My middle school students sometimes complained their tasks were boring. I told them that boredom was not in the task. It was in the person. I told them any task was interesting if you approached it right.
This was, I knew, too complicated a thought for them. They wanted to believe that it was the world that was deficient in interest, not the operations of their brains. But it’s what I believed, and I wasn’t going to lie to them.
I have taught every grade from pre-kindergarten to college. People used to ask me if I didn’t find teaching young children boring. No, I thought they were astonishing. They were aliens. Their thinking was utterly unpredictable and yet entirely consistent.
I admit that there have been many days when I couldn’t bring myself to do something tedious. If I looked closely, that was usually because there was some risk involved. What if it didn’t work out? What if I was wasting my time? What if I was judged by the product?
But time cannot be wasted. Time is time. It is not a substance you can hoard or spend. Here I am, in this moment. I might as well take an interest.
For instance, every day since the pandemic began, I have gone out for a walk. Often, I take the same route every day. Yet it’s never boring. For example, yesterday I walked out to the park near me, where I have walked a hundred times.
But yesterday, instead of going straight up one hill, I turned right. And I discovered some wonderful things I hadn’t seen before, even though they were right next to my normal path.
For instance, a pair of perfect white mushrooms in the middle of a vast mowed green lawn. A park house behind a wrought iron fence. The statue of someone who was sheriff and mayor of Philadelphia and head of the park commission. An installation of rainbow-colored paint buckets someone had installed on an empty plinth where another statue had long been removed. And a framed loving-kindness meditation, propped against a rock near a stream.
That’s one way to avoid boredom. Go for a walk. Turn right instead of going straight.
Here are some other ways:
- Walk your path in reverse. Look up. Look down. Look behind you. The other side and the underside of everything is unexpected.
- Judge not, lest ye be bored. Really look at it before you decide against it. I saw a tiny tomato on the sidewalk on the way home today. It was discarded garbage, but it was also a glorious rush of color.
- Take a photo of the edges of something or the intersections of something, whether it’s a real photo or just looking through a viewfinder you make with your fingers.
- If you normally walk with earbuds in, take them out, or vice versa.
- Choose a theme based on the first thing you notice. Is today about the bronze insets in the sidewalk? Or is it about house numbers? Or fences? Is it about the color magenta? Or is it about the traces people leave behind them? Is it about fallen signs, or cats in windows?
Turn right instead of left, or go down a street you’ve never noticed before. Be brave. And then go home and do something else slow and routine, like mopping a floor or watering your plants, and let it surprise you.