Good boredom

May 10, 2012

“A boy or young man who has some serious constructive purpose will endure voluntarily a great deal of boredom if he finds that it is necessary by the way. But constructive purposes do not easily form themselves in a boy’s mind if he is living a life of distractions and dissipations, for in that case his thoughts will always be directed towards the next pleasure rather than towards the distant achievement. For all these reasons a generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.”

–Bertrand Russell

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This is definitely a trend, at least among British writers of a certain era…

From “Why I Write,” by George Orwell:

I was the middle child of three, but there was a gap of five years on either side, and I barely saw my father before I was eight. For this and other reasons I was somewhat lonely, and I soon developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my schooldays. I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life. Nevertheless the volume of serious–i.e., seriously intended–writing which I produced all through my childhood and boyhood would not amount to half a dozen pages…

…However, thoughout this time I did in a sense engage in literary acitivites…for fifteen years or more, I was carrying out a literary exercise…this was the making up of a continuous ‘story’ about myself, a sort of diary existing only in the mind. I believe this is a common habit of children and adolescents. As a very small child I used to imagine that I was, say, Robin Hood, and picture myself as the hero of thrilling adventures, but quite soon my ‘story’ ceased to be narcissistic in a crude way and became more and more a mere description of what I was doing and the things I saw. For minutes at a time this kind of thing would be running through my head: ‘He pushed the door open and entered the room. A yellow beam of sunlight, filtering through the muslin curtains, slanted on to the table, where a match-box, half-open, lay beside the inkpot. With his right hand in his pocket he moved across to the window. Down in the street a tortoiseshell cat was chasing a dead leaf’, etc etc. This habit continued until I was about twenty-five, right through my non-literary years. Although I had to search and did search, for the right words, I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion from outside. The ‘story’ must, I suppose, have reflected the styles of the various writers I admired at different ages, but so far as I remember it always had the same meticulous descriptive quality.”

“I think that this feigning, this ceaseless pretense of interest in matters to me supremely boring, was what wore me out more than anything else. If the reader will picture himself, unarmed, shut up for thirteen weeks on end, night and day, in a society of fanatical golfers–or, if he is a golfer himself, let him substitute fishermen, theosophists, bimetalists, Baconians, or German undergraduates with a taste for autobiography–who all carry revolvers and will probably shoot him if he ever seems to lose interest in their conversation, he will have an idea of my school life…For games (and gallantry) were the only subjects, and I cared for neither. But I must seem to care for both, for a boy goes to a Public School precisely to be made a normal, sensible boy–a good mixer–to be taken out of himself; and eccentricity is severely penalized.”

–C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

This captures the essence of middle school. I’m afraid it may also apply to some adult gatherings, but at least those are shorter.

“My father and mother were dead, and I used to wonder what sort of people they had been. In solitude I used to wander about the garden, alternately collecting birds’ eggs and meditating on the flight of time. If I may judge by my own recollections, the important and formative impressions of childhood rise to consciousness only in fugitive moments in the midst of childish occupations, and are never mentioned to adults. I think periods of browsing during which no occupation is imposed from without are important in youth because they give time for the formation of these apparently fugitive but really vital impressions.”

“Throughout the greater part of my childhood, the more important hours of my day were those that I spent alone in the garden, and the most vivid part of my existence was solitary, I seldom mentioned my more serious thoughts to others, and when I did, I regretted it.”
–Bertrand Russell