Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Thursday, 15 March 2012

The tinnitus of existence (part one)


The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity – Dorothy Parker

Life is full of ups and downs. Upness is a concept. It’s one we get fairly early on in life and usually about the same time we grasp the notion of downness (and also neither-up-nor-downness) and we get jokes like, “What goes up a chimney down but not down a chimney up?” It’s hard to imagine someone grasping the idea of ‘up’ and yet struggling to understand ‘down’. And the same goes for lots of other things: an understanding of happiness results in an awareness of unhappiness; if you can comprehend ‘counterfeit’ then ‘genuine’ makes sense. These things form a 'conceptual polarity'. Not everything has an opposite though. Slow is not the opposite of fast – they simply indicate degrees of velocity. So what about boredom? What is the opposite of boredom? Is there one?

Bored to death

Boredom is a serious subject. People joke about being bored to death but it’s no joking matter:

For example, a 25-year study of British civil servants published [in 2010] found that some people really can be bored to death: People who complain about "high levels" of boredom in their lives are at double the risk of dying from a stroke or heart disease, the study concluded.


[Also] a survey of more than 1,500 U.S. Marines, published in September in the journal Aggressive Behaviour, suggests that being bored may be a bigger risk factor for such behaviour than war trauma is.[1]

I decided to write about boredom because, as a reader and a writer, I encounter boredom every day. It’s unavoidable. At least I can’t avoid it. I regard it as a thing I need to break through. I’m sent books to review that are not the kind of things I would have bought myself and my friends write posts that say nothing especially new but I feel duty bound to read them and I have to write descriptive passage or expositions for the sake of my readers – stuff that I know already but they don’t – and that can be boring. Sitting hour after hour in front of a computer screen can be boring. But is boredom necessarily a bad thing? The saying goes that necessity is the mother of invention. I’d like to propose that boredom is her sister and she had twins: creation and destruction. The Mail Online reports:

A Filipino teenager has sparked outrage after pegging his puppy out on a clothesline and posting pictures of the helpless animal on Facebook.

Jerzon Senador, from Calamba, Laguna, is likely to face animal cruelty charges after deciding to carry out the stunt because he was bored.

The teenager suspended the struggling puppy from the skin on its back as he took photographs from different angles.[2]


And yet when I typed in “I was bored and so I” into Google I got the following responses:

… made my bloggy BFF a header for her blog
… made some more kaleidoscope images, just for fun
… decided to write an algorithm to find all the numbers possible in the Fibonacci series
… decided to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
… drew Taemin from SHINee as an anime character!
… got ordained, and now I'm a Reverend

An article commenting on the rise of comfort eating refers to a “survey of 2,000 people [which] showed 47% of adolescents aged 16-24 and 40% of those aged 35-44 had eaten because they were bored.”[3] That said a recent study has shown that bored people are just as likely to engage in prosocial activities such as donating blood as they are to pin puppies to clotheslines or down whole cartons of rocky road ice cream. More so I would hope:

Through a series of seven studies, researchers found that boredom increases prosocial motivations that impact on positive behaviours that last far beyond the length of time of the boring activity itself.

"Boredom makes people long for different and purposeful activities, and as a result they turn towards more challenging and meaningful activities, turning towards what they perceive to be really meaningful in life," said [Wijnand] van Tilburg [from the University of Limerick, co-author of the paper, ‘Bored George Helps Others: A Pragmatic Meaning-Regulation Hypothesis on Boredom and Prosocial Behaviour’].

"Donating to charity or signing up for blood donations could not have increased the level of stimulation, interest, arousal, novelty, fun, or challenge experienced during the boring activity, simply because the boring activity finished before prosocial behaviour was assessed," he said. "Therefore, we show that boredom affects attitudes and behaviour even after the boring activity, if people have not had the chance to re-establish meaningfulness."[4] (italics mine)

Boredom is something that everyone reading this article will have experienced. You may even be experiencing it now. You may have been bored before you began reading this or reading this might be boring you. If the former is the case then I imagine a part of your reason for reading this is an attempt to free yourself from boredom. If the latter is the case then I apologise, but bear with me; it gets dead good later. Perhaps you think that simply being occupied doing something is the answer and this is just what you have happened to opt to do or perhaps you’re looking for something specific here, something interesting possibly, distracting at least and meaningful if you’re really lucky.

