Are You Not Entertained?
My Boring Week of Reflection
By now, you’ve heard of The Internet. The Internet is numbers mixed with air, and we’re not positive, but it may be actual God. When I talk to babies at grocery stores, I tell them The Internet is a big big titty don’t never dry up or nuffin. That’s how I relate to it anyhow; I suckle away at its yottabytes’ worth of media, swaddling myself in a tapestry of others’ voices and insights, i.e. not my own. I find enormous comfort in what The Internet offers me, but I’m also darkly suspicious of and uncomfortable with our relationship in which I am one Self, and the ‘net is an intellectual Other that tricks me into thinking its thoughts are mine.
I work in a dull office in Culver City, CA selling medical supplies, spending 8+ hours a day on the computer. My ride (desk) is pimped with two Asus monitors at a gnarly 160 degree obtuse and an ergonomic keyboard in panther (my word) black and a mouse that drains batteries like a frigging Game Gear. And a candle for farts. Those monitors though, here’s what I do: See I got one of ‘em angled at the window facing the office lobby, and that’s where I keep my open work tabs so’s all those drones think I’m working whiles I’m really- get this -watching media like a jefe on the other screen facing me, see?
It is an unsatisfying and boring job.
For the past 3 years, in an attempt to drown out internal screaming, I’ve constantly had either an earbud in for podcasts, or a Firefox window open to play movies and TV. I relentlessly pump audio/visual data into my head, because If I don’t, I think about my reality and become sad and anxious. It’s trickled into my home life too. I’ll walk around with an earbud in, podcast playing. I’ll rest my phone on the toilet and play it while I shower. I never play music by the way-it’s always a podcast or ripped audio from a YouTube interview or lecture. I seem to require constant conversation around me with familiar and trusted voices or else things can get very, very lonely.
The consequence of this behavior? My theory is that I’m skating on surface level consciousness without knowing if what I’m thinking is actually a me-generated thought. Did I think that, or did outside sensory input put that thought into me? Am I nothing but a surrogate thought-mother, repeatedly inceptioned, doomed to sloppily miscarry an other’s insight in later conversation? Hell if I even know anymore. I outsource so much of my thinking and opinions to podcasts/lectures/movies that I need to know definitively what happens in my own mind when the input is silenced. That’s why, last week, I stopped consuming media and just focused on not being entertained all the time. If I could bore myself into a state of zen silence, maybe I could at least define my anxiety (the known unknowns and whatnot.) If I could quell the head noise for a while, I could mentally fall into place. So I took a vow of boredom for one week in order to figure out:
- What am I so afraid of that I’m avoiding? and
- What happens when I’m forced to confront it?
This was gonna be “fun!”
This is basically a lost day. I will curse this Monday until my dying breath. Here’s what I’ve learned: one may diligently eliminate any and all AV media and still fill every moment of silence with Facebook, Twitter, internet pictures, and articles, all of which I should have banned. I should have known this would happen, but I was afraid. Instead of cold turkey, I try to taper off my internet use which, of course, is doomed from the outset. Hey! I did read an expose about Darrel Cox, the Chicago theatre artist who regularly abused his actors physically, verbally, and romantically. At least I’m enriching myself.
During work hours, as I troll social media, I have to stop myself regularly from clicking on videos. “That’s the line!” I tell myself. But ahh, one forgets the insidious lull of that liquid mistress, that guerrilla succubic masseuse…I speak in hushed reverence of auto-play. Auto-play is my worst enemy. It constantly threatens my mission, but I’m a modern man, I know what’s an image and what’s the internet equivalent of a venomous stonefish.
There is one stretch of useful time on Monday: the car ride to work. This is an agonizingly silent 13 minutes in which I flail spasmodically several times at my phone on the passenger seat. It’s completely involuntary; I whip my arm generally at the phone or at the radio dial and usually say “Gah!” and no doubt appear to my harried road mates to be a Tourretic homeless who’d apparently won a 2004 Honda Element on a game show.
Oh, and at 3:40pm my girlfriend is playing Gilmore Girls at home. I watch for twenty minutes before I realize I’d been beaten.
6:30am: Start out with a quiet, slow breakfast (egg and salami on an onion roll, French press coffee)
6:45am: Sweet, sweet internet. I bathe in a tiny LED glow as I stare lasciviously into knowledge’s vagina. Today, my strategy is to front-load the day with internet, get it out of the way. In retrospect, this was laughable. QED:
9:21am: I am already reading a Thrillist article about Guy Fieri that I read yesterday.
9:30–10:30am: Netflix F.O.M.O. and dread setting in. Anxiety about having just turned 30. Considering alternate career paths. Anger that I am wasting time not watching certain physics lectures. Walking by :(Sarah’s): office is a particular bear w/o headphones, as the dour in-house :(Sarah): emits the same neckskin-tensing cloud of discomfort that Odysseus would surely have whiffed had Scylla and Charybdis occupied the same side of the strait.
10:30–11am: The coffee today was strong but only elicited two substantial farts instead of the dump I was angling for. I’m noticing that my brain’s version of screen savers are songs getting stuck in my head. Today it’s The Beatles’ “In My Life.” Not a revolutionary insight, but interesting to see what my consciousness pulls to occupy the silence. I wonder now, if one has a song stuck in one’s head, is it a subconscious cry for help? Is it some kind of primordial mechanism that evolved to guard our own minds against vast silence, which silence is actually certain death if one chooses to enter and so pierce the final wordlessly desperate caul of safety installed a priori?
11:03am: Study Arby’s online menu.
