Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Being Boring

Everyone has heard the saying, "Only boring people get bored!" It's a phrase used by manipulative mothers to make their children shut up. It's boisterously propelled from the mouths of type A people by the energy of their insecurities. In case you hadn't picked up on it, I hate this phrase.

I was thinking about this phrase today after reading this week's Savage Love column. A man wrote in to complain about his boring life with his boring wife and their boring kids. That phrase--"Only boring people get bored!"--popped into my head immediately. While driving home from work (a place I find inexorably boring) hours later, I found this phrase rattling around in my head. I spend about 8 hours a day, Monday through Friday, bored. I try to get excited about whatever it is I'm doing. When that doesn't work (as it will never work when I'm having to deal with Excel spreadsheets), I try to find interesting things to read on the internet. When that fails (did y'all know there's a ton of worthless crap floating around on the internet?), bored.

I read in a book once that man has been struggling with boredom since the beginning of time. I've been known to argue that the only reason we've made life so goddamn complicated is because of boredom. Often, when I'm driving on a highway, I will contemplate the complexity of the system of the roads, all those cars converging onto the same stretch for a moment before they diverge. I contemplate other complexities that feeds--the complexity of our economic system, which is built on the idea that each person is a cog in a greater machine. Think about the levels of organization that requires! And truth be told, I can see no reason for creating complex systems other than to combat boredom. There isn't any overarching goal for any of this. If you asked people why they thought society needed to be more complicated in these ways, they would say, "To make the world a better place." But while our world has gotten progressively more complicated, we've made little progress toward anything resembling a "better place". People love to talk about the past as if it were vastly different from the present in some substantive way, but the truth is that all we've bought ourselves with this complication is more time on this earth for a few extra people. I'm not really sure this is a worthwhile goal in and of itself. You're going to have to do better, progress, before I'll believe in your inherent value.

And, it struck me, a higher standard of living for a greater number of people--which creates even greater levels of boredom.

One of the comments on that Savage Love column said something to the effect that all people are boring, and if you don't want to be bored, you should give up your cushy job and go be a single parent supporting five kids by working two jobs. I thought this to be perhaps one of the most brilliant comments on the whole column. The letter had been about sexual boredom to a large extent, and most of the comments got down in the trenches with the "men do that/women do this" arguments as usual. This comment got to the real heart of the matter, though, without even mentioning sex or anything sexy. When people say, "Only boring people get bored!", they're completely missing the mark. The implication is that if you were an interesting person, you'd feel constantly stimulated. You'd be interested in any and everything. You'd be able to find the awesome in the mundane, and if you couldn't, you'd get up and do something. But this completely ignores the way the world works and the way that humans operate. Everyone gets bored, and the only people who don't are those type As who fill their lives with so much activity to avoid that aching feeling of not being good enough or the people who are still struggling to make life even livable. To be human is to find yourself lying on your couch, staring at the wall, wondering when you're going to die because you've run out of shit to do or the energy with which to do it. Once all of our basic needs are covered, we run out of hard work to do, and then we start to look around for other kinds of stimulation. Once we've exhausted those (our wives, our credit cards, our kids), we start looking for still others. Boredom, man. That shit is life.

If only boring people get bored, then we're all fucking boring. In fact, this thing you just read? It's pretty fucking boring. But at least it kept me from being bored, if only for a little while.

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