The science bit

Boredom is not idleness. It can be a symptom of idleness but it can also be a boring as hell doing the same mundane task over and over again, day in and day out, week on week, year by year. Erich Fromm said that "one of the worst forms of mental sufferings is boredom," which he defines simply as, "not knowing what to do with one's self and one's life."[5] Kierkegaard went even further: “Boredom is the root of all evil.”[6] Bertrand Russell, hedging his bets, believed that “at least half the sins of mankind are caused by the fear of it.”[7] For most people, at least some of the time, work is boring. That goes for the concert pianist practicing his scales to the IT guy asking someone, "Have you tried turning it off and on again?"

According to an article in The Daily Mail:

Scientists (inevitably) have conducted their surveys and apparently the average person spends six hours a week being bored.[8]


Medical research has found that bored workers have three to five times the usual incidence of cardiovascular disease; four to seven times the incidence of neurological disorders; twice the incidence of gastrointestinal disorders; and two to three times the incidence of musculo-skeletal disorders.[9]

I would love to see how they came to those figures because how do you measure something essentially abstract like boredom? Additionally, according to The New York Times:

[T]he British are particularly bored. According to an analysis of survey data in 2009 by the London-based New Economics Foundation, they are the fourth-most-bored out of 22 European nations.[10]

Bath, Bristol, Nottingham and Swindon, which have been identified as the four most depressingly godawful places in the country.[11]

What happened to Hull then?[12]

HULL smaller

There are actually a variety of tests for measuring boredom:

All of these prove if we are bored (and how bored we are) but why do we get bored in the first place?

If we’re not sufficiently occupied and stimulated, dopamine depletion makes us listless but is listlessness the same as boredom? If we don’t get enough sunlight this disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms – simply stated, the circadian rhythm is your body's natural clock – and this creates a malfunction in the normal distribution of hormones which results in a loss of alertness (selective attention, vigilance, and attentional control) and an increase in levels of fatigue (subjective reports of loss of desire or ability to continue performing); boredom inevitably follows. But, again, is that boredom or just something we’re calling ‘boredom’ because we can’t think of a better word for it?

Now I’m not saying that these aren’t factors – the growth of the fast food industry is a factor is the increase in obese children – but the reason is they’re eating too much of the wrong stuff and not exercising enough. It’s easy to allow ourselves to look to blame others for our own failings. I’m bored because…

… sitting in traffic is never fun
… I’m on Facebook, I’m on Facebook because I’m bored.
… is closed
… I have no weed
… I have no life

Yes, all these things may be contributory factors but what is the common factor? What is missing in our lives that boredom rushes in to fill the gap when it’s gone? Schopenhauer developed a theory of boredom, suggesting that if people failed to meet their desires they felt unfulfilled, and if they did meet them they became bored. In other words a vicious circle. Personally I think not getting something is often more enjoyable than actually getting it. Beforehand you have whatever you can imagine and if you have a good imagination then no reality can ever live up to it and not getting something can keep you entertained if not exactly happy for a long time before boredom sets in. In my experience. But nothing is boredom-proof. Not even happiness.

Overcompensating for misery

“If I was happy I wouldn’t be bored.” Sounds reasonable enough. This is one of my all time favourite quotes. It’s from Brave New World:

Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.[13]

Huxley could just as easily have written that actual happiness looks pretty squalid in comparison with our overcompensations for boredom. In his fascinating book-length study, A Philosophy of Boredom, Dr Lars Svendsen had this to say:

philosophy of boredom[A]ll sorts of diversions have to create a substitute [meaning] – an ersatz meaning. […] Boredom is not connected with actual needs but with desire. And this desire is a desire for sensory stimuli. Stimuli are the only ‘interesting’ things.

