What Is It And Why Do We Have One?
Between visiting galleries at the weekend and being at home, my life doesn’t speak of much. In fact, yesterday I was extremely bored, so much so that I really couldn’t get anything done. Anything I turned my hand to was met with a ready excuse that it didn’t need doing.
Like housework which I find unremittingly boring – save the ironing and laundry. That I do happily enough. It’s the dusting, vacuuming and tidying up that gnaws at me. I have a character in my book whose home is a mess – it was in the original books that mine is a pastiche of, so this is at least an accurate picture of the man – and in describing his home, all I need do is look around at mine. And embellish it a little. Only he was a man who was easily bored, something that I am not.
Well, I’m not, just as long as there’s no housework to do.
I’m still searching for the key to why I get bored with housework and not with the laundry; never mind my personal psychological crises, what is more important is to explore the nature of boredom. It’s something that few people really experience these days: Brian, my ex partner in Lüneburg was rarely bored because he had his telly to watch and his computer being hooked up to it meant he could watch Youtube videos long into the night. With smartphones the concept goes walkabout: people now wander around with their eyes glued to their personal, portable screens. And here I am with my eyes glued to my less than transportable (and very ancient) iMac. I could be outdoors, I could be doing something useful like the next part of my book, the first part having been delivered to my beta readers for them to get their teeth into. The deeper the better… nothing like a goodly length of criticism to spark my kind of inspiration. You can’t make a book better when everybody tells you you’re right, can you? But that’s the problem with anthroposophy today, and it’s not something that helped me in my search.
But getting bored did, and will. My boredom with housework hides something that I ought be able to see. It’s there, after all, like Goethe’s Holy Open Secrets, it’s there for all to see. And this isn’t the housewife who is compelled through long years of habit to keep the parlour dusted; she began helping mum to turn the sheets and wash the windows and never stopped. Never wondered if she was bored because it had to be done and there was no choice.
My problem is that I’ve always had that choice, and somehow I have to find a way to “choose” to do the housework. I have to choose to do something that’s boring. Which brings me to the essence of value: it’s not worth doing. My friend Hendrik in Utrecht would simply throw money at the problem and the problem is solved because he pays a cleaner. But then, he’s got the money for a big telly and is otherwise engaged in marking exams – something that would bore me rigid. I guess it would bore him too, if he had any choice in the matter. But in the regimented world of the Dutch, force is everything because they know it’d never be done if they didn’t threaten to put the boot in.
If, like Hendrik, you know nothing else, force is everything and free choice unknown.
Which leaves me with the free choice to write and not do the housework. Back to square one, as they say. I don’t even keep a very tidy garden, but in a garden where the soil is so poor that the only things that grow are weeds… it’s hard to stop them because I like growing things. That this year I discovered some onions in amongst the weeds was a sign that things aren’t as bad now as they were five years ago. I doubt I’ll ever get champion onions, but a decent sized one that lasts until February would be nice. Any that look good in January can go in the preserving jars and see me until the winter onions come through.
But that’s what keeps me interested, albeit that it would bore a lot of other people. Waiting an hour and a half for the potatoes to settle in their preserving jars is not something the modern mind is equipped for. For me, the thought of potatoes preserved in glass jars overweighs the time and energy spent in doing it. Most sensible people would trot down to the supermarket and buy a packet of powdered mash.
My problem is that I’m genuinely crazy. I know this because I keep cats and people level this as an argument that I can’t think straight. Never mind, they can’t write blogs about stupid things like getting bored and I can. I do need a decent salting of craziness to even consider the nature of boredom: after all, who in their right mind gets bored? As mentioned, we have electronic media to entertain us when the onerous duties of one’s work are done. The gap in between gets ever smaller. Either you’re compelled or you’re obsessed.
The spaces in which boredom can appear become ever smaller. This is why we have technology, after all: it’s to stop us getting bored. The more liable we are to get bored, the more technology we have at our side. A train conductor I met eighteen months ago mentioned how he’d noticed the explosive rise in smartphones during the last ten years or so. From what was an occasional phenomenon with most people staring out the windows turned into the ordinary. Peoples’ heads were glued to screens and they were either chatting or watching. Either way, the internet allowed them to fulfil their desires – their sympathies if you want to get technical – rather than meet their challenges.
One of which is to get bored. Another of which is for me to do the housework.
