The boredom of childhood was nothing like adulthood’s. Back then, boredom was simply a matter of physical space: stuck at home with nothing to do, or at the hairdresser’s waiting for Mum. If I complained, she would offer me a mop. “Some of us don’t have the luxury of being bored,” she would say.
Soon, I realised boredom was more about mental space. I filled my mind with books, films and the internet. But the adults complained I never stuck to anything; not dance club, or book club, or the short-lived dance book club led by a community centre volunteer who hated dance and books and, likely, life.
“I don’t get bored easily,” I’d say. “I’m just interested in other things.”
A university lecturer on Flaubert’s Madame Bovary said boredom is a sign of imminent artistic explosion. I clung to the notion. By then, my main boredom trigger was people – the exercise-obsessed friend, the date unable to talk about anyone but himself. I would fret: if interesting people are so because of their interests, are boring people so because of their boredom? If I am bored, am I boring? I couldn’t think of anything worse.
This week I found that copy of Madame Bovary when I cleared out the shed. “Boredom is a precursor to creativity,” I’d written in the margin. Maybe I needed that to be true to justify my own. Why do we attach a moral value to boredom as though only the unimaginative get bored?
A decade later, I think it’s safe to call it: no creative explosion (a sparkler at best). But if the extremity of lockdown has taught me anything, it’s that boredom is an unavoidable fact of life. No matter how tightly we schedule our lives, boredom will always find us – in the supermarket queue, and in work and pleasures we usually like. I’m not ashamed to say I have been bored, even when busy. But not every human action needs to be judged as good or bad, productive or not. Perhaps it’s that way of thinking that’s most boring of all.