Sunday, April 17, 2011

Some Cognative Dissonance on Boredom

The Atlantic has posted a Special Report:  How Genius Works.  Tim Burton writes,
“I don’t sit down and try to draw a character. I attempt to reserve some time each day for myself to sit and do nothing—stare off into space or doodle or whatever--just be in my own head. That time is very precious for me, and sometimes the characters will strike me in these quiet moments.”
Novelist T.C. Boyle claims,
In the old days, the days of this artifact, I would have retyped this page during the following day’s work, incorporating the changes you see here and feeling my way. When the novel was completed, I would make additional notes and then type a clean final draft. In the case of The Tortilla Curtain, which weighs in at 355 finished pages, this process would have occupied the better part of a month (producing, along the way, countless eraser shreds and dribbles of Wite-Out). Now I’m able to accomplish the same thing in three or four days.

Still, there was a pleasant rhythm to those hard-typing times, during which I would neatly stack up 10 to 12 finished pages daily, the whole business accumulating in a very satisfying way before I headed off to stroll through the woods or quaff a drink or two at the local bar. It was restful. Contemplative. Deeply satisfying. And let me tell you—and this is no small consideration—back then, I had the strongest fingers in the world.
 Meanwhile, Google chairman Erick Schmidt claims,
"You're never lonely, you're never lost, you're never bored, and you're never out of ideas," Schmidt said. "It's all because of our ability to understand what you care about, get relevant information to the devices you carry around, and use supercomputers in the cloud to process all that data."  (HT @coralhei)
Schmidt seems to be saying that "never bored" means that one will never be "contemplative" or "sit and do nothing—stare off into space."  People might have have plenty of "relevant information" and they may never be "out of ideas," but I'm not sure that they will be creative.

Writing in Slate, Matt Feeney asserts "defending boredom seems stern and unsympathetic, like a Depression-born mom impatient with her complaining children" before asserting,
But the depression-era parent urged a kind of stoicism, bearing-up against fake or minor suffering as a moral lesson of childhood. For today's middle-agers, relishing the image of a teenager thrown into fidgets by a dead cellphone, boredom is not merely fake suffering. It's important in its own right, a state of latent fertility. It leads to creativity. The contemporary defender of boredom is not a stoic. She's a graying humanist, the martinet as art teacher.
Feeney does a good job of making boring sound, well, boring albeit necessary.  It's the necessary element that I find most important.  Every day I hear a student say "reading is boring." By extension,they are implying that boredom is something to be avoided at all costs.  Roger Ebert looks at that fact and is as frightened as I am.  He's a bit more poetic, however.
I learn that he average American teenager spends 17 minutes a weekend in voluntary reading. Surely that statistic is wrong. Do they mean reading of "serious" novels? I would certainly count science fiction, graphic novels, vampires, Harry Potter, newspapers, magazines, blogs--anything. Just to read for yourself for pleasure is the point. Dickens will come later, Henry James perhaps never.
At the end of the day, some authors will endure and most, including some very good ones, will not. Why do I think reading is important? It is such an effective medium between mind and mind. We think largely in words. A medium made only of words doesn't impose the barrier of any other medium. It is naked and unprotected communication. That's how you get pregnant. May you always be so.
The best times to read are when one is "bored," "lonely" and "lost," at least metaphorically.  It's those times that make one open to true communication and great ideas.

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