Friday, January 25, 2013

Embracing Boredom

I like to be bored. I enjoy having the time to savor ordinary tasks. Building a fire. Washing the dishes. Splitting wood or mowing the lawn.

The embrace of boredom has been the great delight of my adulthood. It has also led to my being not as motivated as perhaps I should be, to lead a more interesting life. I probably should have gone back to school. I probably should have pursued a Capital-C Career. But once I managed to secure a house that kept me warm and a job that met the expenses, it became hard for me to want to stretch beyond that. 

Getting up in the morning and being all right with what you have to do. It's a kind of American dream. Not everybody gets to live it and it rarely lasts forever. But what the heck--why run from it?

David Foster Wallace, who wrote one of the world's most aggressively boring novels, said in his unfinished manuscript The Pale King that boredom made anything possible in this day and age. Wallace wrote a lot, because he didn't live long enough to get a smartphone.

This is probably true.

Here's his quote:

The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unborable.

It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.

On second thought he doesn’t quite have me pegged. I’m not so much immune to boredom as desirous of it.


I love classical music, because there's a lot in there, but you have to be bored to take the time notice it all. And it doesn't impose itself on you. You want to think about something other than the music? Go right ahead. You want to play it while you read a book? It'll be there in the background. Glenn Gould once said something along the lines of he’d spent his career making the best elevator music he could. 

I like minimalist electronic trance type stuff as well. It, too, stays out of your way. There's not as much to listen for in it, so if you do want to focus on it, you have to sort of make up a story in your head to keep it interesting. You think, this has to be the soundtrack to something. And then you script your own little movie. You can project it on the back of your eyelids. I've had wonderful naps this way.

Smoking a pipe probably sounds boring to most folks too. Bent or straight shape? Birdseye or straight grain? English or Aromatic tobacco? And you mean you have to clean that thing, pack and light it, and then puff on it for half an hour?

Yawn. I love it.

This article at is fascinating. In defense of boredom. It refers to the blog of James Ward, I Like Boring Things, which is here. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone.

Sometimes I feel that the internet is robbing me of my own thoughts, whisking me through life before my time. I slow down with typewriters, which only display the letters I press. They are lousy for research but they are great for this other thing which I just made up, called pre-search. If you sit down at a typewriter and start moving your fingers, you bump up against your own limits and discover the things you really want to know. 

You keep those things in mind when you go out into the world looking for answers, you might be all right.


  1. It sounds like you are anything BUT bored.

    It is a fine art to appreciate each and every little moment, whether it's tending a fire (which we do here in The Woods, too -- we have a lot in common with our respective domiciles!) or splitting wood, or yes, even washing dishes. Enjoy life's simple pleasures!

  2. Yes, true boredom would be having these 'mundane' things to do, but not wanting to do them and feeling sulky that you must do so.