“when we learn to tolerate boredom, we find out who we really are.”

exciting times at the boredom institute!

a nice painting called “ennui” by jack the ripper suspect w. sickert

Boredom Enthusiasts Discover the Pleasures of Understimulation

Envoy of Ennui Calls a Meeting; An Energy Bar for Everybody

By Gautam Naik

LONDON—”Brace yourself for five piping-hot minutes of inertia,” said William Barrett. Then he began reciting the names of every single one of 415 colors listed in a paint catalog: damson dream, dauphin, dayroom yellow, dead salmon…and on and on and on.

Mr. Barrett’s talk was titled, “Like Listening to Paint Dry,” and to judge from the droopy faces in the audience, it was a hit. He was speaking, after all, at a conference of boredom enthusiasts called Boring 2010, held here Dec. 11.

For seven hours on that Saturday, 20 speakers held forth on a range of seemingly dreary diversions, from “The Intangible Beauty of Car Park Roofs” and “Personal Reflections on the English Breakfast,” to “The Draw in Test Match Cricket” and “My Relationship With Bus Routes.” Meanwhile, some of the 200 audience members—each of whom had paid £15 (about $24) for a ticket—tried not to nod off.

Not many did, surprisingly. “It is quintessentially English to look at something dull as ditchwater and find it interesting,” said Hamish Thompson, who runs a public-relations firm and was in the audience.

Boring 2010 is the handiwork of James Ward, 29 years old, who works for a DVD distribution and production company. In his other life, as the envoy of ennui, Mr. Ward edits a blog called “I Like Boring Things.” He is also co-founder of the Stationery Club, whose 45 members meet occasionally to discuss pens, paper clips and Post-it Notes.

For another of his projects, Mr. Ward over the past 18 months has visited 160 London convenience stores and made careful notes about a popular chocolate bar called Twirl, including the product’s availability, price and storage conditions. He publishes the details online.

Boredom has become a serious subject for scientific inquiry. For example, a 25-year study of British civil servants published earlier this year found that some people really can be bored to death: People who complain about “high levels” of boredom in their lives are at double the risk of dying from a stroke or heart disease, the study concluded.

The “Boring Institute,” in South Orange, N.J., started as a spoof. Its website says it now plays a more serious role describing “the dangers that are associated with too much boredom and offers advice on how to avoid it.”

Tell that to the Marines. It’s a well-known fact that soldiers who experience war trauma in the field are at higher risk of displaying antisocial behavior, such as getting into fights or neglecting their families, once they return home.

But a survey of more than 1,500 U.S. Marines, published in September in the journal Aggressive Behavior, suggests that being bored may be a bigger risk factor for such behavior than war trauma is.

Boring 2010 sprang to life when Mr. Ward heard that an event called the Interesting Conference had been canceled, and he sent out a joke tweet about the need to have a Boring Conference instead. He was taken aback when dozens of people responded enthusiastically.

Soon, he was hatching plans for the first-ever meet-up of the like-mindedly mundane. The first 50 tickets for Boring 2010 sold in seven minutes.

“I guess the joke is on me,” said the laid-back Mr. Ward. “I’ve created this trap and there’s no way out.”

Proceedings at the sell-out event were kicked off by Mr. Ward himself, who discussed his tie collection at great length, accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation.

He noted that as of June 2010, he owned 55 ties, and 45.5% of them were of a single color. By December, his tie collection had jumped by 36%, although the share of single-color ties fell by 1.5%.

“Ties are getting slightly more colorful,” he noted. Also, apparently, his taste was improving. By December, only 64% of his ties were polyester, down from 73% in June.

Even less stirring was a milk tasting. Ed Ross, an actor, swirled, sniffed and sipped five different milks in wine glasses, commenting on each one’s flavor, finish and ideal “food pairing.” (Cereals got mentioned a lot.)

The eagerly awaited talk was about writer Peter Fletcher’s meticulous three-year—and still running—sneeze count. With the help of graphs and charts, Mr. Fletcher disclosed that he had sneezed 2,267 times in the past 1,249 days, thus gaining “a profound understanding of the passing of time.”

I’ve even sneezed when recording a sneeze,” he said.

Karen Christopher of Chicago, who now lives in London, found at least one presentation so wearisome that she stopped paying attention. “I started thinking about Swedish police procedurals instead,” she said.