The word ‘boring’ is bound up with the word ‘interesting’; the words become widespread at roughly the same time and they increase in frequency at roughly the same rate. […] The ‘interesting’ always has a brief shelf-life, and really no other function than to be consumed, in order that boredom can be kept at arm’s length. The prime commodity of the media is ‘interesting information’– signs that are pure consumer goods, nothing else.[14]

Boredom can make us miserable but what’s the cure? There can only be so many ‘interesting’ things out there for us to buy or try. Dr Richard Ralley, of Edge Hill University, is currently researching how boredom affects people, to determine whether some personality types cope better than others:

People assume that the opposite of boredom is excitement, so parents take their children to a theme park. Similarly, the information contained on the internet was what everyone expected to relieve people's boredom.

But quite obviously what humans want is social interactivity – so parents would be better off taking their children on a picnic than to a theme park. And with the internet, people want to engage with each other – that's where the blogs and the chatrooms came from. The other stuff is seen as nerdy now.[15]

Now that is all fine and well if you’re suffering from situational boredom:

Situational boredom is defined by the presence or absence of something in a situation. This can be listening to a boring lecture, or waiting for a plane in an airport. Then there is repetitive boredom, where something that in itself is fun becomes boring through repetition.[16]

but that is not always the cause and even where it is, you can’t (or at least society says you shouldn’t) simply saunter out of your office or factory when your job starts to bore you. Running away is never the answer unless you have somewhere to run to, i.e. another, better (less boring) job.

Many boredoms

Adam Phillips, a psychotherapist, has this to say about boredom:

Clearly, we should speak not of boredom, but of boredoms, because the notion itself includes a multiplicity of moods and feelings that resist analysis.[17]

Others believe the same, that there are different kinds of boredom, and some have tried to produce a typology of it:

Most psychological and sociological commentators on boredom distinguish two varieties: “One is a responsive feeling and the other is a malaise.”[18]

yawn[T]here are three kinds of boredom: passive boredom: the girl dancing and yawning; active boredom: kite-lovers; and rebellious boredom: young people burning cars and smashing shop windows.[19] (bold mine)

There seems to be two forms of today's boredom: one is temporary, while the other is more ongoing and settled. The temporary form is what we all experience when talking with someone at a party who only speaks of themselves, or in a tedious sermon, or during a long afternoon meeting. This form is easily remedied by moving on to something of interest. The longer-term form of boredom, however, settles into one's life and becomes a vapour carried with us, regardless of the current activity; a lens through which everything is viewed, until nothing is interesting. Life begins to annoy and irritate such a person. Life appears futile and purposeless.[20] (bold mine)

I think boredom has three sources … “I just don’t belong here” … “I’ve become invisible” … “I need more space”[21]

Boredom is something of a catch-all term. It is used for simple boredom (the product of temporarily unavoidable and predictable circumstances—being stuck in one of my lectures, for example!) as well as for “existential” boredom (an unrelieved sense of isolation, emptiness, alienation and even helplessness). The main relationship between these two conditions is probably the loose use of the term “boredom”. The third term, chronic boredom, is, I guess, rather like simple boredom, but it is not temporary. If simple boredom is the result of the circumstances we find ourselves in (stuck in a traffic jam, for example), chronic boredom is a symptom of a lower than normal level in the system of the neurotransmitter dopamine.[22] (bold mine)

Martin Doehlmann’s typology … distinguishes between four types of boredom: situative boredom, as when one is waiting for someone, is listening to a lecture or taking the train; the boredom of satiety, when one gets too much of the same thing and everything becomes banal; existential boredom, where the soul is without content and the world is neutral; and creative boredom, which is not so much characterised by its content as its result: that one is forced to do something new.[23] (bold mine)

The one I feel the greatest affinity to is Lars Svendsen who says:

Boredom is practically indefinable because it lacks the positiveness of most other phenomena. It is basically to be understood as an absence – an absence of personal meaning. […] Meaninglessness is boring. And boredom can be described metaphorically as a meaning withdrawal.[24] (italics mine)

Many writers analyse boredom in relation to time and the subject’s perceptions thereof and often link the concept to monotony and repetition. Specifically, boredom is discussed as a state of being where the experience of time dissolves or stops being of relevance. In some respects though boredom brings about an acute awareness of time – the German word for boredom is langeweile (literally ‘long while’) – even if, as in the case of someone undergoing sensory deprivation, their perception of that time is way off.

