Monday, January 14, 2013

"The truth is that everyone is bored..." -Albert Camus

At the risk of sounding cynical I want to write briefly about boredom. But first, is it permissible to attribute this quote to one person? I suspect many people said it before him--it's not some eye-opening, earth-shattering statement--but what he had above others is the social position to disperse the statement to an audience respected and valued his word. Plus, he was right, and the statement is still true today: "The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits."

In the December 24 & 31, 2012, issue of The New Yorker, there are three really great articles: "Recall of the Wild," about engineering wide swaths of land in Europe to mimic a Paleolithic ecosystem, "Utopian for Beginners," about inventing language and the way language affects the way we perceive the world, and "Polar Express," about a merchant ship journeying through the Arctic from Murmansk, Russia, to various Chinese ports. It was in this final article, "Polar Express," that I identified with a particular passage:
"The crew experience boredom. What is boredom? Boredom is staring for hours at the smooth, mirror-like water, hoping to catch a glimpse of something, anything. Boredom is deciding to create a tea strainer from a soda can, going down to the galley, cutting a can in half, poking holes in the bottom with a knife, and then cutting one's finger, pretty badly, on the aluminum. Boredom is not just showing up exactly on time for the nightly Ping-Pong tournament but holding a clandestine practice session during the afternoon. Less productively, boredom is playing Spider Solitaire on the computer in the rec room. Boredom is watching other people play Spider Solitaire in the rec room. The ship's champion was Vadim. He played on the third, most difficult level, and he won a quarter of his games. But he took no joy in it. "Motherfucker," he could be heard muttering at the computer. "Motherfucker."
I have never been trapped on a merchant ship sailing through the Arctic and so I cannot categorically identify with such boredom as this writer describes. But boredom happens to us all, regardless of how exciting our lives may be. Soldiers in combat experience boredom in between moments of combat. (I also am not a solider, and that sentence is based on Sebastian Junger's War in which he chronicles life with Army soldiers in the Korengal Valley.) In another instance, perhaps we have a hobby such as skydiving which others see as exciting or thrilling. And maybe we do this activity so often that our senses are dulled and the weekly skydive just doesn't do it for us anymore. That's boredom, too, or maybe it is banality and the dulling of one's senses. In such cases we crave to go bigger, faster, higher, longer (and any other suitable comparative), in order to keep the boredom at bay.

No, I have not experienced such prodigious boredom as that crew. I suspect that the isolation of the ship compounded on the boredom they experienced. But I do think that boredom must be experienced so that one can value and appreciate the greater moments of life. As cynical as it sounds, boredom (and listlessness) is a part of life and the faster we accept and come to terms with this fact, the easier it will become to bounce out of these spells. If everything was happy all the time, if everything was exciting all the time, would you know it? Could you appreciate it? For the same reason that we want darkness to appreciate light, that we want the winter to appreciate the summer, that we have to lose to appreciate victory, that we need Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Kanye to appreciate how infinitely better the following bands/musicians are: AC/DC, The Allman Brother Band, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Guns N' Roses, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Boston, The Clash, Dire Straits, The Eagles, Pearl Jam, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, The Grateful Dead, Hendrix, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Cash, Keb' Mo', Metallica, Neil Young, CSNY, Muddy Waters, Peter Frampton, Pink Floyd.... I rest my case. One thing that has really been driven home for me over the past two years is to value the greatness in life, the good things, the things that make you happy. Even if it is a wave from a neighbor or a hello in the morning, it's something. A few days ago I was walking home from school for the ten-thousandth time, not really thinking anymore on my walks, as it seems my feet know where they want me to go. This time the banality ended when I received a wave and a smile from a neighbor driving past. It was enough to lift my spirits and appreciate the rest of the walk.

This can all be summed up much better by the comedian Louis C.K.
'I'm bored,' is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you've seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you're alive is amazing, so you don't get to say, 'I'm bored.'
But, then again, I'm pretty sure he hasn't been stuck on a boat for a month either.

And now for some pictures:
An abandoned building in a village.

At Kukeri in Razlog. Traditional Bulgarian dress.

She wanted to give her Dad the apple.

A happy child.

Have you even seen a chimney sweeper?

Abandoned truck in Gorna Dryanovo, a village in the Rhodopi Mountains.
Home to PCV-extraordinaire Tracy Minard.
The truck isn't her home, the village is her home.
Tracy, if you're reading this I think people will understand what I'm saying,
but if they don't then everyone will think you live in this truck.
But I think my readers are smarter than that.

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