The organizers did their best to keep the audience alert. Many viewers brought coffee, and each received a goodie bag containing an energy bar.

After a much-needed break, a drawing was held. Some of the winners got a DVD called “Helvetica,” a 2007 documentary about typography.

To mix things up, Mr. Ward and his colleagues set up a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle depicting British cereal boxes from the 1970s. Each attendee got a few pieces of the puzzle and was asked to help complete it.

For all its archness, the conference occasionally veered from the ridiculous to the philosophical.

Journalist and author Naomi Alderman spoke about the difficulty of having to observe the Jewish Sabbath as a child. Her talk, “What It’s Like to Do Almost Nothing Interesting for 25 Hours a Week,” ended on an unexpected, touching note. “When we learn to tolerate boredom,” she said, “we find out who we really are.”


Read the rest of this article (Dec. 28, 2010) & watch related video
at The Wall Street Journal.


Visit the Boring Institute’s
blog.

Advertisements

from Thomas Bernhard’s Frost (Knopf, 2006)

“The landlady is disgusting to me. It’s the same disgust I felt when I was a child and had to vomit outside the open doors of the slaughterhouse. If she were dead I would, today, feel no disgust—dead bodies on the dissecting table never remind me of live bodies—but she’s alive, and living in a moldy ancient reek of inn kitchens.”

First published in German in 1963, and translated a few years ago by the fine poet Michael Hofmann, Frost may be the bleakest of all of Bernhard’s works, which is of course really saying something.

The unnamed narrator, a young medical student, is assigned by his boss to observe the boss’ brother, the eccentric painter Strauch. The painter abandoned Vienna for the dismal alpine village of Weng, with its “climate that engenders embolisms” and depraved local populace. The narrator’s first order of business is to take a room at the local inn, where the foul landlady trades sex for dog meat (her husband is away, imprisoned for killing a guest).

Strauch, it turns out, no longer paints, preferring to read Pascal, which perhaps accounts for his talent at producing gnomic and often depressing utterances, such as “People always say: the mountain reaches up into heaven. They never say: the mountain reaches down into hell.”

Not surprisingly, the narrator quickly becomes unhinged . . .

First Day

A medical internship consists of more than spectating at complicated bowel operations, cutting open stomach linings, bracketing off lungs, and sawing off feet; and it doesn’t just consist of thumbing closed the eyes of the dead, and hauling babies out into the world either. An internship is not just tossing limbs and parts of limbs over your shoulder into an enamel bucket. Nor does it just consist of trotting along behind the registrar and the assistant and the assistant’s assistant, a sort of tail-end Charlie. Nor can an internship be only the putting out of false information; it isn’t just saying: “The pus will dissolve in your bloodstream, and you’ll soon be restored to perfect health.” Or a hundred other such lies. Not just: “It’ll get better”—when nothing will. An internship isn’t just an academy of scissors and thread, of tying off and pulling through. An internship extends to circumstances and possibilities that have nothing to do with the flesh. My mission to observe the painter Strauch compels me to think about precisely such non-flesh-related circumstances and issues. The exploration of something unfathomably mysterious. The making of sometimes very far-reaching discoveries. The way you might investigate a conspiracy, say. And it is perfectly possible that the non-flesh-related, by which I don’t mean the soul—that what is non-flesh-related, without being the soul, of which I can’t say for certain whether it exists, though I must say I assume it does, that this thousand-year-old working assumption is a thousand-year-old truth—but it is perfectly possible that the non-flesh-related, which is to say, the non-cell-based, is the thing from which everything takes its being, and not the other way round, nor yet some sort of interdependence. Continue reading

a warning to death-haunted women


“Mother Goose”
by Stan Rice

If you are death haunted
never drink beer, my
dear, or you might drown
in your unshed tears.
I take my tone
from Mother Goose,
who was a sot, and look
what it got her: shoes
full of children, talking
foxes, crooked men,
fornicating spoons and dishes,
most of chaos, compulsively
rhyming. Everything
had so much meaning
naturally she was death-haunted.
all she wanted was to
stop dreaming, but that being
an empty wish, she kept on drinking.
At least it made her woes delicious.
When the beer cans reached her ceiling
They started bleeding, of course.
more chaos, more meaning.
she was as fecund as fear
and beer was her semen. So
if you are death-haunted too,
don’t drink beer, dear, or like
Mother Goose you might forget
How to cry out ” Enough!”, go berserk,
sleep with your sons as soon as they’re born
And slip down and break your hip in the afterbirth.

camus stretched taut between misery and history




Poverty was not a calamity for me. It was always balanced by the richness of light… circumstances helped me. To correct a natural indifference I was placed halfway between misery and the sun. Misery kept me from believing that all was well under the sun, and the sun taught me that history wasn’t everything.

