Dying for Boredom



It has been way too long since I’ve heard or said two magic words of childhood: “I’m bored.” I can remember hot, sticky August days, deep into the dog days of summer in the era before air conditioning, when I would lie listlessly on my bed or swing in a desultory fashion on the backyard swing set and think to myself, I am dying of boredom.

Is it weird to miss those days? Nowadays, I have to-do lists a mile long and kids to chauffeur to appointments and housework on an endless loop. I need to find time for exercise, writing, playing piano, and paying bills. Even my leisure activities, such as watching television, are accompanied by chores such as folding laundry. So my days fly by, and I never once feel that sensation of stillness, of having literally nothing to do.

Even my kids can rarely be heard whining about how boring it is around here. When my oldest ones were young, I did hear those classic complaints, “I’m bored,” “There’s nothing to do,” and “Are we there yet?” My answer was usually to throw them outside and force them to confront their boredom with their imaginations. The result was beautiful. They would be out in the backyard playing a pretend game called Mountain Dew and Sea Squid. The swing set was safety while the yard was a shark-infested sea. If it was a cold or rainy day, they might build something with Legos or make a huge fort in the basement.

Those were the days before iPods and smart phones, Facebook and Instagram. Now my kids are forever in front of screens. If it’s not the TV or video games, it’s their own little private electronic paradise. I rarely even see their faces full on. And I never hear those words I once dreaded but now long for: “I’m bored.”

I wonder what will happen to creativity and imagination. Creating something new requires mental space and time to think. In our fast paced world, we have given up that mental space for constant stimulation and instant gratification. I once read that the director of a medical school was concerned because her students lacked problem solving skills. They could spit back every fact from Gray’s Anatomy, but they couldn’t use what they knew to diagnose and treat patients. That’s scary to me.

And that is why I miss boredom. Boredom is the fertile ground in which ideas take root. Most of my ideas for blog posts come to me when I am driving by myself or taking a walk. In those times, my body might be busy but my mind is free. And ideas just pop up. And sometimes, when the house is unexpectedly empty and chores can wait, I have been known to sit with my cup of coffee and just think. Maybe it will just take growing up and life experience for our children to realize the virtues of boredom and to seek it, rather than avoid it like the plague.


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