Bored for creativity + Iggy Pop
(no. 27) I have not baked a thing. By Stephen P. Williams
(If 100 of you click the heart, above, I will win)
But first, this:
Just stop eating. Really. The fountain of youth spouts water, not food.
How we cope
I love Marie Coons’ illustrations of New Yorkers adapting to their sometimes unusual environments, like subway trains, museums and crowded sidewalks. Today she’s drawn people who are keeping themselves busy at home by reading themselves into a nap, lifting heavy cans, using books as yoga balances and baking with whatever is in the kitchen. Follow Marie on Instagram @mcswiss
The Liberating Effect of Boredom
Many of us who are sheltering in place have a lot more time on our hands. No commute. No “things to do.” In sum: boredom. While a little free time to relax and catch up can be welcome, boredom is actually a health threat, especially to people who are feeling their age. Boredom can lead to feelings of worthlessness, lack of purpose, intense and anxious restlessness and the feeling of being unloved, or even unloveable. Depression can follow, with all of it’s potentially harmful or deadly effects in people of any age.
I think most of us intuitively grasp that days of wine and Netflix aren’t healthy in the long-run (especially without the chill). Thus, we’ve turned to hobbies, home exercise, reading and cooking.
Here in New York City we’re still living the shelter in place lifestyle, unlike our more adventurous cousins in Texas and elsewhere who get to sip cocktails through their masks while sitting six feet apart from the person they’d like to chat up down the bar. I haven’t been to Betaworks, my coworking “club” in months, and the last non-digital social interaction I had was last week when I sat on my stoop and spoke to a masked neighbor who was standing 10 feet away in the street. At least I think it was him.
I have things to do — newsletter, memoir, book proposal — that keep me busy for much of the day. But I feel a need for recreation and levity that just isn’t fulfilled by making swirly peanut butter spoon sculptures to stick in my mouth, or watching Lebanese family crime dramas, such as the riveting Al Hayba.
On Netflix, I watch Al Hayba with English subtitles, but maybe it’s time to get out the Babel study guide for Arabic.
TV at 8 am? I can feel myself getting older and more boring by the moment. I’ve worn track pants and sneakers every day this week. My long white hair is starting to make me look like a character actor in the old TV show, Death Valley Days.
But I’m not gone yet. And I’ve discovered that what I sometimes call boredom is what we used to call time to think. Space. And in that space there’s a lot of room for creative thinking. For instance, on my daily walks and bike rides through desolate Manhattan, I always get at least one big idea. It usually occurs about a half hour into my exercise, popping up quickly and impacting something I’m writing or planning at home. That’s a nice, reliable side effect of boredom, which we might reframe as freedom to think.
The Academy of Management Studies, an organization whose name sounds like it might be a branch of The Institute of American Know How (an actual business, in Quito, Ecuador), published an interesting paper titled, “Why Being Bored Might Not be so Bad a Thing After All.” The study begins from the premise that most people associate boredom with negative consequences, such as delinquency or substance abuse. Then it suggests that boredom might actually be a boon for creativity. The authors found that boredom could boost productivity on an idea generation task and, in highly motivated people, increase their creative thinking.
Another study, published in The Creativity Research Journal, explored the ways that daydreaming can connect boredom to enhanced creativity, suggesting that how you respond to boredom — with your head down and anger coming out of your ears, or by daydreaming something more pleasant - is the key.
Philosophy professor Andreas Elpidorou surveyed a number of research papers to come to the conclusion that boredom keeps us working hard. It reveals to us what is important and what is not. Without boredom, we would just keep doing dumb tasks. Boredom puts us back on track, he writes in the journal, Frontiers of Psychology.
"In the absence of boredom, one would remain trapped in unfulfilling situations, and miss out on many emotionally, cognitively, and socially rewarding experiences. Boredom is both a warning that we are not doing what we want to be doing and a 'push' that motivates us to switch goals and projects," he writes. That is, if you can push yourself. The main problem with being bored is that it often is all consuming, creating a feedback loop that assures further boredom. Just ask Iggy Pop, a man who has aged very, very well.
A cautionary video
In the olden times (6 weeks ago) you could reliably expect at least one person a day to tell you how busy they were. Work, kids, beauty routines, sport — but mostly they were busy doing stuff on their phones. These days, unless you are in one of the newly liberated states where you can get your hair cut by a man in a wet suit, mask and gloves, lots of people have plenty of time on their hands, since they aren’t going to church, meeting lovers in hotels, or playing softball against their enemies from the other corporation. Most of us are having to reckon with the second hand spinning in front of us, and no way to escape it. That’s a good time to look to the distant past (before smart phones) to see how people led satisfying lives without TIK TOK and group texts. Books. Baking bread. Falling asleep on the couch. Cleaning under that couch. And cooking nice meals that you share with others in your house. All of these will help keep you from falling into boredom and its subsequent effects, which aren’t pretty as you age. Stay young. I mean, why not try to feel young even as you accept being old?
Lots more interesting news:
Obesity vs. aging: it’s a tie
It seems that being obese has many similar effects to being old. From your DNA to your endocrine system. This is sad news, I think, but very important.
The protective effect of chunky knitwear
Thank you to all the hard working people risking their lives today
This celebration for all the health workers and front line workers happens every night at 7 pm in NYC. Tonight it made me very happy.
One potential good that will come from this pandemic
Thank you to everyone who has subscribed to my newsletter— the number keeps rising!