I found in myself an invincible sun.

-from Albert Camus, “De L’Envers et l’endroit”

neurosis – creation – proust


Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone have founded our religions, and composed our masterpieces. Never will the world know all it owes to them, nor all they have suffered to enrich us.

– Marcel Proust

more underground men in montreal: dany laferrière’s famous first novel

The narrator of How to Make Love To A Negro (Without Getting Tired), a young Haitian man, rents a seedy apartment in the Montreal slums. His shut-in roommate, a Muslim named Bouba, is an obsessive jazz fan. The two men spend their days listening to jazz classics, drinking wine, reading, discussing Kant and Freud, the Koran and Allah, or else busy themselves pursuing sex with young Canadian women they nickname Miz Literature, Miz Sophisticated, Miz Piggy, etc. The narrator wanders through Montreal and works on his novel—a bildungsroman he hopes will bring him fame—and a degree of fortune—while exposing the absurdity of the ideas and behaviour of those around him.

How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired

By Dany Laferrière

Coach House Press, 1987

(trans. David Homel)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nigger Narcissus

I CAN’T believe it, this is the fifth time Bouba’s played that Charlie Parker record. He’s crazy about jazz, and this must be his Parker period. Last week I had Coltrane for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now it’s Parker’s turn.

There’s only one good thing about this place: you can play Parker or Miles Davis or even a noisier cat like Archie Shepp at three o’clock in the morning (with walls as thin as onionskin paper) Without some idiot telling you to turn it down.

We’re suffocating in the summer heat, jammed in between the Fontaine de Johannie (a roach-ridden restaurant frequented by small-time hoods) and a minuscule topless bar, at 3670 rue St-Denis, right across from Cherrier. An abject one-and-a-half that the landlord palmed off on poor Bouba as a two-and-a-half for $120 a mouth. We’re up on the third floor. A narrow room cut lengthwise by a horrible Japanese screen decorated with enormous stylized birds. A fridge in a constant state of palpitation, as if we were holed up above some railroad station. Playboy bunnies thumbtacked to the wall that we had to take down when we got here to avoid the suicidal tenden-cies those things inevitably cause. A stove with elements as cold as a witch’s tit at forty below. And, extra added attraction, the Cross of Mount Royal framed in the window.

I sleep on a filthy bed and Bouba made himself a nest Oil the plucked couch Cull Of mountains and valleys. Bouba inhabits it fully. He drinks, reads, eats, meditates and fucks on it. He has married the hills and dales of this cotton-stuffed whore.

When we came into possession of this meager pigsty, Bouba settled on the couch with the collected works of Freud, an old dictionary with the letters A through D and part of E missing, and a torn and tattered copy of the Koran.

Superficially, Bouba spends all day doing nothing. In reality, lie is purifying the universe.

Sleep cures us of all physical impurities, mental illness and moral perversion. Between pages of the Koran. Bouba engages in sleep cures that can last up to three days. The Koran, in its infinite wisdom, states: “Every soul shall taste death. You shall receive your rewards only on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever is spared the fire of Hell and is admitted to Paradise shall surely gain his end; for the life of this world is nothing but a fleeting vanity.” (Sura III, 182.) The world can blow itself up if it wants to; Bouba is sleeping.

Sometimes his sleep is a, strident as Miles Davis’s trumpet, Bouba becomes closed upon himself, his face impenetrable, his knees folded under his chin. Other times I find him on his back, his arms forming a cross, his mouth opening onto a black hole, his toes pointed towards the ceiling. The Koran in all its magnanimity says: “You cause the night to pass into the clay, and the day into the night; YOU bring forth the living from the dead and the dead from the living. You give without stint to Whom You Will.” (Sura II, 26.) And so Bouba is aiming for a place at the right hand of Allah (may his holy name be praised).

