BORED SO, YOU CAN'T THINK OF A THING THAT'S INTERESTING AND FUN, AND YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO, AND YOU _ YAWN _ JUST CAN'T GET EXCITED ABOUT ANYTHING
HERE'S A MONTH FOR YOUEven the gods themselves struggle in vain against boredom, observed German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who never was a very upbeat kind of guy. And anyway he didn't know Alan Caruba.
Caruba says he can't remember the last time he was bored.He has noticed, though, that some of us are more prone to boredom than he is. So a couple of years ago he proclaimed July as National Anti-Boredom Month.
Caruba is a public relations consultant who in 1984 founded The Boring Institute. He speaks in the editorial "we," although he is the institute's only employee.
"Our first purpose was to spoof boring newsletters," explained Caruba recently from his office in Maplewood, N.J. The media thought the spoof was pretty funny, so Caruba followed up by issuing the institute's official list of the country's 10 most boring celebrities. Pretty soon people from all over the country were calling Caruba to talk about the flip side of boring: The passive voice of the same verb, that changes the meaning entirely.
If you're boring you probably don't know it. If, on the other hand, you're bored you know it all too well.
What the country needed, Caruba decided, was a National Anti-Boredom Month. He picked July because July is mid-way through the year. "It's a good time for people who experienced a lot of boredom the first six months of the year to do something about it." Caruba is a take charge kind of guy.
National Anti-Boredom Month is now listed in "Chase's Annual Events," alongside National Bake Bean Month, National Hot Dog Month, National Peach Month, July Belongs to Blueberries Month and National Hitchhiking Month ("to call attention to the pleasures and health of hitchhiking"). Apparently it isn't that hard to claim a month as your own.
National Anti-Boredom Month, says Caruba, is "a self-awareness event to encourage people to examine what they find boring in their lives and to offer recommendations on how to avoid boredom."
Coincidentally, Caruba happens to sell a paperback guide, "Boring Stuff: How To Spot It and How To Avoid It" ($5.95) and a poster, "25 Ways To Avoid Boredom" ($2.50).
His list of "things to do" if you're bored is not especially inspiring. It includes activities such as "collect stamps" and "invent something." Like maybe a National Month, after which you will get calls from all over the country asking for interviews.
History does not enlighten us much about ancient boredom, although the concept, or at least the feeling, probably dates back to a few minutes before some Neanderthal invented the first game. According to Caruba, boredom is now "a national epidemic," which implies that there is more of it going around than there used to be.
It may be, though, that boredom is simply more apparent these days because we have more elaborate ways of trying to avoid it. If you can choose from 10,000 titles and 31 flavors, and you're still bored, then boredom has at least reached new thresholds.
Longer life spans devoted decreasingly to basic survival also make boredom more apparent, and more poignant.
"Boredom is the major problem of the aged," notes Salt Lake geriatric physician Victor Kassel. "They feel they have no reason to get out of bed in the morning."
What the elderly need to do - long before they are elderly - is to develop "replacement interests" for their work and their families, advises Kassel.
First, "They should develop a taste for the intellectual life, especially reading and writing." Second, "they should develop what we call hobbies, in which they produce something from nothing. Something that is an expression of their own individuality." Third, says Kassel, the elderly should get involved in politics. And finally they should become "constructive critics of their community."
Kassel takes his own advice. At 68 he is learning to type and he devotes a portion of his energies to writing what he categorizes as "nasty letters" to newspaper editors and congressmen, often taking unpopular stands. One of his recent criticisms is about volunteerism, which he calls "exploitation of the boredom of older people."
Kassel sees the roots of boredom all around him. "Look at all those kids with radios on their shoulders," he grouses. "And all the joggers with earphones. They lack the ability to stand themselves."
Instead of learning to develop their inner resources, he says, people now expect to be entertained.
Salt Lake clinical psychologist Stephen Morris remembers being bored to tears growing up in Logan. But out of that boredom, he says, grew an ability to generate his own ideas.
Parents today do a disservice to their children, he feels, if they try to keep those children constantly amused. Instead, he advises, "provide a context in which creativity can happen."
While boredom may be a symptom of depression, notes Morris, there is s significant difference between the two. Boredom is episodic; depression includes a loss of pleasure in anything. And the depressed person, adds Morris, doesn't have the energy to do something to get out of his boredom.
Boredom in itself won't kill you, but there are people who tend to lose sight of that. Particularly teenagers, notes Sylvia Bagley, a psychotherapist who last year had a teen call-in talk show on a Salt Lake radio station.
"Because of hormones and lack of information, teens tend to dramatize their boredom," she notes. "And that can be dangerous." She advises parents not to ridicule or get angry with their kids. Being bored, Bagley adds, doesn't mean you're a lesser person.
But it would be a mistake, as even Caruba admits, to think that life has to be exciting every minute. For the most part, he notes, life does represent certain routines. Learning to not only make something out of nothing but to be willing to settle for what seems like nothing may be the real art.
"The lives of most great men have not been exciting except at a few great moments," wrote Bertrand Russell. "A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men."