Somewhere I read (Schopenhauer, I think) that boredom occurs when you feel time pass while doing fruitless activity. Unlike pain, which invades our sensations, forcing our response, boredom seeps in from contrasting our current action from a better alternative.
Existential boredom, then, is a sense that life more generally is not fulfilling. It might be “pleasurable” at a daily level, but when one steps away, it lacks something. Life–like a story–needs a certain cohesion, a “meaning” or significance.
Not everyone thinks like this, but to me, life, without its stories, feels boring and void. Zen philosophy tries to get around this. As one post by Brad Warner says, “Let’s face it. Zen is boring. You couldn’t find a duller, more tedious practice than Zazen.” But all that sitting in silence trying to think of nothing has a point. As Warner writes, “Buddhists pay attention to their lives. Ordinary folks figure they have better things to think about.” And from that attention, one realizes the beauty of the mundane.
Now and then, living in the moment, I have felt that beauty. And feeling it, I try to extend it, but fail. I get too caught up in stories, in needing to “write” a meaningful life narrative where I’m doing meaningful things. When I can’t find meaning, I get that existential boredom.
To escape, I find a daily rhythm and forget big questions, trying to numb myself to this feeling. Or, more often, I ponder big questions idly, forgetting their conclusions and the work they impose. And I as get older, I autopilot more.
But the other day, I was digging through a box of old writing, from elementary school to college, and found a card for my eighteenth birthday. Inside, it read, “Time passes quickly. Dreams you are not working toward right now are dreams that will never be attained. (Quite cliche, but true all the same). Soon you will be rummaging through an old, dusty box and you will come across this card. You will open it, smirk at all the corny jokes, then read this note again. All the while as this occurs you will be subconsciously or consciously relating to the passing of time.”
As cliche as it is, the card struck me–not only for its uncanny prediction but also its “wisdom,” a wisdom turned cliche because we haughty mortals need to hear and re-hear it constantly: Memento mori.
And so the upshot. I love writing scholarship and research. It’s a passion. Something about learning and uncovering new things. But I also love writing stories. I remember the first time I felt profoundly meaningful and happy: up at 2 in the morning, furiously typing a few days before tenth grade, I finished a 100-something page draft of a memoir about the final week of ninth grade, told in the style of a Hunter S. Thompson. Alone, in dim basement, on an old Compac computer, staring at the blinking of the cursor, I uncovered something. Trying to put that moment into words, I’ve been struggling, so for now, I have to use the words of Eugene O’Neil:
“[F]or a second I lost myself, actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved into the sea, became white sails and flying spray – became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky. I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of man, to Life itself! To God if you want to put it that way.”
Since then, I’ve had similar moments when finishing draft, a feeling that nothing else has ever given me: not falling in love, not climbing mountains, or getting into a PhD program with funding, buying a car, defending a thesis, getting a masters, seeing the Great Pyramids, or spending time with my family. These are all profound, beautiful things–for which I am both grateful and enriched–but something about writing hits deeper and cuts closer.
However, after my senior year of undergrad, I stopped writing stories. For about two years now, I’ve bumbled a few lines into drafts, then left them jagged and unfinished, unable to find the discipline, hope, or trust to keep going.
But earlier this week, something clicked: I need to write to fill the bruised, calloused void that has been building in my gut for the past few years. I need to feel and do the hard stuff that it takes to find that “wild joy.” So, I’m going to devote the rest of my summer, as much as I can, to working on a creative writing project. I have other work to do–a summer job, work on a magazine, and reading/writing for school–but I need to write. Even if it leads nowhere.
Hence, this post. I’m going to use this blog to help keep me on task. Being public, it gives me someone to answer to beyond my excuse-savvy self, even if that “someone” is simply the feeling of publicness. So, as Shia LaBeof might say, “Just Do It.”