There’s a reason they call it “Hump Day:” Wednesday humps you. Any week’s center of gravity lies on Wednesday, and that week, being made of time, lies upon you like a humpback whale, pancaking your own time in a display of temporal dominance that smooshes your own past and future into an indiscernible horizon, your personal spacetime now a monstrous fertile flat, passively accepting the week’s viscous seed: the present, and the present only.
Tralala hokay, so this is a big day: no internet, no nothing, and to make matters more interesting, I have a serious commute to make all across Los Angeles. Here’s my route for the day:
Culver City →Studio City →Marina Del Rey →Los Feliz →Baldwin Hills. If you know anything about this particular geography, you’ve already killed yourself. This will be an exquisite test of the self-imposed media blackout. I’ll be able to really listen to myself.
- As I drive, the angry screams in my head are loud and unbearable. They soon turn into audible “FUCKs.”
- The flailing towards my phone is serious and happens faster than I can think.
- Somewhere in Hollywood a pit forms in my stomach, some kind of urgent dread. By the time I’ve really perceived it, I can’t pin down what the actual bad thought is. What the hell is my nervous system doing? How is that helpful at all?
- At standstill traffic, I hunt for people texting in other cars, pooh-pooing them, and then pooh-pooing myself for such librarian-like pooh-pooing. Seriously though, when will they invent a shock mechanism on cell phones? The average response time to a green light must have slowed 800% since the invention of the iPhone.
- When an attractive woman pulls up next to me, I sort of make my face into what I imagine to be a more compelling face, taut and camera-ready. You don’t get far in L.A. with an uncompelling face, I’ll tell you that much.
- The lyrics to Everclear’s “I Will Buy You a New Life” are stupid. (“I will buy you a new car/perfect shiny and new.” Lazy, Art.)
I end my day with drinks with my friend C____. We are at a wine bar in Los Feliz sharing bread pudding, talking about the best cookies at different grocery stores, deals being struck with TV people, relationship horrors, life back home in Florida. Everything is a reward. I see the guy who played Cabbage in Scrubs. I tell him how much the show means to me. He and I shake hands, grateful for each other, as are C____ and I. The day melts into this present, the hump is pleasurable now. Years down the line, I will forget the day but remember this night at the wine bar as the real money shot it was.
This day sees me reach an almost transcendental level of boredom, so much so that my notes consist only of:
Subconscious urges…eg. the amount of times I pressed “f” on the keyboard… Open a tab, press “f,” close tab. I was piloted by this…Got so bad that finally, late in afternoon, I pressed “f” then was on Facebook for 3 seconds (enough to know I had 7 notifs) before I realized what was happening.
Here is the hint of a zen state I suspected may emerge after a few days of boredom, but no insight actually comes to me all day. I plod along, machine-like, not considering how the whole exercise is affecting me. I’ll partially blame it on the disjointed day: morning audition, half day of work, errands, then a little date night…not the ideal meditative canvas.
What is seriously disturbing is the lack of motor control on my part. Those “f” clicks, even the phoneward flailing from before, are tics of a truly disquieted mind. Something is hiding in some cave behind my brain stem, a watery shadow beast whose muffled cries I perceive only as echoes. What is it saying? Whence is its torment?
Thank god we’re watching Wet Hot American Summer tonight….oh sh-
I’m leaning into the boredom, really looking it in the eye to ask it what it is. Why have I needed to be so occupied, when today doing nothing feels natural? Strange things are happening. I’m starting to see my depressive thoughts more clearly as they fly in. They’re more like curiosities. What before was an overcast sky is now a raven smacking into a window: dreadful, but other…not my thought. That raven is someone else’s, while I’m just over here scanning some files. I’m buzzing along, enlightened and removed, in control of my impulses, coolly curious and without the vague dread that normally plagues me. Is this the zen state I’ve been looking for? I’m finally sniffing a victory over boredom I’d only read about:
“To be, in a word, unborable…. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish”
― David Foster Wallace, The Pale King
Yes, that was the impetus right there. I had wanted to bore myself into divinity. If I could become unborable, there would be no reason for undefined dread, right? I would have nothing from which to be distracted. And yet I know this lightness is fool’s gold, as I acknowledge that there is much that’s painfully unspoken inside me. I’m frightened of what it may be, how it will manifest if I keep on this path. How will I exorcise my own darkness if I am to face it head on? I do not have a battle plan, because I do not know my enemy.
The known unknowns.
Tomorrow I will turn Internet on in all its forms, and it will soothe me. I never did give myself a real chance at understanding; apparently something deep down thinks I’m not ready.
In the video game Star Fox 64, finishing a level is a matter of degrees. If you illuminate all the secrets of a world, if you fully understand it combat-wise, your mission is “Accomplished,” but if you only make it through to the end of a level, surviving by keeping your head down, your efforts are designated “Mission Complete.”
I’d describe my week, my Vow of Boredom, as “Mission Complete.” The dark caverns of my mind are largely unexplored. The spells of light acceptance and low-level bliss were side effects, not gateways to a deeper understanding. I got through the week, but at the point of possible enlightenment, I gave in to my self-imposed end date, it being an easy out. I am disappointed that I left business unfinished, but my companion dread is palpable, and he needs me to stay a little blind a little longer.
You know when you take a drug and resist it instead of riding its wave? You end up with a bad trip, which is what this week was, but you always gain insight during a bad trip. For me it was that I’m not mentally strong enough to face the void alone. I need an army of my girlfriend and Gilmore Girls, of C____ and Cabbage and bread pudding, of long conversations about nothing much, of the book passages that inspire me that I’m not ready for, and the spirit of wanting to do mental battle. I take comfort in the fact that I did some useful reconnaissance, and that the war is not over.