Sometimes I find myself wondering about myself -it helps to pass the time now that I’m retired. Of course, I don’t know if it’s just because I’m getting bored lately, or whether I’m actually a long time practitioner, but that’s the thing about boredom I guess: it’s so boring that any thought that trickles up out of the void is stimulating. Why is boredom, for example? Is it thrust upon me, or do I wander into it? Still, even asking the question is, to some extent, antidotal and helps to lift the fog of non-being.
What really bores me, though, is having to wait for other things to prick the bubbles of my discontent: mooning about until I’m acted upon. It strikes me that boredom might actually be the lack of agency. A dearth of effort.
And yet, I wonder if ennui may not even be an absence at all, but rather the blurred shadow of something just out of reach, something we can only resolve up close. And not even the constant stream of information to which we are all exposed is remedial if it is divorced from significance. Context. There is value in data only when it has meaning for us -when it is functional. A phone book is filled with information, but it only acquires meaning when we have asked the right question; then, suddenly discovered, the answer is like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. We have agency again. We are in the world once more.
Still, it’s not only about myself that I wonder. I remember one day wandering aimlessly through a park and wondering how to fill the time until I could justify going for lunch. I meandered into a little open area and saw somebody I thought I recognized. Billy and I had been roommates years ago at university, but despite living in the same city, we’d barely seen each other since we’d graduated and he’d swapped me for a woman to live with. I didn’t blame him, though -I was terribly messy, and needlessly garrulous at the best of times. Shea, on the other hand, was quiet and organized; Billy needed that.
But there he was, sitting silently on a park bench pretending to read a book whose pages he never turned. I remembered him trying that on me -pretending to be absorbed in some book or other when I’d come back to the room after an evening class. I knew he’d been faking it because I kept seeing the same page open each time I checked; I never confronted him about it, though -I knew I was difficult to live with.
I was surprised to see him in the park by himself, and decided to sit on the far side of the bench and see if he’d put the book down this time.
He surprised me by looking up from the book immediately and smiling. “G,” he said extending his hand for me to shake, and then suddenly retracting it -social distancing rules are hard to forego.
We exchanged pleasantries, if not our hands, but Billy seemed distracted and distant. I wondered about it -we had parted as friends and I’d even been over to their place for dinner in the early days after university.
“Still with Shea?” I asked, and immediately regretted it because his face fell and he looked away. Why am I so blunt?
He nodded, but stared at some children playing in the grass on the other side of the open green space. “For now, anyway…”
I didn’t know what to say, so I remained uncharacteristically silent. He noticed the change and glanced at me. “We’ve … well, actually Shea, decided that we should have some time apart…”
His voice was shaky and I thought for a moment he was going to get up and walk away.
But I suppose he realized he needed to talk about it, so he closed the book and sent his eyes on a brief mission to explore the expression on my face. Finally, he shrugged and took a stertorous breath. “She says she’s bored.”
I waited for him to continue, uncertain what to do with my eyes, so I merely stared at his book.
He took another deep breath. “She says I’m too…” -he searched somewhere inside his mouth for the right word- “…too predictable.” He glanced at me to gauge my reaction, then stared at the children again.
I allowed myself a little smile, but I waited for him to continue.
“I mean, we didn’t always feel the need to talk whenever we were together. We both seemed content to sit in the same room, quietly reading or working on our computers…” His eyes read my face to see if I found that unusual. I didn’t, though -I knew what Billy was like. “We’ve always been like that G… years of enjoying being with each other, and now she’s bored…?”
Suddenly his eyes perched firmly -almost painfully- on my cheeks. “Why am I suddenly boring in our relationship now?”
Unusually for me, I didn’t know what to reply, so I looked away for a moment.
He shrugged again, still watching my face. “Nothing’s changed; I mean I think she still loves me, but…” Then he blinked to stop the tears that were welling up in his eyes. “What is boredom anyway, G?”
I thought about it, then sighed. He continued to stare at me, but quietly this time, so I decided I’d better say something.
“Well, for some people, it’s agency…” It felt awkward using a word like that with Billy; he’d think I was just showing off my vocabulary.
But his face brightened up and he interrogated me with a different expression this time. “Agency…?” he said, and almost smiled. “That’s the kind of word Shea would use.”
She’d done her major in Philosophy, I remembered, so I nodded, hoping I was finally on the right track with him. “Sometimes, it’s simply getting permission to introduce novelty, I suppose…” I thought about it for a moment, remembering my recent ruminations on the matter. “It’s wanting to initiate something -being the phone rather than the antenna…” I quickly closed my mouth as I realized I was getting too carried away with the idea… even if it was rather clever.
Billy had never appreciated that defect in my personality, but I could see his eyes beginning to slow their frantic flights to and from my face. He fumbled around in a pocket in his jacket, then switched to another until he pulled out a phone.
I was surprised he even had one -it was so unlike Billy. “What are you…?” I started to ask, when I noticed his eyes beginning to twinkle.
“Phoning Shea,” he said in answer to my still unasked question. “Maybe she’d like to take me somewhere for lunch, eh?”
I had to smile. Sometimes it’s really hard to stay bored.