The Death of Boredom

I’ve got something of a mantra: BOREDOM IS A MYTH.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that people can’t be bored… Rather that they shouldn’t be. This also doesn’t mean that there’s no value in downtime, just relaxing, idle chat with friends, or an aimless wander through nature.

No, I’m aimed at the “ugh, there’s nothing to do!” kind of boredom – sitting around uncomfortable, focused on your lack of options. Daydreaming is not boredom. Scrolling through Facebook, barely even reading anything, is. Straight up killing time with a vague awareness “I’m bored” and little else is, well, bullshit.

I want to be clear about this distinction. Idle thought is healthy. Creativity depends on it. You need time and mental space to sort through ideas, to have ideas in the first place.

One of my favorite thinkers, Bertrand Russell, writes in detail about “fruitful monotony” and it’s impact on an overall happy life:

Boredom, however, is not to be regarded as wholly evil. There are two sorts, of which one is fructifying, while the other is stultifying.The fructifying kind arises from the absence of drugs and the stultifying kind from the absence of vital activities.

What applies to drugs applies also, within limits, to every kind of excitement. A life too full of excitement is an exhausting life, in which continually stronger stimuli are needed to give the thrill that has come to be thought an essential part of pleasure. A person accustomed to too much excitement is like a person with a morbid craving for pepper, who comes last to be unable even to taste a quantity of pepper which would cause anyone else to choke. There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the avoidance of too much excitement, and too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty… A certain power of enduring boredom is therefore essential to a happy life…

Serious smarts…

Applied here for our purposes, “stultifying” boredom is the kind that makes us absently scroll social media, binge on Netflix shows we don’t even like all that much… Fruitful “boredom” is revisiting your parts for a new song on the commute, playing slow single strokes on a pad to scrutinize your technique… It’s all of the less-than-exciting things that ARE, in fact, essential to the “happy life” of a growing, musical, skillful drummer.

And I’d venture that these moments aren’t boredom at all – if you’re interested enough in them. It is monotonous at times, most certainly, and not every moment of this musical lifestyle is going to be the excitement of the stage, or even the camaraderie of rehearsal. Still, though, if you can invest yourself in the craft enough, all the “boring” bits are still pieces of the larger passion. It’s not boring if you know you’re working toward something.

Even outside of musicmaking or practice, interest and intent kill boredom in its tracks. Watching a movie doesn’t have to be done out of boredom or malaise… Instead, you can pick something interesting and actually pay attention. Get everything out of it that you can. This is about choosing what you’re going to do – or at the very least, assessing why you’re doing whatever. If it’s daydream time, so be it… But that’s not boredom. If you’re engaged, you aren’t bored.

But what about the dullest moments? Waiting in line or sitting on a bus, pretending to be patient for your late friends? Anyone and everyone has the power to beat back boredom, frustration, and impatience just with their own minds. This is prime time for fruitful, idle thought or observation of the scene around you… The kind of self-occupying, slow satisfaction Russell talks about…

For we drummers, it’s EVEN EASIER.

Sticks and pedals are just extensions of your limbs, and there isn’t a single one of us that has mastered every possible pattern, rudiment, or subdivision. Bored? You’ve got hands and feet and a lifetime’s worth of drumming to study… You don’t even need sticks for a bunch of it. How could you possibly fail to a think of a way to “entertain” yourself?

The first page of Stick Control should keep you company for plenty of time...
The first page of Stick Control should keep you company for plenty of time…

Your bus ride isn’t boring, it’s paradiddle practice. Waiting in line at the bank isn’t purgatory, it’s a chance to think about how your new fill works as triplets. Your date’s late to the restaurant? Awesome, time for ostinatos under the table.

This “defeat” of banal, complaint-ridden boredom is possible for everyone, but we’ve got the golden ticket. We can literally practice anywhere, even tapping fingertips against palms in near silence. You don’t have to do it all the time, but there’s really no excuse for that uncomfortable, “nothing to do” feeling.

Again, there’s no requirement for spending all of your downtime this way, and I won’t even go as far as Lord Bertrand to suggest that you carefully ration the amount of entertainment or raw pleasure you take in…

Instead I’m suggesting that you never engage in “stultifying boredom” ever again…

That you be aware enough of all there is to do and think about in a broad sense (read a book, play a sport, paint a picture, watch the birds) – and if you just can’t think of anything interesting, retreat to the endless world of practice and patterns to pass the time.

You won’t waste your energy bemoaning how bored you are, and you’ll actually be building your skills in the process.


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