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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

August 7, 2008

in praise of boredom

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 9:49 am

. . It’s summer time and parents around the globe keep hearing the same refrain: “I’m bored!” Cranky Prof. Yabut‘s usual reply is “Only boring people get bored,” but he really means “Only boring people stay bored.” If you’d like to have a more constructive response the next time your kids, co-workers, or students complain about being bored, just point them to Tuesday’s New York Times article “You’re Checked Out, but Your Brain Is Tuned In” (New York Times, by Benedict Carey, August 5, 2008). It tells of new conclusions that boredom should be

recognized as a legitimate human emotion that can be central to learning and creativity.”

The article makes several additional un-boring points:

  • Boredom as Spam Filter: When we feel bored, our brain has concluded “there is nothing new or useful it can learn from an environment, a person, an event, a paragraph.” But, “boredom is more than a mere flagging of interest or a precursor to mischief. Some experts say that people tune things out for good reasons, and that over time boredom becomes a tool for sorting information — an increasingly sensitive spam filter.”
  • Often Productive and Creative: “In various fields including neuroscience and education, research suggests that falling into a numbed trance allows the brain to recast the outside world in ways that can be productive and creative at least as often as they are disruptive.”
  • The 95% Solution: As a constant reaction to one’s environment, boredom seems related to depression, but:

“Boredom as a temporary state . . . is far from a passive neural shrug. Using brain-imaging technology, neuroscientists have found that the brain is highly active when disengaged, consuming only about 5 percent less energy in its resting ‘default state’ than when involved in routine tasks. . .”

Somehow, that slight reduction in brain activity “can make a big difference in terms of time perception. The seconds usually seem to pass more slowly.” Of course, those slower moments don’t produce a meditative calm or bliss. Instead, “They are frustrated, restless moments . . . that demands relief — if not from a catnap or a conversation, then from some mental game.”

A sigh from her
then one from me —
two pages turn

.. by George SwedeFrogpond XX/2

Sad to say, the Times article doesn’t help us figure out how to scratch that boredom itch. We get only a professorial dodge from Dr. Teresa Belton, co-author of the featured study: “When the external and internal conditions are right, boredom offers a person the opportunity for a constructive response.”

NOELs: nod-off episodes per lecture . . pointer dude neg . .

Speaking of professors, the classroom experience — from grammar to graduate school — has certainly been the inspiration for a large share of our species’ boredom moments. According to the NYT piece, a Canadian study of doctors attending lectures on dementia “found that in an hour-long lecture attended by about 100 doctors, an average of 16 audience members nodded off. ” The results are, to be honest, rather boring — not exactly a break-through in understanding the dynamics of tuning out:

“The investigators analyzed the presentations themselves and found that a monotonous tone was most strongly associated with ‘nod-off episodes per lecture (NOELs),’ followed by the sight of a tweed jacket on the lecturer.”

When you’re moping around the house and are overwhelmed by the tedium of life, you need to learn to direct your energy into constructive, creative activities — or, to discover the intrinsic meaning of common-place moments. And, if you’re having a serious attack of ennui while part of a captive audience (as in school, church or court, or at a conference or theater), you need to learn techniques for either 1) staying tuned in (in case there’s a test or Judgment later) or 2) appearing engaged and actively listening (out of respect for the speaker or the authority figure who made you attend).

For instance, how do you control the drool-while-napping-reflex or wipe that daydream smile off your face? And, just how much caffeine is needed to overcome a particular professor’s pedantic droning? If all those studies on boredom contain answers, I hope the New York Times will do some follow-up and let us know. Meanwhile, I’m hoping our regular audience — comprised mostly of experienced ex-law students (who somehow survived three very tedious years) and accomplished haiku poets (who live to turn the mundane into insightful moments) will leave helpful suggestions in our Comment box.

By the way, I just learned that the word “ennui” came from a Latin phrase meaning “I hate or dislike,” and which the French turned into a verb meaning “to annoy, bore.” Since those Frenchmen really hate being bored, they’ve probably developed the best antidotes to ennui. French lawyers and haijin are, therefore, particularly urged to add Comments below.

. . . . For relief from boredom now or at a future date, you can always head over to the websites of “Mad” Kane. In a pinch, there’s also the Bored At Work Forum – and its store.

If it’s Opera that puts you to sleep or causes you audience agita, the f/k/a Gang suggests you study Mad Kane’s “Guide for the Opera Impaired,” which just won Recovering Lawyer Kane the First Prize in the 2008 Robert Benchley Society Award for Humor Contest.

If like me, you’re already bored with this topic (and your Mama isn’t around to tell you to go outside to play), might I suggest a few topical haiku or senryu?

dozing off–
the soft drone
of mosquito flutter

.. by jim kacian – Chincoteague (Red Moon Press, 2000)

The old wind chimes
in the basement for winter
tinkle from my sigh

as the professor speaks
only his bald spot
is illuminated

.. by George Swede
“the old wind chimes” – The Heron’s Nest
“as the professor speaks” – Almost Unseen

traffic jam
a plastic dog
keeps on nodding

………Yu Chang – Upstate Dim Sum (2002/I)

between layers the stone mason’s nap

.. by w.f. owen – Haiku Notebook (Lulu Press, 2007)

tired of feeding
on the horse
the horsefly naps

misty day–
no doubt Heaven’s saints
bored stiff

under dewy umbrella-hat
nodding off…
the dog barks!

napping, hearing
the rice-planting song

……. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David L. Lanoue
commentary on “misty day”

four glazed eyes —
their first and last

… by dagosan

p.s.  The bored young lady at the head of this posting is my lovely niece Lissa (in a photo taken quite a few years ago).  She turned eleven on August 3rd, and her proud uncle wishes her a wonderful new year.


  1. Fun post! And thanks so much for the lovely mention!

    Comment by Mad Kane — August 7, 2008 @ 2:24 pm

  2. You’re most welcome, Mad. Thanks for stopping by and congratulations again on winning the Benchley Award.

    p.s. And, thanks for spreading the word about senryu at

    Comment by David Giacalone — August 7, 2008 @ 2:45 pm

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