The Power of Boredom

I recall being nerdily thrilled when, in one of my first senior school french lessons, I learned that ‘to bore’ was a reflexive verb – that is, ‘I’m bored’, becomes, ‘Je m’ennui’, and literally translates as ‘I bore myself’.

I liked it. I liked the shift of responsibility onto the ‘boree’ rather than the ‘borer’ – and that when push came to shove, they were one and the same thing. I still like it.

As a sickly child, feebly dicing with death through measles, asthma, wasp attack and other scenarios which seem ridiculous now, but were serious then – I spent a great deal of my formative years lying in a bed. Sometimes at home, sometimes in hospital, but mostly alone and without any stimulus – except my own brain.

DSC00539Only recently, in a radio interview, I heard Terry Gilliam talking about how important his own childhood bedridden years had been in forming – or perhaps informing – his imaginative powers. He is not alone, there are many creative spirits out there whose expansive inventive horizons were formed through some degree of fever and many hours alone.

Could this happen now? I recall the shift in my own adolescence in the 1970s, how it was suddenly possible to have the small black and white television from the kitchen easily transported to my bedside. Don’t get me wrong – I loved that, it was great! – I’d always been a keen reader, but when reading, my brain still had to work for that level of transportation from the immediately experienced pain or discomfort – with telly, all I had to do was gaze at the screen, and I was filled with beautiful amusing distractions.

This also reminds me of my first interest in computer games. Yes, I played ‘Pong’ when it first came out, but never cared for Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pacman, or any other of the computerised addictions that snared my peers. But then there was Sonic the Hedgehog, and my own special favourites . . . . .  Toejam and Earl! I lost about a weekful of evenings to them, and then realised I was losing more – my ability to dream properly – all I had were crude platform levels and an electro-plink soundtrack, where once there had been transcendental transformation and indescribable inter-dimensional journeyings to an unrecordable soundtrack – it had to stop – and it did.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a Luddite plea . . .

BUT . . .

Childhood these days (and adulthood come to that) is full of noise, of vision, of sensory content – so that to have to rely on flexing your own nascent imaginative muscle and finding what does and doesn’t truly inspire your soul, engage your mind and fire your heart is an increasingly rare occurrence.

I am aware of a high level of anxiety, verging on panic, around what might happen if  children are left to invent their own pastimes – or even thoughts.

But this time – this space – is crucial . . . not only for exploration into the fantastic, but also to gain a sense of security in oneself, in one’s own company, one’s own brain, and one’s own ability to solve the inevitable internal conundrums which will contrive to conspire against peace of mind and sense of self at various points in a life.

My plea is not to fear boredom, but to take the zen-like view that where space exists, so motion becomes possible – what comes to fill that space, even from the youngest imaginations, can be magical, can also be practical, and will almost certainly feed the architect of that ‘something’ with a new-found confidence in his or her ability to survive –  unaided, if needed –  in future life.

Nikky Smedley.



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