Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The Art of Boredom.

The candles have burned down, the table is bare. Beloved visitors have left. The dog snores loudly, and the fine ash falls gently in the grate. Silence and ice are just outside the door, tapping on the window, fingering their way in through the keyhole.
Winter holds the garden in a tight, white grip; darkness comes early and leaves late. It is too cold to garden, too cold to walk with any sense of enjoyment. The washing up is done, the excess food is in the freezer. Now is the time for the fine art of boredom, a repetition of small events; feeding the stove, feeding the birds and the dog, feeding my mind. Above all - feeding my mind.

A close friend has just had eye-surgery and is unable to read. She never watches television, and her situation (she's a nun) means that she does not usually have access to radio or recorded music.
We had a long and paradoxically animated discussion about boredom. I think we concluded that it was both other people, and the lack of other people. A lack of the right people, and too much of the other kind. Then we had to decide which were the other kind. We laughed so much at our descriptions of boring people that we had to stop, as it was not good for her, post-surgically.

The more we thought about boredom, the better it became. Eventually the attempts at describing the state became impossible. Boring meetings become entertaining in the telling, and even just in the mental recall. Boring people become endearing, boring situations are laced with possibility.

So what is boredom? Perhaps the dog, today, demonstrates its finer qualities (incidentally, she wraps herself in that duvet, sometimes completely). Perhaps it is the skill of mental disengagement, a freedom to wander along the paths of semi-consciousness while engaged in repetitious tasks - or engaged in nothing at all?



Zhoen said...

I have a great affection for boring. Means nothing's going wrong.

Funny, beautiful, and most of all cozy, dog.

mm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pohanginapete said...

This is as fine a piece of writing as I've read in a long time. "Wonderful" sums it up beautifully.

Been so long since I've been truly bored that I've pretty much forgotten the feeling, but reading this makes me wish I could feel bored simply for the delight of recounting it.

Love to your friend. I recall meeting her and we laughed so much there were almost tears.

mm said...

Sorry, 2nd attempt!

Agree with PP about the writing. Wonderful.

For me, boredom is closer to lassitude, listlessness, ennui, than the almost soothing, hypnotic rhythm of the tasks you describe. Something to ponder.

I envy the dog. The Wye is beginning to freeze over. Unheard of.

Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: that's a good point about the benefit of boring, and yes, that dog knows how to get comfortable!

PPete: thank you so much. I think you know who I'm writing about!

mm: thank you for the interesting thoughts. Get your skates on for the Wye!

herhimnbryn said...

"I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room."
- May Sarton
Journal of a Solitude

ps Your hound has got it worked out:)

Relatively Retiring said...

HHnB: That's a lovely quote.I love the idea of 'living in the changing light of a room'.

The dog's days must seem very short - she sleeps beneath her duvet for about 22 of them!

kat- Three Cent Stamp said...

For so many years, I would never let myself have an empty day, a boring day, a day without accomplishing something. Every moment was filled for fear of being bored for not conquering something. Then I cam down with an ulcer from all the demands that I placed on myself. Now I strive for balance and I know now the art of doing absolutely nothing and enjoying it. Some days what we perceive boredom to be is a good thing. :-)

Relatively Retiring said...

Kat: I agree. For many years I was almost afraid to stop, and the main fear was that I'd never manage to get going again.
I'm currently on a training course, and an important lesson to learn from it is '...you don't have to DO, you just have to BE.' Not always easy though.

Anne-Marie said...

I don't do boredom well. But, I agree with MM that boredom implies a negative state while what you describe is some thing else entirely. Is there a word in the English language for it? I can't think of it. What ever it is, dogs are experts at it for sure.

Beautiful writing, as always.

Relatively Retiring said...

Anne-Marie: thank you for the comment.
I think it is the process of trying to describe boredom that turns it into something else. Jane Austen wrote wonderfully about boring people!

persiflage said...

Boredom seems a really slippery concept. To me it does not equate with not having much to do, or with life being rather repetitive. Perhaps it has more to do with being stuck in situations which by definition you cannot escape from. Listening to some people talk about economics can be stultifyingly boring, as can be social situations which are a duty but which do not include you as a person belonging to the group. My father always used to say he thought it was a sin to be bored, as there were so many things to do or to learn, and I always bear this in mind. If life is just ticking over and all is going well, that is not boring. I always take a book along.
I love the idea of describing boredom as being really amusing!
As ever, this is a most thought provoking post. Thank you.

Relatively Retiring said...

Thank you, Persiflage.I think I share that feeling with your father, and when they were young my offspring were not allowed to use the word 'bored'. However, they found other words, such as 'aimless' and 'purposeless', which were better for their vocabularies!

peregrina said...

R.R., I laughed so much over this. I think you're right about what turns boring into something else. It's looking at it retrospectively from outside the situation that caused the boredom. A similar thing happens with frightening events, after we've survived them and are safe on the other side.

I'm trying to remember what it's like to be bored, too. Maybe I'm just being too busy all the time and have lost the art!

Isabelle said...

Very interesting and beautifully written post as usual. I'm never bored when I'm allowed to do what I want, but marking can be very boring. And off I go to do some.

Relatively Retiring said...

Peregrina: that's an interesting thought about frightening experiences. Our recounting of these things makes them manageable and gives them different aspects, so that frightening becomes somewhat thrilling!

Isabelle: thank you - and then you can turn the marking into an entertaining blog!