In a recent email from my brother, he pointed out that in a survey by Business Insider magazine, the town I was raised in Pennsylvania was rated ‘most boring’ in the state. Which started a train of reflection how my own youth in the most boring city in Pennsylvania may well have been the making of me. Also, that boredom is probably an unheard of luxury for most kids today who have a highly structured schedule and lots of electronic devices for instant distraction. But perhaps boredom is the cradle of creativity.
Meanwhile, as a pre-schooler I can remember lying face down on the patio watching an ant build its hill. No fan of heat or brilliant sunshine, I spent hours of summer holidays in the air-conditioned public library, just moseying around the stacks. I could walk there and back, having a very vivid fantasy life going on in my head. It was in Berwick that I perfected the art of doing nothing much. This also taught me how to become still so that something could be created. Boredom bred in me a self-sufficiency. It also bred in me an interior life that was full of curiosity and observation.
In retrospect, living in the most boring town in Pennsylvania also provided a buffer from the very real, chaotic world of 1960s USA. By the time I was eleven, my father had died, his contemporary President John F. Kennedy had been assasinated, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy. There were riots and a jungle war on television after supper every night. People just kept disappearing or being disappeared. The maelstrom went on (mostly) outside. Meanwhile, the hum-drum routine went on.
Not unlike some protagonists in the Thornton Wilder play ‘Our Town’, I wanted out of my boring town. I dreamt of foreign parts – not Paris, but England, and then Ireland issued a siren call. But now, living once again in a place where not a lot happens, I can see how boredom played its part as both stabilizer and instigator.
I was with a group of friends today and we were posed with the question of how we accessed our inner wizard. Where does that magic come from? And instantly, I knew that for me it comes from doing a lot of ‘nothing’. I sited staring out of windows. I referenced Michael Hardings’ memoir ‘Staring at Lakes.’ Poet Billy Collins is alleged to have said that writing poetry takes all day just looking out from your desk into space. Or maybe at the tree outside the office. I mentioned the deep peace of meditative plain knitting. It is not so much emptying the mind as stilling it. And then you enter that zone where you are not the doing, the doing is using you. In that moment there can be creation. But you are certainly not ‘doing’ the creating.
In which case, then perhaps if we want more workers to ‘think outside of the box’ then we should foster a healthy level of boredom? Mooching. Maundering. Noodling over an idea without really thinking about it. Then something comes through you. It is not about you. You just become the instrument for creation.
And that is the real blessing of boredom.