At the risk of putting you to sleep, I’d like to write about the benefits of boredom. After all, summer can be the season of boredom. We can end up bored to tears, bored silly or even bored to death.
I certainly don’t want to be a bore on the subject, which the dictionary defines as someone who makes us weary and restless by being uninteresting. But I just learned that boredom is a stage we must pass through in the process of becoming creative.
Embracing boredom runs contrary to the society that surrounds us. We walk around with gadgets to entertain us. We’re surrounded by screens to stimulate us. It’s said that nature abhors a vacuum and so does cable news and sports. In fact, boredom is almost considered sinful, like sloth. I know my mother wouldn’t stand for it. If you looked bored, she’d find a chore.
Mothers and parents in general hate to see their children bored. That is why we enroll our kids in so many activities. It’s why we buy them weapons of mass distraction like iPads and smartphones. Besides, bored kids can get into trouble. Those idle hands can become the devil’s playthings.
We keep our kids busy and ourselves occupied, because we confuse busy-ness with productivity. It’s rare now to see someone walking or taking the train without being plugged into some device. For example, when I go for a walk, I think of all the phone calls I can make on the way to my destination. However, I resist the urge and savor the boredom of walking through my overly familiar surroundings.
It’s good for me. It forces me to think. It’s like that beater car we drove that didn’t have a radio; did some serious thinking in that thing.
This thinking can lead to something. Just ask best-selling author Neil Gaiman. In a recent Chicago Tribune article, he claimed boredom allowed him to create the plots for Coraline, The Graveyard Book and American Gods.
I also like using my down time to come up with column ideas or work out storylines. When my kids were in school, I used to encourage them to think about the paper they had to write. They never tried it, but really a paper can write itself, if you give it enough thought beforehand. My father used to say that thinking was our most painful human activity. Which is why we spend so much time avoiding it.
But think of all the benefits of being undistracted and using the greatest computer ever invented to think things through, as we used to say. There is even scientific evidence that boredom leads to creativity. That same Tribune article recounts how test participants were given a boring task, copying down phone numbers and then a creative one. Those who passed through boredom did much better than those who didn’t.
Finally, Gaiman tells us how to achieve boredom. It involves putting down your phone and letting your mind wander. This can lead to day-dreaming. Just think of a woman, an unpublished author, who was stuck on a train for four hours. J.K. Rowling wasn’t plugged in. She didn’t even have a pen. But a character came to her – a boy who didn’t know he was a wizard.
Now that I’ve sufficiently bored you, perhaps you can come up with a best-selling novel like Harry Potter.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.