There is a mourning though that occurs first. After resisting the urge to do stuff, to be productive, the brain clicks into mourning, a low grade melancholia - it’s like the experience of loneliness - because ideally boredom like the kind I am talking about also requires solitude. I want to connect with another person and I have this insistent urge to be with someone, or someone to be with me. Kurt Vonnegut said it this way: “When I am alone I want to be with others and when I am with others I want to be alone”. Resist! It’s not that hard. Really. Tell your friends you have something really important to do and unfortunately you can’t do that really fun thing. They’ll insist. The creative spark comes with being with others. I am with my friend and I have a creative idea and I wish I were in solitude to pursue it but I am with my friend so I put it aside. The creative nugget that surfaced is there waiting for solitude to bring it out afresh. For me it is a nasty business to be creative.
Boredom was anathema in my mother’s vocabulary. She would punish us with laps around the house if we said the word - “You’re bored? OK. Run two laps. I want to see you pass by that window every few minutes.” The punishment didn’t work well for me because after three quarters of a lap I was distracted, a tit mouse in the garden, a glint of light from a water puddle, or a red fire engine charging down the street to the station, or my friend Clay walking his dog on our friendly suburban street, and I would say distractedly, “Hey, Clay!” By the way "red fire engine" is for me the quintessential metaphor for childhood. I'm sure the phrase is laden with hidden unconscious meaning that I have yet to plumb. Red. Fire. Engine. Figure it out.
About the laps:
I would forget about the laps but then, maybe Mom was right, because the boredom was gone. Until it came around again. I would spend many hours in my room as a child listening to books on record players. I loved reading Hans Christian Andersen's “The Tinderbox”. Even as a little kid I knew there was something seriously transgressive about transporting a sleeping maiden to your bedroom. The color of the storybook with the words that matched the narrator’s strong masculine voice accentuated the sexual power of the tale. I think this is when I realized I like men. Something about summoning, maybe? Fairy tales are friggin' powerful vehicles for raw desire. No wonder Plato in the Republic forbade the telling of certain tales to be told in the city. Something as simple as a narrator’s voice can shift attraction, help form identity - the power of the tale, the desire to wake a sleeping princess, to bring her to your chambers, the fallout and punishment, and lastly, the reconciliation with hero and lover. All that in the idle wiling of one day. Boredom is awesome and filled with potential for unbridled creativity. Human beings have formed their identities through idleness - it's the stuff of tales.
Boredom is an emptying out.
To be creative it is necessary to carve out a creative space to create what the Classical Greek philosophers called leisure time. By boredom what is meant is leisure - when nothing that is done has immediate value. The highest form of boredom is leisure. It’s a special time because everything else has to be accomplished first. I can’t be bored if I am worrying about a package due to arrive by FedEx or if I have a class to teach in an hour. Boredom requires true relinquishment of responsibility. To get to that leisure time - the true elixir of creativity that boredom promises - is to get past the urge to fill up time with useless crap. Like check email or check the post or check text messages. I know. It’s nearly impossible.
Bartleby the Scrivener
In literature I most identify with Bartleby the Scrivener, Melville’s famous office clerk who says, “I prefer not to” - until the very end of the story where he is put in the loony bin for saying, “I prefer not to”. This is why I have trouble with cover letters.
I’ve accepted my mediocrity. My averageness.
Lesson: Just because it don't look like "work" don't mean it ain't work, bro.