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Today we gaze into the Abyss of Ennui. What is boredom?
“Excess of sorrow laughs, excess of joy weeps”: In “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” Blake understood the Abyss, and sought to correct our assumptions and expectations. “The busy bee has no time for sorrow,” Blake said. But commuting home through an hour of plodding, plowing traffic, loaded down with work we’ve taken home for the weekend, we feel not the lightness nor the fickle flightiness of the bee. “The cut worm forgives the plough,” Blake said. Maybe, come Saturday night and he just got paid.
Some tasks seem intrinsically boring. But we often confuse boredom with irritation, frustration, or addiction. Is boredom addictive? We say we are bored with what we don’t want. Tasks too bureaucratically procedural or repetitive lend themselves to boredom, not to mention carpal tunnel syndrome. What we don’t want to do, we put off, some of us; others, we jump in and get it done, so we can get on to something we find more interesting, those things we are passionate about. The former are the procrastinators, we are told, the latter the achievers. Both, though, we suspect, are susceptible to boredom.
We often gravitate voluntarily to intrinsically boring tasks. What could be more repetitive than typing out another post? Physically repetitive: mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, the blogger flies with the bees of the cosmos! Really? I should try blogging.
When we open the laptop or cell phone, we are not met with the organic breath of the compostable paper page of the book or newspaper. Someone should invent an app for smells, so that when we open the laptop, we are met with roses or the must of an old book. Maude had a similar idea in the film “Harold and Maude.” Harold is a bored rich boy, until he meets and falls in love with Maude. The protagonist is age; Harold is young, and Maude is old. Still, love alleviates Harold’s boredom, and after Maude, and after Harold sends his old life in a makeshift hearse over a cliff, the banjo.
We hear of solutions that would alleviate boredom, suggesting boredom is a heavy and dark load that might be lifted from the bearer. Boredom begins to resemble depression. And boredom blends easily with guilt, for in a world saturated with pain and suffering at one end and glitz and shazam at the other end, who dare the chutzpah to turn the cheek of boredom outward? Quit your bitching and get back to your widgets.
Does Superman ever get bored? Batman, bored? Spiderman? The specialist, it would seem, would be the first to suffer from boredom.
In “Only Disconnect: Two cheers for boredom” (New Yorker, 28 Oct 2013, 33-37), about the relationship between boredom and distraction, Evgeny Morozov maintains that “to recognize oneself as bored, one must know how to differentiate between moments – if only to see that they are essentially the same” (34). When we’re bored, we want to be distracted, to take our minds off the monotony. We look down the assembly line of our lives and see nothing but more of the same, the same terrain, and unless we’ve been able to sustain an endless summer of surfing, we start to crave a fifth season, and we understand the winter and every other season of our discontent. The ability to click off one app and on to another is ongoing, but the solution creates another problem – call it the William Blake challenge: Excess of distraction bores, and we crave more and more distraction.
What is boredom? John Cage provided what we might call a working definition: “It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else” (Silence, 1961, “Lecture on Nothing”).
If the specialist is the least equipped to stave off boredom, the artist is the best equipped. Because artists are generalists, they are able to turn their attention in different directions, outward or inward (whether at will or forced change does not matter) without the quality of disinterest or distraction. A true artist cannot know boredom in the act of art. Artists don’t require passion; passion is for amateurs. This is true for the painter or poet, gardener or dancer, musician or chef, surfer or clown, sailor or walker, potter or plumber.
Got boredom? Get art. At the bottom of the Abyss sits art, doing nothing.
“Thanks, but what’s that ringing?”
“You’re supposed to ring in the New Year and cheer!”
“I don’t know where you get your ideas.”
“I might have guessed.”
“Do you have any New Year resolutions?”
“Yes, as a point of fact, I do, to wit, but one.”
“To increase both the frequency and severity of naps.”
“Ah, that’s the same as you had last year. Want to hear mine for 2014?”
“This year, I’m going to avoid the near occasion of sin, cut out candy, shorten my tweets to be more clear and concise, listen more attentively, love. I want to love more. I want to bring back the Summer of Love, 1967! I want to live in harmony with the birds and squirrels, raccoons and possums, slugs and toads, bees and wasps, all that is electric and all that is acoustic. I’m going to give more and take less. I’m going to give kisses away, free, on every street corner I round. I’m going to sing more. Joe said it’s never too late to start singing. I’m going to learn to play a musical instrument, something with strings. I want to play soft and mellow and moist. I want to draw a bow across a string that creates a whine like a train. I’m going to watch more movies, Doris Day and Danny Kaye. I’m going to walk more, go for mysterious walks, step out, step it up, wander at will through this urban landscape we call home.”
“The odds weigh heavily against any of it.”
“If life is a gamble, I’m all in.”
“And I fold.”
Related Post: A Cat’s New Year’s Celebration
– What are you doing?
– You stink!
– Before we decide if something stinks, what must we analyze?