CHARLIE PARKER tears through the night. A heavy, humid, Tristes Tropiques kind of night. jazz always makes me think of New Orleans, and that makes a Negro nostalgic.

Bouba is crashed out on the couch ill his usual position (lying on his left side, facing Mecca), sipping Shanghai lea and perusing a volume of Freud. Since Bouba is totally jazz-crazy, and since he recognizes only one guru (Allah is great and Freud is his prophet), it did not take him long to concoct a complex and sophisticated theory the long and short of which is that Sigmund Freud invented jazz.

“In what volume, Bouba?”

Totem and Taboo, man,”

Man. He actually calls me man.

“If Freud played jazz, for Christ’s sake, we would have known about it,” Bouba breathes in a mighty lungful of air. Which is what he does every time he deals with a non-believer, a Cartesian, a rationalist, a head-shrinker. The Koran says: “Wait, then, as they themselves are waiting.”

“You know,” Bouba finally intones, “you know that SF lived in New York.”

“Of course he did.”

“He Could have learned to play trumpet from any tubercular musician in Harlem.”

It’s possible.”

“Do you know what jazz is at least?”

“I can’t describe it, but I’d know what it is if I heard it.”

“Good.” Bouba says after a lengthy period of meditation, “listen to this then.”

Then I’m sucked in and swallowed, absorbed, osmosed, drunk, digested and chewed up by a flow of wild words, fantastic hallucinations with paranoid pronunciation, jolted by jazz impulses to the rhythm of Sura incantations—then I realize that Bouba is performing a syncopated, staccato reading of the unsuspecting pages 68 and 69 of Totem and Taboo.

the underground man in montreal: rawi hage’s cockroach

According to the jacket copy, “The nameless narrator of Rawi Hage’s COCKROACH is an Arab immigrant who has failed at everything, including suicide, so he settles into a restless refuge among the human detritus of the Montreal underworld. He uses his court-ordered therapy sessions to spew surprisingly witty and descriptive bile about his life among the thieves and miscreants of the city, seducing his psychiatrist with his transgressive monologues and the intensity of his belief that he is part insect. He eventually finds work as a busboy, a position which allows him to maintain his social invisibility and listen in on the illicit schemes of the clientele. When he discovers a dark connection between one of the customers and an Iranian waitress whom he is infatuated with, he resolves to use his worthless life as currency to purchase a small measure of justice for her.”

 

I like to pass by fancy stores and restaurants and watch the people behind thick glass, taking themselves seriously, driving forks into their mouths between short conversations and head nods. I also like to watch the young waitresses in their short black dresses and white aprons. Although I no longer stand and stare. The last time I did that it was summer and I was leaning on aparked car, watching a couple eat slowly, neither looking at the other. A man from inside, in a black suit, came out and asked me to leave. When I told him that it is a free country, a public space, he told me to leave now, and to get away from the sports car I was resting against. I moved away from the car but refused to leave. Not even two minutes later, a police car came and two female officers got out, walked towards me, and asked for my papers. When I objected and asked them why, they said it was unlawful to stare at people inside commercial places. I said, Well, I am staring at my own reflection in the glass. The couple in the restaurant seemed entertained by all of this. While one of the officers held my papers and went back to the car to check out my past, I watched the couple watching me, as if finally something exciting was happening in their lives.They watched as if from behind a screen, as if it were live news. Now I was part of their TV dinner, I was spinning in a microwave, stripped of my plastic cover, eaten, and defecated the next morning just as the filtered coffee was brewing in the kitchen and the radio was prophesying the weather, telling them what to wear, what to buy, what to say, whom to watch, and whom to like and hate. The couple enjoyed watching me, as if I were some reality show about police chasing people with food-envy syndrome. 

I thought, I will show this happy couple what I am capable of. One of the officers came back from her car, gave me back my papers, and said, You’d better go now if you do not want trouble. So I started to walk. And when I passed the man outside his restaurant, I spat at the ground  beneath him and cursed his Italian suit. Then I crossed the street, entered a magazine store, flipped through a few pages, and came out again. I watched that same couple from behind the glass of the entrance to an office building. Now, all of the sudden, they had something to say to each other, so they had started to converse. And I watched the owner come to their table and talk to them as well.

Excitement had been injected into their mundane lives. I bet they even got an apologetic complimentary drink on the house at my expense. Bourgeois filth! I thought. I want my share!

Continue reading