In his 1969 Ph.D. thesis On the Experience of Time that became his first best-selling book, Robert Ornstein … maintained that whether time passes slowly, or worse, drags for us (and by implication, whether it is boring or not) depends on two things:

  1. Whether it is experienced immediately and in the short term, or retrospectively in the long term;
  2. How much recallable data, detail and information was packed into the time and its experiences—with implications for the associated information storage and (subsequent) processing requirements.[25]

Heidegger said that “we pass the time in order to master it, because time becomes long in boredom. Time becomes long for us. Is it supposed to be short? Does not each of us wish for a truly long time with ourselves? … Boredom, long time: especially in Alemannic usage, it is no accident that 'to have long time' means the same as 'to be homesick'.”[26]

No word for ‘bored’

australia-aborigines-460If there is one place in the world where you might imagine people would be bored out of their skulls it would be Australia, specifically the Australian outback, and yet, the concept of boredom was not known to the indigenous people until fairly recently. It was something Westerners brought with them along with measles, smallpox and TB. To illustrate, in a study entitled ‘Boredom, Time and Modernity: An Example from Aboriginal Australia’, the writer looked at a community of some 800 aborigines in the settlement of Yuendumu located about 300 kilometres northwest of the town of Alice Springs in central Australia. The language spoken there is Warlpiri and they have no word for boredom. The closest is jukuru but that denotes an active disinterest in something:

When Warlpiri people referred to boredom, they used the English word, usually embedded in otherwise Warlpiri sentences, for example: “Nyampurla punku, boring, junganyiarniyi” (this [place] is bad, boring, very true). Exclusively, boring was the term used; I never heard mention of boredom; and bored was only used in all-English conversations between young Warlpiri and nonindigenous persons.[27]

Apparently the lost tribes of Borneo, have no word for boredom either. The same goes for the Nepali, the Inuit, most Native American tribes and the Danes it appears. Language both influences what we think and what we think influences language. In an INReview comment thread I ran across, someone called tangybutsweet had this to say:

In my first language there is no word for boredom. But as I became fluent in English, I started to complain "I'm bored" a lot. And, I'm pretty sure I've never felt bored before. Or perhaps I did and I never paid attention to it and just found something better to do with my time, because I didn’t realize that’s a valid feeling. Does that make any sense?

Like all words ‘boredom’ is a made-up-word like ‘pescetarianism,’ for example. Before 1993 no one ever used that word but plenty of people did it, i.e. survived off a diet that includes seafood, and excludes other animals. Now that the word exists people can go around saying they’re pescetarians and the same obviously has happened with boredom. I’m not saying that no one ever suffered from angst before Kierkegaard – the word had been around since the 8th century – but he made it fashionable. More on fashion in a bit.

Boredom is so endemic to our culture, particularly among youth, that we imagine it to be a near-universal default state of human existence. In the absence of outside stimuli we are bored. Yet, as Ziauddin Sardar observes, boredom is virtually unique to Western culture (and by extension to the global culture it increasingly dominates). "Bedouins," he writes, "can sit for hours in the desert, feeling the ripples of time, without being bored.”[28]

The origins of boredom

I was surprised to learn that boredom is a fairly new concept. Dickens invented – or perhaps discovered? – it whilst writing the 800-page long Bleak House; it appears six times in the 1852 novel. The Online Etymological Dictionary attributes the sentence, “The secret of being a bore is to tell everything,” to Voltaire saying it appeared in a poem by him dating from 1734 but when you look at the poem in the original French the line is, “Le secret d'ennuyer est celui de tout dire,” and the root word that’s being translated is actually ennui. Before the nineteenth century no one knew what it was to be bored. Let me illustrate:

On the Isle of Skye, during his tour of the Hebrides (7 Sept 1773), James Boswell found existence temporarily burdensome. He reports in the Life of Johnson as well as in the journal of his travels:

I was happy when tea came. Such, I take it, is the state of those who live in the country. Meals are wished for from the cravings of vacuity of mind, as well as from the desire of eating. I was hurt to find even such a temporary feebleness, and that I was so far away from being that robust wise man who is sufficient for his own happiness.