– But you stink!
– Stink is an argument of definition.
– Pshew! Just like you to ignore cause and effect.
– I’m reminded of the story of the old factory blues.
– What’s a factory?
– A factory is a place where they make things.
– Was I made in a factory?
– You were made in a dumpster under blue neon in an alley across from a factory.
– What did they make in the factory?
– Every evening sharply at five a great whistle blew, scaring all the alley cats but me. As you know, I’m not one to flinch at noise. And after the whistle, the factory hands came out and petted me and fed me scraps from their lunch pails.
– Really? Good stuff?
– Oh, my, yes: bits of smelly tuna fish, little curds of cottage cheese, spam cans still with some fatty gel stuck to the bottom.
– Sounds delish, so why the blues?
– One day, the whistle stopped blowing, and the factory was surrounded by a fence of barbed wire. The factory hands disappeared, and a giant blue spotlight was erected to light the alley throughout the night, all but drowning out the small blue neon above the dumpster.
– What did they make in the factory?
– Golden gooses.
– Why do I smell a moral to a story coming on?
– If there is a moral to the story, it is that life stinks, but which leads to a secondary, paradoxical moral.
– I’m breathless. A double moral story.
– And the second moral is that it is the very stink of life that recalls the sweet smell of love, of who we are and where we come from.
– Ah, that story stinks!
“I see you and Joe finished that book on mistakes. Was it good?”
“Joe posted some notes to his blog.”
“Did anyone read that post? I noticed he got no likes or comments.”
“To be a blogger is to go unread as no author dare go unread.”
“So what are you reading now?”
“I’m thinking of picking up The Sorrows of Young Werther.”
“Sounds like an unnecessary error. I just read for fun.”
“What is fun?”
“Psychosomatic foghorn earborn earworms!”
“Please don’t say that again.”
“So did you help Joe with that post?”
“I put forth a few views.”
“Phew! Thinko agin!”
“Agenbite of widget.”
“Let’s go outside and have some fun!”
“I recall a moment, long ago, that may have been fun.”
“That’s the spirit! Let’s go!”
“Are you a nested poet, then?”
the hoity-toity cat simply asks.
“I have my cri cri critics,”
the Pine Jay stutters,
pouring herself another glass
of mock orange soda syrah.
“Are you going to mix
silver with orange, then?” asks the cat.
“I would rather arrange the orange
against this blue windswept evening.”
“That would encourage a paraorange
gown,” cynically suggests the cat.
“Scr scr scree!” the Pine Jay screes,
her voice trailing off like a jet’s vapor.
“Mock, mock!” the cat converses,
though alone now. “I never did like orange peel.”
X thinks Y imperfect.
Y thinks X exaggerates.
X tells Y, “Why can’t you be more like me?”
Y replies, “You have no balance. You don’t know how to share. Life is a teeter-totter.”
“I’m walking down to the tavern for a beer and some darts. Want to come?” X asks.
“I think I’ll stay here and practice yodeling and yoga,” Y says.
Y Y = Light _ _ _ _ /\ = Teeter-Totter /\ _ _ _ _ X X = Heavy
– Did you get my email?
– What email?
– I sent you an email.
– I delete all email before reading it.
– That doesn’t make any sense!
– Welcome to the world of Postmodern Poetry.
– But I sent you an email!
– Must we go through this again?
– Joe’s post titled “Notes on Experience, Story, and Voice” that was “Freshly Pressed” here has now been reposted at Berfrois!
– I think I need a nap.
– How many naps do you take in a day?
– As Dylan so eloquently put it, “Any day now, any day now…”
– Why does he have to say it twice?
– It’s spring! Don’t you just love spring?
– Winter will come again. It always does.
– The ice has melted. Like e. e. cummings said,
spring when the world is mud-
– It’s supposed to rain again tomorrow.
– But this is today! And we’re alive in this spring moment!
– A more responsible view is to remain mindful that the seasons are in constant motion, and anything can happen and usually does. In any case, from a universal perspective, there is only one season, a murkiness that lends itself to a contemplation of a dark void.
– Yes, but it’s spring! And I feel like hop-scotching and jumping rope!
– It won’t be long before the hurricane season will be upon us again, to say nothing of tornadoes. As Robert Frost pointed out, “Some say the world will end in fire / Some say in ice.” And he should have known; he was a poet. But I don’t see how it much matters, an end is an end is an end is an end, but all these literary allusions are just illusions to wile away the time until winter comes again and we cry out, “Winter is icummen in,” and you know the rest.
– Oh, you’re just an old goat!
Look at this wonderful picture I took last night with my cell phone of the moon glowing through the cherry blossoms!
– Reminds me of the time we went to see “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!,” and they burnt the popcorn. Besides, you can’t fool me; that’s not the moon – that’s an electric spotlight in the parking lot of The Old Spaghetti Factory.
– Listen! I think I hear a whistle!