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On Boredom

At some moment four years ago, author Cal Newport was so bored that he wrote a book.

The book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, was about how to be bored and also more productive.

I read it. It was boring. I was more bored after I read it than before.

But I soon realized that without planning, or structuring activities and even trying to conduct myself productively, I was very good at boredom. Happy, in fact.

Having no expectations is useful because it thwarts life disappointments. But this is not about Seinfeldesque "nothing." It's "something."

Boredom only mimics nothingness but gives you a chance to think. A chance to weigh how others are dealing with their human activity. A way to enjoy solitude. Enjoy the quiet. Or merely exclude the world and live inside your own thoughts, which is a surprisingly rich universe.

The Hunkered Down Universe is worth visiting. It's quiet there.

What you call boredom, I call creative contemplation.

For while what I do always looks to others as if I am bored in their framework, I am hardly ever bored the way they define the word. That's because I don't need others to make the seeming inactivity worthwhile or even defensible.

Reading, writing, and thinking only look boring to those who don't do any of those things. Or sitting under a 50-foot maple tree, and looking at the clouds.

Others exercise and seem to enjoy it. I have found no joy in deliberately sweating.

In fact, the presence of other sweaty people who want to "do things" only gets in the way.

Contemplative boredom is an unappreciated skill. By that I mean those around me did not appreciate doing absolutely nothing and feeling good about it.

"What? Are you just going to SIT there all day?" they would announce as if I had not made my intentions perfectly obvious. Why, yes, I do believe I am just going to sit here, thank you very much.

Without giving myself too much credit, I was the LeBron James of boredom. It came easily to me. I had a natural gift for it.

A year ago, this skill was indistinguishable from other aspects of my special aptitude skillset - laziness, chronic nap-taking, meandering. All are useful in their own ways.

But observers use that term not to hail your ability at a necessary life skill - shocking cruelty by them - but because you were a useless doofus who was absorbing oxygen you didn't deserve. You were wasting life.

But everything is different now.

When the Coronavirus arrived, it was suggested we all wear face masks and steer away from large crowds of people who do things and have ambition.

I needed no big alteration in what I call my "lifestyle." Because I was always a quarantinian by preference.

Just this week, it became apparent even to America, which is that learning-disabled country between Tokyo and Iceland, that being bored is somewhat better than being dead.

This is an insight I understood very early in the pandemic. I needed no threats or exhortations. Large crowds of sweaty, inebriated event-goers never appealed to me, although immersion in that environment seems a basic human right for others.

They raise clenched fists filled with firearms to proclaim their right to contract a deadly disease and give it to as many of their friends as possible. There are actual parties by young Alabamian people designed to do exactly that as a contest.

Want to be really bored? Try being dead for a week or so, just to get used to your new permanent normal. Which is, dead.

Until this week, large portions of America thought COVID-9 killed other invisible unknown people, somewhere else. That was a terrible tragedy, of course. But at least it was somewhere else.

But now the virus has killed off many of the 130,000 most vulnerable, but still, the infections have crept higher to 50,000 a day.

That means every day that thousands of people who thought themselves unreachable because of "good lifestyle" choices, religion, or rural living accommodations must reconsider.

They now have turned out to be more or less not safe.

We have 4 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of the viral infections. The world will see within two weeks if we can make it across the river, or be consumed by this calamity contagion.

Owing to the human trait to subdivide massive truths into smaller digestible bites, we interpreted COVID-19 as more dangerous for the elderly, the infirm, the already medically impaired and anyone who spends more than 30 minutes a day in an average nursing home.

The illusion of subdivision is an inductive trick because all facts are a probability ranging through virtually sure, most likely, less likely, hardly ever, and never. Applying the spectrum to COVID-19, you naturally enlist in the "hardly ever catches even a minor case" group.

But this is meaningful only if real life actually is a marketing questionnaire.

If you have not realized it, these are dark times for those who need interesting activities to do and wonderful events to attend. The pandemic has sucked this useless energy from the universe and replaced it with thoughtful apprehension.

This happened at just the wrong time for most Americans who have lost both attention span and appreciation for hunkering down. Try leaving your smartphone at home, and see how boredom so easily overwhelms you. The phone is smart, but you are not.

America does not know how to be bored.

Those who not understand the therapeutic, reviving qualities of creative boredom will suffer doubly.

Sort of like running into an ex-spouse at your school reunion. Not only does she look better than you, but she looks better than she did at 20. At these moments, the cost-benefit analysis of plastic surgery does not seem to be so vain and stupid. Actually, vain yes. Stupid, no.

For those inept at boredom, life is replete with these unhappy reminders.

Luckily, I am not only bored but happy to be so. It does not mean I am safe. Only stoic, but at least I am 85 percent safer than you. I wear the damn mask.


Recently by David Rutter:

* Kris Bryant's Future Bar Trick.

* Mansplaining To A Millionaire.

* Status Check: Chicago Sports.

* The Week In WTF Redux: Blago Is Back Edition.

* What Is A Chicagoan Anyway?

* Glenn Beck's Turn In The Volcano.

* Only Science Will Bring Back Sports.

* I Loathe The Lockdown Protestors.

* Reopening Books.

* A Return To Abnormalcy.

* I'm Having A Down Day Emotionally. Here's Why.

* So Long, Jerry.

* A Special "Trump's Bible" Edition Of WTF.

* 5 Things An Angry Old White Man Wants To Say.

* An ANTIFA American Hero.

* The Fonz Lives And Franco Is Dead: News You Can't Use.

* Gone With The Wind: My Lost Cause.

* How To (Pretend To) Negotiate A Labor Deal.

* The Mystery Of Mitch's Missing Motivation.

* Dave's French Foreign Legion Tour Of Chicagoland.

* Remember The '85 Bears? Actually, No You Don't.


David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.


Posted on July 3, 2020

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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