A twentieth-century reader has no trouble understanding Boswell’s condition. He was, we might say, bored[29]

Before this the Early Fathers of the Church considered acedia to be the worst sin, since, they asserted, all others derived from it. If you thought there were only seven deadly sins then think of acedia as a kind of sloth.

A crucial difference is that acedia is first and foremost a moral concept, whereas ‘boredom’, in the normal sense of the word, more describes a psychological state. Another difference is that acedia was for the few, whereas boredom affects the masses.[30]

The sin of acedia is a failing to tackle spiritual boredom.[31]

(See Art Durkee's comment below however.)

The general idea here is that God is perfect and therefore cannot be boring. If you are a bored cleric then you have lost touch with God. Without God, man is nothing and boredom is an awareness of this nothingness. There is another way to look at this which gives us a clue to what modern-day boredom is. It is God who gives the lives of the faithful meaning: he tells them what to do, how to do it, when to do it and just how bad you should feel if you don’t do it or do it in the wrong spirit. In other words God, if you allow him, gives life meaning. I will come back to this.

In the Renaissance the concept of acedia was superseded by something new: melancholia which Wikipedia has this to say about:

The name "melancholia" comes from the old medical belief of the four humours: disease or ailment being caused by an imbalance in one or other of the four basic bodily liquids, or humours. Personality types were similarly determined by the dominant humour in a particular person. According to Hippocrates, melancholia was caused by an excess of black bile, hence the name, which means 'black bile'…

dowlandIn other words it was a disease with causes, symptoms (both mental and physical) and cures – supposedly. By the seventeenth century, however, melancholia had been romanticised and it became fashionable to be seen as experiencing melancholy. In music, for example, the post-Elizabethan cult of melancholia is associated with John Dowland, whose motto was Semper Dowland, semper dolens. ("Always Dowland, always mourning"). What is amusing is that new fashions are often seen as an escape from boredom. Hence the rise of retail therapy. I’m bored with my…

… car
… furniture
… hairstyle
… LR throw pillows
… tried and true brands
… pink and marigold living room

So even back then boredom was not something one really associated with the man in the street. Arty-types came down with it; poets in particular were particularly susceptible.


In part two: ‘The boredom epidemic’, ‘A boring conference’, ‘Boring art’, ‘The positive effects of boredom’ and ‘Even the gods get bored...’


A Philosophy of Boredom by Lars Svendsen – the complete book is available online
The Boring Institute


[1] Gautam Naik, ‘Boredom Enthusiasts Discover the Pleasures of Understimulation’, The Wall Street Journal, 28 December 2010

[2] Mail Online, 15 June 2011

[3] Comfort and 'boredom'-eating rife, BBC News Channel, 23 August 2004

[4] Amelia Hill, ‘Boredom is good for you, study claims’, The Guardian, 6 May 2011

[5] Eric Fromm, The Sane Society, p.253

[6] Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, p.59

[7] Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness, p.47

[8] Roger Lewis, ‘Are we all being bored to death?’, Mail Online, 15 April 2011

[9] Ben Agger, Understanding Human Motivation: What Makes People Tick?, p.97

[10] Anthony Gottlieb, ‘Why Life is So Boring’, The New York Times, 27 May 2011

[11] ‘Britain Now So Unremittingly Awful You Need Therapy Just To Live Here, The New Filter, 24 January 2009

[12] Research, for B&Q's Brighten Up Britain bid in 2008 found Hull to be the most boring place in the UK with 17% of the vote.

