Friday, February 15, 2013

Duh, Bor-ing by Joseph Epstein

One of the many entertaining entries in 2012 Best American Essays is Joseph Epstein's musings entitled "Duh, Bor-ing."

Epstein writes: Some people claim never to have been bored. They lie. One cannot be human without at some time or other having known boredom. 

He points out that psychologists make a distinction between ordinary and pathological boredom; and, between situational and existential boredom. 

When bored, time slows drastically, the world seems logy and without promise, and reality itself can grow shadowy and vague.
The vagueness of boredom, its vaporousness and its torpor, is part of its mild but genuine torment.

Epstein takes a look at two books. First, Boredom: A Lively History by Peter Toohey who thinks boredom has its uses; that it can function as a warning sign that a change in life is needed or a stimulant for new thought and creativity. 

The second is A Philosophy of Boredom by Lars Svendsen who "is confident that boredom is the major spiritual problem of our day."  He believes boredom to be a social, cultural, and philosophical problem and wonders if modern life isn't just an attempt to escape boredom.

I have long held that we are a society that is totally over-entertained. Too many television channels, too many activities to choose from, too many books, movies, concerts, et al., to fracture our time.  All in an attempt to keep us from being bored.

To me, most of what passes for entertainment today is dull and tasteless and has no chance at all of curing boredom only deepening our sense of it.

Epstein notes that it was Pascal who wrote: "I have discovered that all evil comes from this - man's being unable to sit still in a room."

And he gives examples of how boredom has been represented in literature from authors Barbara Pym to Jean-Paul Sartre to poet Joseph Brodsky.

As a teenager I suppose I suffered from existential boredom due to a lethal combination of hormones and lack of energy and direction. As an adult, I have had boring jobs. Really, who hasn't? And to me, nothing is more boring than a Tupperware or any other in-home-sales party. One of the first conscious decisions I made about how I spent my time was when I long ago resolved, "I don't go to sales parties."

I have a low boredom threshold and try not to put myself in boring situations. If perchance I find myself in a lack-luster meeting or performance, I soften my focus,  put my imagination in gear and take my mind off to somewhere more stimulating.

If a book doesn't capture my interest pretty quickly - if I find my mind wandering or I start looking ahead to see how many pages are left in the chapter - I think "Bor-ing" and off it goes back to the library or to the charity shop.

I do admit to occasional bouts of restlessness; times when no activity or book or movie seems to appeal. That may be boredom, but usually I quench the restlessness with a nap. A good nap can cure a lot of things.

Well, I hope I haven't bored you with this post. Do you get bored easily? What bores you and what do you do about it? 


  1. First off I am with you on sales parties. When I went to work in a place with 15 or so other women after having been in only woman working in a law office for many years, the first party that came along I said "I don't do parties" and I have stuck with it for 10 years. The only party I have gone to in that time is a Scentsy party that my daughter-in-law had.

    It hasn't been that long since I have allowed myself to return a book to the library unread. Now if it doesn't catch my interest within 100 pages (or less) I take it back. Too many other books out there I might like.

    I'm not bored easily. If I do feel that way it is either a nap or a walk in the fresh air that snaps me out of it.


    1. Thanks for your response, Joyce. Just having a rule about sales parties means no feelings are hurt because you went to one and not another. Truth be told, I am not a fan of any party!

      I used to think I had to read the whole book once begun. It was when I worked at a bookstore that I was given 'permission' to quit a book that I didn't find engaging. Hurrah! Another rule that works. I silently thank the author for her or his time and effort and then move on.

      The Nap is my best friend.

  2. In the 18th century, the great lexicographer Samuel Johnson responded to a teacher who advised a pupil to read to the end whatever books he should begin:
    "This is surely a strange advice; you may as well resolve that whatever men you happen to get acquainted with, you are to keep them for life. A book may be good for nothing; or there may be only one thing in it worth knowing; are we to read it all through?"

    1. Good old Dr. Johnson. Great advice from a brilliant man. I had not read that quote before. Thanks, Mike, for your comment.