05 May 2007

I'm bored.

I'll admit it. I am terrified at the prospect of being trapped for more than a few minutes alone (like on a train or plane) without something to read or write.

Sure, being alone with my thoughts can be pleasant. Sometimes they slide dreamlike into each other and into unexpected and interesting territories. But like dreams, they're usually just out of reach of language and memory. And when I try to fix them in one place, or direct them, they end up in these aggravatingly useless circles, which I know I could easily straighten out with a pen and paper.

I shamelessly project these preferences on others too. I love how my dad will bring two books to the beach just in case he finishes one. I can't help but notice that subway riders in NYC read far more than those in Boston, and I can't help but feel a little surge of affection for New Yorkers every time this happens. Sitting in a Bristol doctor's waiting room with a pleasantly long manuscript to read, it was distressing to see how many other people had not even magazines for the hour-long wait. A mentally retarded guy in maybe his early 20's was in the waiting room too, and wasted no time in going to the children's area and playing with the sliding blocks. I respected that. (The toy with the marbles looked particularly fun.) And of all the atrocities committed by the US/UK in the GWOT one of the most vivid in my mind was when they banned books on transatlantic flights. Torture, massacres, dispossession---these I could understand---but what kind of twisted mind would ban books "just until things settled down"?

However, a recent paper titled A desire for desires: Boredom and its relation to alexithymia suggests that I shouldn't be so smug:

the bored individual is unaware of emotions and externally-oriented. Furthermore, although the bored person typically complains that the external world fails to engage them, the present findings suggest the underlying problem may be in the person’s inability to consciously access and understand their emotions. The present findings and accompanying literature review challenge the simplistic notion that boredom is never more than a trivial annoyance resulting from an under-stimulating environment.
This is only statistical correlation, I know, but perhaps should be occasion for introspection. On the other hand, that sounds boring, so I think I'll skip it.