[13] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

[14] Dr Lars Svendsen, A Philosophy of Boredom, pp.27,28

[15] Joe Boyle, ‘Surviving Boredom’, BBC News Channel, 21 June 2007

[16] Dr Lars Svendsen quoted in Joe Boyle, ‘Surviving Boredom’, BBC News, 21 June 2007

[17] Adam Phillips, On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored: Psychoanalytic Essays on the Unexamined Life, p.82

[18] Patricia Meyer Spacks, Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind, p.27

[19] Milan Kundera, Identity, p.15

[20] Richard Winter, ‘Boredom and Beauty’, Evangelical Now, May 1999

[21] Douglas LaBier, Three Kinds of Boredom at Work, Progressive Impact, 28 January 2010

[22] Anthony Gottlieb quoted in, Alan Caruba, ‘A New Book About Boredom’, The Boring Institute, 10 May 2011

[23] Dr Lars Svendsen, A Philosophy of Boredom, pp.41,42

[24] Ibid, pp.45,30

[25] Michael Moffa, Time Illusions and Workplace Boredom’,

[26] Martin Heidegger, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, p.80

[27] Yasmine Musharbash, ‘Boredom, Time and Modernity: An Example from Aboriginal Australia’, American Anthropologist, Vol. 109, No. 2, June 2007

[28] Charles Eisenstein, The Ascent of Humanity

[29] Patricia Meyer Spacks, Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind, p.31

[30] Dr Lars Svendsen, A Philosophy of Boredom, pp.49,50

[31] Erica Brown, Spiritual Boredom: Rediscovering the Wonder of Judaism, p.18


Art Durkee said...

Actually, that's a total misrepresentation of acedia. That attributes a judgmental attitude by the church leaders towards acedia, when in fact it was well-recognized as a passage many monastics went through, on their spiritual path. Acedia is associated with the dark night of the soul, the inability to find God, to be excited about life. Acedia was called "the noonday demon" because it could come over one at any time. Existential dread is the modern psychological equivalent. It's "dryness of spirit," not a sin. The sin is despair, brought on perhaps by acedia, but acedia itself. Sloth has nothing to do with it. Acedia is a sickness of the soul, not a sin. Experienced spiritual directors, working with monks who were going through acedia as part of their mystical awakening, viewed it not as a sin but as something to be worked through.

Jim Murdoch said...

Thanks for that clarification, Art. It’s a while since I wrote this so the original material is not fresh in my mind (nothing is fresh in my mind) but I know you’ve written about acedia before and so bow to your superior knowledge. I’m surprised I didn’t quote you on the subject because I’m pretty sure I read some of your stuff while researching this.

I’ve added a short paragraph referring readers to your comment.

Ken Armstrong said...

Fascinating. I only know that I am never bored when I am on my own time. If I am doing something for somebody else - something I don't want to do - that's the only time I ever experience boredom.

Left to my own devices, I don't think I would ever be bored.

This is probably wishful thinking as I am not regularly left to my own devices. :)

Marion McCready said...

I love this kind of post, Jim! I love being a full-time mum but I hate housework, it really does bore me to death. I'm easily bored, I stuggle to get into movies if they don't grab me straight away. I persevere with books because they can always be skim read. For the youth I think powerlessness leads boredom, the lack of control or ability to change one's circumstances leads to (destructive) boredom. As adults we are more empowered to distract ourselves from boredom.

I tend to agree with the Marxist analysis that the modern disease of widespread boredom is as a result of the industial revolution or capitalism, of the seperation and alienation of man from the means of production, and the introduction of 'leisure' time. For the mass, 'Work' is not a meaningful activity but a neccesary evil to get through in order to have leisure time and all the mod cons and distractions that go along with it. But historically 'work' was where we found meaning and external expression of ourselves.

Jim Murdoch said...

I think one of the main reasons I started to research this subject, Ken and Marion, is because boredom is one of those terms we use all the time and assume that everyone else knows what we’re experiencing when, clearly, we do not. I have also been trying to work out when having all the time in the world to do exactly what I want to do I’m not doing more. And I’m starting to suspect that, for me at least, it’s the fact that I’m always occupied with this monster we call the Internet. Even watching TV now I sit with my tablet and check my RSS feeds and Facebook entries. The only time I have peace and quiet is when I go to bed and even then my mind is in … I was searching for the right word to use here and I’m going to go with ‘turmoil’ … my mind is in turmoil and so I get up and try and read until I’m too tired to stay awake which means when I do wake up in the morning I never feel as if I’ve had a decent night’s sleep and then I have all the night’s accumulated e-mails and news feeds and whatever the right word is for those little gobbits of trivia, detritus, flotsam and jetsam that Facebook has waiting for me. As the poem goes: “What is this life if, full of care, / We have no time to stand and stare.”

