We all have an insatiable appetite for stories. It’s not just crazy writers and steadfast readers. And because we are unceasingly trying to make sense of all our neural gymnastics, it is impossible to be bored.
Author David Gaughran writes, “We impose narratives on everything from a football season to an election or even our own lives. We are so hungry for story that, when bored, our minds “wander” or we “daydream”—in other words, we create stories for ourselves for internal amusement. It’s quite bizarre in one sense, but also comes as naturally to us as eating and breathing.”
In her recent book No Time to Spare, the wonderful Ursula K. Le Guin ponders the meaning of spare time. “The opposite of spare time is, I guess, occupied time. In my case I still don’t know what spare time is because all my time is occupied. It always has been and it is now. It’s occupied by living.” Le Guin was 88 when she died in January 2018.
I notice that my three-year-old granddaughter spends much of her time creating stories in which for us to live. Recently, her favorite story has been Birthday Party. We take turns pretending it is our birthday and give each other presents (a block, a plastic seahorse, a ribbon—all from the toy box). The same presents are wrapped in the same boxes over and over. We eat the same imaginary cake: blueberry and carrot. We wish each other the same happy day with the same exuberance.
Philosopher Bertrand Russell talks about our dread of boredom and that monotony can be fruitful. He notes, “A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.”
So while the Birthday Party may grow tiresome for me, it may be important to my granddaughter because through it she learns that monotony has a place in her life. Who knows what ideas are blooming while she wraps and rewraps birthday gifts?
Boredom is a vacuum that cannot stand. It will always be filled up. I am grateful for that little part of my human coding. It means I get ideas when lying on the yoga mat, or doing the dishes, or walking the same path I’ve walked for years.
But is there anything that can prevent this natural state of correction?
When we pack so much into our days and lives, into the days and lives of our children, just to avoid boredom, we become addicted to being busy. We forget how to live with monotony, that restful time where the brain stokes up the story factory. We forget how to just sit and be and, by default, create.
Today may you be bored into inspiration.
More on creativity: Everyday Creativity Can Keep You Healthy
Read about an artist’s lost-and-found creativity: Maud’s House