Around the Bend: Too busy to worry about boredom
So goes the refrain of schoolchildren everywhere as summer vacation drags on. Hearing it from my 12-year-old in recent weeks, I realized I hadn’t said those words in years. When did I stop being bored?
When I grew up, I guess.
For adults, every activity in life seems to fall into one of two categories: (a) things you have to do and (b) things you feel like doing. Each day is a battle between the two categories. For me, sometimes laundry wins, sometimes knitting. It doesn’t really matter which category I focus on; I never seem to make a dent in either one.
We’ve all got must-dos of one sort or another: going to work, paying the bills, brushing our teeth, sweeping the chicken poop off the porch (wait, maybe that’s just me).
Certain activities, such as cooking dinner or calling one’s mother, can be classified as either musts or wants, depending on how much you like cooking and how much you like your mother.
And there’s no limit to the variety of leisure activities different people put in their “feel like doing” category: windsurfing, reading romance novels, popping bubble wrap, gigging frogs, what have you. One friend of mine favors all of these, depending on her mood.
Some people even enjoy doing absolutely nothing, just sitting quietly to cultivate inner peace. I personally can only tolerate inner peace for about 15 seconds before I go stir crazy, but the point is doing nothing isn’t boredom if you’re enjoying it.
I’ve never woken up on a Saturday morning and struggled to think of something to do to pass the endless hours stretching out before me. Between what I have to do and what I feel like doing, every day is packed.
Until recently, I believed this was true for all adults.
Not long ago, I was running an unavoidable errand at the University Mall, a place I visit infrequently and only under duress. While striding to my destination as fast as possible (my shopping motto is “Get in, get out, go home”) my forward progress was slowed by a young couple strolling ahead of me, arm-in-arm, in an aimless fashion.
I dodged and weaved behind them, looking for an opportunity to pass, when a man coming from the opposite direction recognized them. The next thing I knew they were all hugging and smiling and being generally social.
“So what brings you newlyweds out here on a Tuesday night?” the man said.
“Oh, nothing,” said the wife, sighing. “We were bored, and we figured wandering around the mall was better than sitting at home staring at the walls.”
The three glanced at me as I banged my forehead repeatedly against a cell-phone kiosk.
My heart ached for this innocent pair. I could picture them in their sterile house, where, for lack of anything better to do, they sat watching an ant as it meandered across the kitchen floor. I imagined the husband saying after an hour or so, “Hey, I have a better idea. Let’s walk around the mall and not buy anything.”
“Yeah, sure,” the wife might have said. “Let me grab my sweater.”
Married less than a year, and the mall was the only thing they could come up with for excitement? Pathetic.
I know I’m biased. To me window-shopping is only slightly more entertaining than watching a piece of bread turn moldy. But they didn’t seem to be getting much out of it either.
I knew it was none of my business but I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone needed to help them find some sort of fulfillment in their meaningless ant-watching existence. I veered from my appointed errand and ducked into a store.
Moments later, I tracked down the couple, now idly examining a potted ficus in one of the mall’s seating areas.
“Here,” I said, handing them a bag. The woman, confused, looked inside.
“Why are you giving us a roll of bubble wrap?” she asked.
“Because,” I said, “they were all out of frog-gigging sticks.”
The two stared after me, dumbfounded, as I raced away.
I believe my gift did ward off their boredom at some level. I don’t know if they ever popped the bubble wrap, but I can pretty much guarantee they had something interesting to talk about for at least one day.