On Boredom

Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away. His nesting places–the activities that are intimately associated with boredom–are already extinct in the cities and are declining in the country as well. With this the gift for listening is lost and the community of listeners disappears. For storytelling is always the art of repeating stories, and this art is lost when the stories are no longer retained. It is lost because there is no more weaving and spinning to go on while they are being listened to.

-Walter Benjamin

Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. How beautiful is that?

Maybe that, in one sentence, can sum up everything that’s afflicting the Western world today. We have a severe boredom deficit.

Living in Minnesota, I’m acquainted with at least a couple of hunters. One guy, primarily a bow-hunter, was describing a typical day of hunting to me. You go early in the morning, you find a good tree, climb up it, set up a little brace that allows you to rest comfortably against the trunk, and…

You wait.

And wait some more.

You don’t talk to people while you’re hunting, not if you’re serious about it. You’re certainly not checking your email on your phone. There’s no noise, no radio, no headphones. It seems to be almost purely an excuse to be very still and silent for hours at a time.

Film production, too – my first mentor, a man named Kirk, was a commercial producer for decades, before which he worked on feature films and television. That man can tell a story – and he has plenty. Because, before the smart phone, there was nothing to do on a film set, for hours and hours in between setups, except sit around, smoke cigarettes, and talk with your colleagues.

Before television and even radio, in the evenings people used to sit in the parlor, playing games, singing songs, darning socks. Nothing was coming in from elsewhere – anything that was going on, anything that was diverting or entertaining, was self-generated by family members or neighbors dropping by.

I have a smart phone, and though I deleted facebook from my apps a year ago, I’m as bad as anybody with my occasional free minutes waiting in line for coffee or waiting in the car for the light to turn green. I’m not saying this is other people’s problem – it’s very much my problem too.

But I will be eternally grateful that distraction was harder to come by when I was a kid. We had network tv (not cable), and I watched many, many hours each week. But I was also bored. REALLY BORED. I spent a huge percentage of my waking hours as a kid with nothing to do and no digital distractions.

I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be making art or film or video without having spent so many hours beneath the warm weight of that brightly-plumed dream bird. And there’s a part of me that is really ready to be bored again, even as an experiment, to see what that bird might hatch today.

I’m uploading the whole essay, The Storyteller by Benjamin – highly recommended reading for anyone with fond memories of a boring childhood:






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