall in.
Cluster #1: Wishful thinking
“Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity.” Robert M. Pirsig
I’m not sure this is true, although I’d like to think it is. It does make sense that boredom would inspire new ideas. When I asked my fifteen-year-old son about the upside to boredom he immediately said, “it makes you think about new things.” When I’m bored, I don’t usually feel so hopeful, but I do have to admit that I have begun doing new things to shake off the boredom of my daily routine like driving out to the beach early in the morning to walk, buying vegan chocolate cookies from the farmer’s market for breakfast www.bossbikkie.com and decorating my office with white lights. Highly Creative? Not sure. Enjoyable? Yes.
Cluster #2: The philosophical roots of boredom
“Boredom: The desire for desires.” Leo Tolstoy
I like the sound of this, but it sounds like Leo is describing depression more than boredom. I think the “desire for desires” is wanting something to ignite your passion and while I’d love that too, my threshold for not being bored seems a great deal lower. I wonder if something got lost in the translation, given Russian was his first language. I’m thinking “something to grab my interest and hold it with a tight grip for more than three minutes” would be how I’d lower the standard Leo’s set.
Cluster #3: Social Media and boredom
I log off because I’m bored. I log back on in five minutes because I’m bored. Post from jokeallucan.blogspot.com
I do appreciate this comment, but it addresses behaviors more than the raw feeling itself. Using social media to escape boredom doesn’t always work but it does give you something to do, which is often more socially acceptable than staring into space. Looking busy has a high premium in our productivity-oriented culture. If you’re staring off into space, you might get a full ten seconds of disengagement time before someone waves their flat palm vertically in front of your eyes to snap you out of the moment and lure you back to their lackluster reality. Given that social media use is a relatively new activity and boredom has been around since time immemorial, I feel like it doesn’t engage the issue of boredom at the cellular level. I’m going to keep looking.
Cluster #4: Those who are bored wreak havoc
He had been bored, that’s all, bored like most people. Hence, he had made himself out of whole cloth a life full of complications and drama. – Albert Camus, The Fall
This quote sums up what I’ve been guilty of, especially as a younger person, and now what I try not to do. It also brings to mind the question of alcohol use. I talk to my two teenage sons about this a lot. Why do people drink and get drunk? Often because alcohol makes everything less boring – at least for a small while. Inhibitions lower, feelings come pouring out, drama increases, problems ensue. What better way to stay entertained and distracted from the otherwise boring life you’re leading? I challenge them to enjoy life without alcohol and drugs. I know, I know. Boring, right?
It seems I’ve only scratched the surface here in examining boredom. Given we’ve only heard from white men in this post, I’m committing to interviewing at least four women of color about their musings on boredom and reporting back to you in my July 15th Blog Post.
Until then, get lost in thought.
Photo by Catherine Heath www.unsplash.com