About a month ago, I sat in a Dublin cafe, reading Pamela Paul’s New York Times piece “Let Children Get Bored Again.” It was a parent-focused article, arguing that the pressure on parents to fill children’s lives with constant activity, entertainment, and education actually denies children the chance to develop creative responses to boredom.
Since I am not a child or a parent, the article was not written for me. But the image it painted of lives stuffed with motion stuck with me. As a graduate student living abroad, I feel a constant pressure to do something. Buckle down on school work so I can meet up with people or explore on my own later. Share stories with the people from home. A morning without class means a morning to look for job opportunities. After all, we are down to our last few months in Ireland. And if there’s a spare moment on the bus, that’s a spare moment to keep up with articles and podcasts flooding over from the United States. There’s always something to do, someone to talk to, somewhere to go, some words to read. As I sat in that cafe, using my phone to do exactly what Paul recommended not doing for kids, I thought – what if I looked for moments in my life to cultivate boredom?
For me, cultivating boredom has meant choosing to put my phone down and focusing on the space around me. I put my phone into airplane mode during our weekend on the Aran Islands, and I spent more time talking to our tour guide. I used airplane mode again during our weekend in Northern Ireland, and I spent more time holding the landscape in my mind. A few days ago, my phone died on my way to a show at the Gaiety Theater, so I spent intermission people-watching the audience.
These moments of boredom have not given me a grand creative resurgence. But I have noticed something that I think is important for any student to know – when I put down my phone and calmed my mind, when I took time to watch and speak with people instead of constantly producing something, nobody was disappointed. My exercises with boredom made me realize that I self-inflict some of the pressure I feel to constantly fill my time. In the same way that Paul argues children will eventually accept boredom as part of creativity, I am learning to accept calmness as part of productivity. When we let go of the need to constantly move and constantly do, we can instead appreciate the busy, quiet, stressful, peaceful, awe-inspiring, boring, human moments that can exist in any moment. I believe these small moments of appreciation are a necessary and productive use of time. After all, as I said, we are down to our last few months here. Let’s use them well.