I have the time but I don’t feel I have the time. I feel I need to multitask. Doing just one thing at a time seems such a waste and doing nothing, well, surely that must be a sin or something. I’ve just written a review of a book on creativity and it has just underlined what I’ve been learning in recent months about its nature. Inspiration is nothing more than a thirty second burst of alpha waves. Why does demystifying that make me feel so much better? Not that it is any less mysterious since I—apparently—have no way to control those alpha waves any more than I can do much about my dopamine levels. We are nowhere near as in control as we would like to think we are. Creativity is like that finger puzzle. You know the one, the more you struggle the tighter it grips you, and the only way to get out of it is to relax and do the opposite of what everything inside you is telling you to do. Well what people are starting to realise is that appearances can be deceptive and our brains are never, never doing nothing.

Boredom provides our brains with a different environment and one I’m missing. I’m frequently scunnered but never truly bored. A part of me is seriously thinking of packing all this Internet malarkey in because I don’t think it’s a very good environment for me; it requires too much commitment for very little return. I probably won’t because that would be giving in and that goes against my nature but something has to be done.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Jim, I think I have suffered from boredom often and this post of yours is tremendously engaging even if, I confess, too extensive, I will have to back to it, I skipped some parts.

What struck about boredom was a reflection I read in the book "The Fourth Way" by Ouspenskii ( not sure of the spelling), the mythical disciple or the more myhtical guru Gurdjieff...I don't remember exactly the whole reflection but there boredom was described as basically a sort of selfishness constituting the incapability to go on and get along with the flowing of life when someone is too attached to one's own ego...a very simple reflection after all but it still sticks on me.

Tommaso Gervasutti said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ken Armstrong said...

I read your comment with interest. I think there is a 'cutting back' which can be achieved rather than a 'cutting off'. The Internet gives us things, I'm pretty sure of it, but it takes things away too. I think you should experiment with cutting back a little and I volunteer my own blog as a starting point. Cut back on visits to me, I appreciate them hugely but if you are opening your veins into the blogosphere then throttle back a bit and put the energy in some other direction - a new play or something.

Sometimes I lie on the couch and watch telly and it's Wonderful. I used to do that more but the Internet calls me now and it works me and it won't let me rest. (I think I understand where you are coming from).

Enough. Where's that couch gone? :)

Jim Murdoch said...

That’s an interesting point of view, Davide. I’ll have to think about that for a bit. I struggle with the nature of selfishness. I was always taught that it was a sin and even now I’m done with all that the shadow of guilt always hangs over anything I do for myself, something I wish I could shake. I have to work to enjoy myself. And yet I don’t think I ever bore me. I find me fascinating, a bit depressing at times it’s true, but everything I’ve ever written has come out of me and that’s not to be sniffed at; there’s some good stuff there. Hope you enjoy the second part of the post which I posted last night.

And, Ken, I thank you for your kind offer but there are only a handful of blogs I actually look forward to reading each week and yours is one of them, not a burden in the slightest. Online friendships are odd things. I feel close to a number of people based on very little. Often I don’t know the most basic facts about them like where they live, what they do for a living, their spouse’s name, if they have kids. Mostly this is because I simply don’t retain stuff like that. But you know when a connection has been made even if you don’t understand why it happens—call it friendship at first sight. So, no, even if I pack everything in I’ll still be subscribing to your blog.

