That’s just the way it was on many long summer days as a kid in the 1960s. Even after sleeping late, the whole unplanned day stretched out before us with nothing to do.
The only technology available was the TV, with its five stations. What was on? Early morning cartoons, followed by game shows, then soap operas. Even if we’d wanted to watch TV all day, Mom wouldn’t have it.
“Go outside and play,” she’d say.
Adult life can be boring too, cellphones, television and gaming notwithstanding. But it goes much deeper than a lack of entertainment. Boredom is an absence of stimulation, interest, excitement. If boredom is an emotion, it may be emotion of absence.
In her book, “Yawn: Adventures in Boredom,” Mary Mann writes about her “fear that there was no overarching purpose for my time,” how boredom can disguise feelings of powerlessness or meaninglessness. We would rather label that itchy sensation “boredom” than to consider the feeling we sometimes get that our life is going nowhere.
Researchers study it as a feeling of irritated restlessness, Mann says in an article in The Atlantic.
“You’re cranky, you’re sort of like, ‘Ugh, I gotta get out, I gotta do stuff,’” she says. “It’s a very motivating force, which is what differentiates it from depression.”
So boredom can be an alert system, researchers have found. Maybe we’re unhappy with our job, where we live or who we live with. Maybe we’re angry but trying not to feel it. Boredom can alert us to many different things.
Feeling stuck or trapped can lead to feeling bored. Mann talks about our need to feel that our lives are like a book narrative, and the need to advance the plot.
At several points in my life I’ve done housekeeping work, cleaning houses, hotel rooms and timeshare units. Worse yet, in my mind, was the factory work I’ve done. Boring for sure. But I always thought of it as temporary, what I needed to do to get to a more interesting time.
Mann talks about a man living in the country of Georgia who hated living in a rural place. He thought it was boring to the point of depression, and he really wanted to be a musician. He didn’t have anywhere to learn or play music, so he felt trapped.
“And feeling trapped is a big part of boredom,” Mann says. “People feel boredom a lot when they feel trapped and vice versa.”
This fellow talked about his boring life in the past tense, Mann says. He pretended he was in the future looking back at his current life as part of a trajectory that led him to success, as the “struggle that then leads to the glory.”
So even though he was terribly unhappy, he tried to give it some meaning.
As a girl on those long summer days, after languishing on the couch for a while, I would hop on my bicycle and take a long ride to unexplored places in the town where I lived.
Or I would gather the neighborhood kids together to put on a talent show. Several times I wrote plays for us all to perform for our parents, making a set in someone’s garage and setting up chairs in the driveway.
Another time, we planned a trip to Hawaii, based on photos in National Geographic magazine and even getting my dad to take us all to the airport.
Once, in an empty lot, we built a fort out of old crates and cardboard.
When Mom said, “Go outside and play,” anything was possible.