So why don’t I just buckle down and do it? Well, it’s simple: it’s so ruddy boring!!! But then, it does get done every now and then when I’m in the mood… which isn’t often, but is worth exploring because it’s the key to my having a home that’s as neat as a pin. But it does have to be worth more to me than the alternative, which as mentioned, is the fourth rewrite of the second part of my book. Having said that, housework in that it is boring is a surprisingly fertile time for inspiration. Ten minutes of polishing the parquet usually sees me back at the computer and writing down the newest dialogue between whichever characters were infesting my mind at the time. It leaves the parquet unfinished but my book a step along the way.
A tidy house is for friends, though. Sadly in the last year or so, I’ve seen all my friends here in my village evaporate. The reason is simple: they can ask me to do things, I am not allowed to ask them. It’s an easy mistake to make: after all, that’s what friendship is all about, isn’t it? Being equals. Only this is Holland where friendship means the Dutch friend has a bigger stick and gets to make the rules.
And I don’t.
But that ain’t friendship for me. It leaves me with a home that nobody wants to visit, and the truth is I don’t need people visiting who chat about how good the coffee is when there are pressing economic and social problems to resolve. And in that they can’t resolve them, they’d rather talk about coffee… which bores me rigid. Now you can see why in my book one of my characters is bored “by anything less than the impossible.” Because that’s me. What’s more, I’ve spent long boring hours digging my allotment or doing the parquet whereby I was able to determine what the answers were.
Those who work because they are compelled to, do the housework because they are compelled to will not be allowing their minds free rein. Mainly because they don’t know what free rein for their mind implies: they are tied to certain pre-ordained habits that are now so deeply ingrained that they are unshakable. In short, they never get bored because there’s nothing in their seamless world of work and entertainment to bore them. The news comes on and they’re happy to listen to whatever they’re being told because that’s how the world is. That it isn’t need not worry them because they have a job to do when they switch off the telly: they have to go to bed.
No thinking required.
Which is what being bored is all about, isn’t it? It’s the time when you’re not compelled, not obsessed and are free to think for yourself. Which is hard when you can’t, and that’s when you get bored. Just as I do. I can’t think of a good reason to do the housework and since I’m not obsessed by it, it doesn’t get done. But then, I’m not obsessed by my book – but it is a lot more fun to write. At least when the inspiration’s there, which isn’t always the case. I don’t write like Stephen King who just writes his next thriller to a pre-ordained style and manner. But then, that’s what his obsessed readers demand, and with any luck I can find readers who are obsessed by something different than the mere repeatability of the stories I produce.
There’s another side to boredom, and that is the ability to get bored in the first place. It’s why we have mobile entertainment systems that you can tuck in your pocket. They stop you getting bored even as you step into the train and in that you don’t get bored looking for a seat, as soon as you do sit down, the movie or the chat or the news story is there to stop you getting bored.
Well, I travel first class which means seats aren’t usually a problem, I do have my book with me – the older version of the smartphone where the batteries can’t run down but still doesn’t work if left out in the rain – but there are as many times I just look out the window at the fields and coppices I know so well. In short, I don’t bore easily because I have an imagination that can meet a world that’s relatively boring. I can’t do it all the time, but that’s why there is housework to do. It’s my challenge to meet in my present circumstances: how to keep my mind alert whilst doing something that isn’t just boring, but doesn’t need doing.
Since the cats are out, I can do the vacuuming… cats are just cats and since they’re not conscious, they just go around being cats. The obsessive worker has had their consciousness dimmed to the point where they don’t need to do anything but be obsessed. Neither are particularly positive attributes, but at least cats don’t expect me to be friends with them on their terms whilst ignoring mine because they’re oblivious to my needs.
The Secret Of Boredom.
Which is the secret of boredom: if you’ve got the imagination, you don’t get as bored. Without the imagination, you are going to get very bored very quickly – and the solution to this is the newspaper, book or smartphone. Being bored shows you where your imagination is lacking, that is to say, your creativity. If there’s nothing to do, what would you do to stop yourself getting bored? In heaven there’s nothing to do, and most people would be bored to death… which is why we have hell on earth: it’s so much more interesting to be entertained. But that’s death’s sting, isn’t it? When the batteries of one’s life expire and there’s nothing to do save twiddle your ghostly fingers. It took a character with the inner strength of Dante to visit hell and live to tell the tale.
Boredom is nothing less and nothing more than our wakeup call to develop something we don’t yet have. Which is, as mentioned, is why we have smartphones. Or friends who tell us that we’re right because they can’t imagine anything else to say. In the way Anthroposophists do.