To be honest though I am a little concerned about my mental health though at the moment. I don’t go on about it because there’s no real point and it just drags people down (who hasn’t got something they could moan about?) which is why I maintain a stockpile of articles so that I don’t have to write what I’m feeling but the fact is that it’s now been three months since I hit this current slump and I’m losing ground and the only thing I can put it down to is the amount of time I’m spending online getting nowhere. I’m perfectly happy with the 80:20 ratio people talk about—it’s in my nature to do 80% of the work anyway—but the difficulties in getting people to review Milligan and Murphy has dragged me down although I think it’s partly me coming down from all the stress involved in getting the book ready for publication. I was tired and had to jump straight on the promotion bandwagon and although the first few reviews were very good (seriously, no complaints here) I very quickly ran out of people I thought would appreciate the book and I’m wondering why I’m doing all of this. The mood will pass—it always passes—and I’ll gird up my loins and get on with it (what other choice is there?) but I do wish this mood would lift soon because the longer it drags on the more I worry about me slipping into a full-blown depression. Always a fear with me.

As for writing… I can barely read at the moment. I have started a new thing (maybe a sixth novel, who knows?) but I can’t concentrate enough to give it shape. What I’ve written will probably be useable but I haven’t found a direction/shape for the piece yet. As for TV… Do you realise just how much I watch? Never less than five hours. I picked up my DSLR a couple of days ago and couldn’t even figure out how to look at the photos I’d just taken. At least I managed to turn it on. A few months back I bought a new battery thinking the one I had was dead. It wasn’t. I’d just forgotten how to turn it on. Mostly I’m sitting reading old DC comics at the moment … and I’m struggling with them but at least the pictures are pretty.

Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Jim, wasn't fishing at all but you'll know that.

I don't think we can just write for the present-audience any more. It's too disappointing. If we do the best we can with our words, they may find some kind if life far beyond ours. They probably won't but they might. I think it's enough when we enjoy writing and do the best we can with it. Inevitably, we will tout our words as best we can but who knows what corners they may get into all by themselves, over time? It's a nice thought anyway.

Elisabeth said...

I'm late to this post, Jim, fascinating, though it also dragged me down, just thinking about the business of being bored.

I refuse to let myself be bored these days. If it creeps over me I'll go of and do something about it in so far as I'm able.

But as a child boredom hit me more often than I can bear to remember. Mostly it had to do with waiting, waiting for my mother to come home from work, waiting for long periods when we were evacuated out of home because of my father's drinking and had to kill time elsewhere.

Killing time, that's what I remember from my childhood, horrible, mindless, killing time.

When I read here about the Australian indigenous population, how boredom was something relativity new to them, I thought of the film Samson and Delilah which tells the story of two young aboriginal people on a reserve in central Australia. Their life to me spoke more acutely of the effects of boredom, of having nothing at all to do, more than anything I have ever seen anywhere else in film.

It eclipses my childhood memories of boredom and of waiting one hundredfold. And of course speaking of waiting, the agonies of waiting when you have no end in sight is 'Waiting for Godot'. Waiting waiting waiting, one of the worst things in the world unless it is time limited and has a pleasurable outcome promised.

Thanks, Jim, for a marvelous post.

Jim Murdoch said...

I enjoyed the film Samson and Delilah, Lis, as much as one can enjoy such a film. I can’t imagine that kind of boredom because boredom for me, even as a child, was always the catalyst that pushed me towards some creative endeavour. None of it involved writing—it took puberty to ignite that spark—but I still had a very active imagination and didn’t need much to keep me amused. I don’t know if you’ve read the second part of this article but that’s where the meat is, the reminder that there is a positive aspect to boredom, to genuine boredom, but so few of us have the time to be bored these days because there are so many things (and/or people) clamouring for our attention. It’s like listening to music. I have music on all the time—in fact I’ve just written two posts where I talk about the music I write to—but when was the last time I just sat and listened to music? It was the last time Carrie and I went to a concert and, Christ, that must be easily ten years ago. Music has become an accompaniment not the main course and the fact is that nowadays I never listen properly to anything because part of my mind is occupied elsewhere. There are times when I think I’m bored but, as we all so often do, I’m using the wrong word because I’m usually just fed up with whatever chore I’ve set myself. As I mentioned in a previous comment I have a review coming up about a book on creativity and I learned some fascinating things about how creativity works and hard work isn’t always the answer. Oftentimes it’s when we’ve given up on a problem (failed, if you like) that the answer comes fully-formed because our right hemispheres are left alone to get on with the problem. But you’ll have to wait for that one.

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