Recently I was on one of those budget airlines where you have to rent a tablet or provide your own to access the in-flight entertainment system. In preparation for one day being the most annoying 75-year-old alive, I refuse on principle to pay for any onboard extras and do not own an iPad. Usually I fill the time on planes by drinking two (2) glasses of wine with one (1) anti-nausea tablet and falling hard (hard) asleep about 40 minutes in.
On this particular trip, I had a slight hangover from a birthday party the night before and did not feel like landing at my destination a shriveled husk of a woman, desiccated from altitude and alcohol, so I decided to abstain. A few things then unraveled in quick succession: First, my goddamn wireless headphones died, which meant I could not listen to music on my phone or to the plane’s four weird audio channels of classical/French pop mashups. Then my computer died. Then I realized I had brought a magazine (the New Yorker, leave me alone) I had already mostly read. Also, it became apparent that no one was going to sit beside me, generally a rare treat, but in this instance a small disaster, because silently avoiding conversation with/judging the film choices of another person is at least a form of activity. We had seven hours and 48 minutes until Toronto.
I read all the listings at the front of the magazine. Then I read all the cartoon caption options at the back. I took out my phone and looked at some pictures from the birthday party the night before. They were as I remembered, having basically just happened. I ate some of the little snacks I’d brought with me. I sat back in my chair and closed my eyes for a bit, approximating half-remembered YouTube videos, longreads, and friends’ lectures about “mindfulness.” I looked out the window. I checked the time: less than a full hour had passed. I could not remember a time I had been this bored. Maybe a long weekday afternoon during an unscheduled part of summer vacation, when the neighbors had gone to camp and we hadn’t yet gotten a dog. Maybe once when I took a bus to New York and there was so much winter grit on the windows that you couldn’t even see outside. Maybe as a child, when my mother ran into someone at the grocery store and I just had to stand there watching them catch up and thinking, “If this is how it is to be an adult, I will absolutely end my life right here.” Maybe…never.
When we finally landed in Toronto, I’d done nothing for hours and felt like my brain had received some kind of deep-tissue massage that was also a juice cleanse. I had discovered a new, modern luxury: boredom. In 2018, it is easy and common to be tired, depressed, burnt out, dulled, vibrating with mundane panic, desperate for the sweet release of death, etc. But to be peacefully understimulated with no relief in sight is almost impossible. The average person’s life is full of little tasks to complete, group chats to respond “haha, yeah” to, emails to circle back on, and people you went to high school with to determinedly ignore on the bus. The entire world is one giant beeping alert to things we should do or can do or will do in the future, things we are doing at that moment but could be doing faster. It’s more or less impossible to be bored. Bored means there are not thousands of to-do’s to accomplish. Bored means it doesn’t matter that there’s not. Bored means you are free. In a time of endless, empty stimuli, it is a thrill to be understimulated. Being bored is wonderful and relaxing and I am going to help you get there. The first step is reading this article and then everything else I have ever written, ha ha, but shhh. Listen now.
Start with your surroundings. It’s crucial, for instance, that you don’t have access to the internet and that you are somewhere without too many physical distractions. Being stranded on some form of transportation is a great start. (A plane is ideal; looking out a train window can be very scenic and engaging and therefore not really boring.) The third day of a weeklong stay in a remote location with patchy cell reception is also good. (To gain access to a cottage, simply contact a fancy family member, eccentric recluse, or recipient of generational wealth on the third year of an internship.) It’s not mandatory to be in an airplane or a cabin on top of a mountain, but you should have no plans and nowhere to be, and this is just a very hard state of being to achieve in a city or anywhere you can get online. I guess you could clear your calendar, smash your phone, and then go sit on a balcony or something, but wouldn’t you rather be trapped in the great expanse of nature than your own apartment’s smoking area? Go on, call Aunt Bernadine.
Next: Don’t even think about listening to music. Being bored is about being abandoned by activities, people, even your own feelings, and the entire purpose of music, from what I can tell, is to make you feel so many emotions at once that you need to move your body so some of them go away. In general, you should be seeking a repetitive activity with very little satisfaction or purpose attached to it. Consider partially sorting your receipts for next year’s taxes or carefully cleaning the back part of your oven. If done for long enough and with sparse enough knowledge of human muscles and their functions, you can certainly bore yourself through aimless stretching. Though try not to move around too much. As I say, it’s best to just be stuck sitting somewhere that not much is happening. The formula for boredom is something like: lengthy expected duration + monotony + no hope of the activity becoming more interesting.
Here are some things you can do once you’re bored: write lists, draft a letter, decide everything in the future is equally possible and think in detail about how you’d like your life to be, look at your hands for a really long time, imagine a lightly flirtatious conversation with Jemaine Clement, try to imagine a kind of hat you’d really be able to pull off, think about your posture, look at the sky and feel weird about it, do People magazine’s too-easy crossword, think a lot about the past (future not recommended), breathe very deeply, wonder how similar being dead is to being bored, eat something that is just around, cry, moisturize, consider some kind of adult learning course, imagine the deaths of your loved ones and practice crying, get stressed out about history, plan a speech that’s been a long time coming, or just lie down on the floor. As you can see, the possibilities are endless.
Don’t stress if boredom doesn’t come easily to you on the first try. Can you imagine how hard it is for Rihanna to be bored? If Rihanna’s mind wanders and she absentmindedly doodles anything even vaguely resembling a shoe, Puma has begun manufacturing it in large quantities before she’s done drawing the tastefully large laces. Then it’s like, Oh, great, another $20 million and a world tour and series of hot photoshoots, plus I have to have some kind of steamy affair with the world’s foremost sweat-wicking fabric engineer, FUCK, my life is so full of shit to do. This happens all the time, but I bet she still manages — not as often as she’d like — to take a lil’ second to bask in some boredom. Once in a while, Rihanna is like, on a roof in Dubai, and her phone falls into the infinity pool, and her assistant has just absolutely burst down the stairs to buy her four new ones, but for a quick moment she’s up there, all alone, looking at a beautiful desert vista she’s seen a thousand times, smoking weed the quality of which you cannot even imagine, and she’s just like, “Ohmygodddddddddddd NOTHING is happening,” and that is why we may possibly have a lingerie line from a woman who has publicly disavowed the bra. I will never say this in any other circumstance, but if Rihanna can do it, so can you.
So, that’s it. If you do not agree that it is nice to be bored, you can fuck right off with your “digital detox” or your meditation, your float-tank evening, or any of the movies you agree to let your boyfriend show you. Admit it: You’re desperate for boredom. Go on, sit down somewhere and don’t stand up until you’ve thought about your hands for a really long time. Trap yourself underground and break your headphones. Do an activity so soft it’s almost like doing nothing, then do almost nothing for many hours. Throw your phone in the river. You did it! You’re bored. It’s nice.