Matthew, by email
Ah, the authentic siren call of civilisation’s descent into decadence. Of course you’re bored. Everyone you know is bored. You’ve been bored since you could fling Lego. Boredom is the waste product of choice.
The more there is on offer, the more you don’t want. Fifty options of cereal does not hone an epicurean expertise in the finer points of puffed rice, it murders appetite. Boredom is not a thing. It’s not a feeling or a condition. It is the absence of feelings, things and conditions.
Boredom is the echo in an empty box, a single glove, the sound of an abandoned piano. It can also be a calling, a hobby. People collect boredom, they hoard it, they wallow in it, hoping that one day it’ll be of interest and become an effete ennui. Let me tell you, it doesn’t.
Boredom is an addiction without a high, a disease without a symptom. I once had it. I would say I suffered from it, but you don’t suffer boredom. That would be interesting, or at least engaging.
And then something interesting happened, or at least the promise of something interesting. I was at a party I didn’t want to be at, as usual standing in a corner with a look of ineffable disinterest, and as usual I was being droned at by a man who was either writing a thesis on Colette or about to go potholing in Cheshire.
When, blessedly, his bladder finally called him away, an old girlfriend who I’d become tired of sauntered over and asked how I was. I said I was being bored, without the option of death, by the Pope of Bores.
“Yes,” she said, “I was watching. Only one of you was bored. He was having a wonderful time. Animated, expansive, discursive, verbose. He was entertaining himself royally. In fact, he was having so much fun I see he’s on his way back.”
And in that moment I had an epiphany. Perhaps epiphany is a little too interesting. It was a spark of understanding. Just as the great panjandrum of boring got back into the saddle to once more scale the foothills of French literature, or bird table etiquette, I held up a limp hand and whispered, “Before we once again embark on this treadmill of loquacity, perhaps you could spare me a couple of minutes to explain how it was you became such an accomplished and polished bore. Please, don’t spare me a single detail.”
The chap looked first startled, and then his eyes narrowed and one eyebrow arched knowingly. A smile flickered over his wet lips and he turned and walked away without uttering a word. And for the first time in, ooh, a great many grey years, I felt elated.
I buttonholed the old girlfriend and said, “Let’s get out of here. I have something very exciting to tell you.” “Oh, couldn’t we just have sex instead?” she replied. And from that day on, I have devoted myself to being a bore. Not just any old bore. Not just a common or garden, end-of-the-bar bore. But the greatest bore that ever lived.
I wake each morning quivering and alive with the joy of the hunt to find new things to bore on about. Sometimes I forget to eat I’m so entranced with boredom. There are so few subjects I can’t bore on about at length, with footnotes.
And I am asked to bore professionally. My boringness is a regular fixture at the literary festival at Hay. Just last week, I was boring schoolteachers at Wellington College’s Education Weekend: a tricky professional audience, but I think I ground them down.
Oh! And what’s this? Look here, I’ve been boring on about boredom for over 800 words and you’re just thinking, is there no end to this answer? But you see, I get paid by the word, so whilst you’ve been sitting there thinking, “Oh, get on with it!” I’ve made [editor-redacted sum] and enjoyed myself enormously.
So let this be a lesson to you. If you’re bored, it’s because someone else is fulfilling his dream. Become a bore. It’s the most interesting thing you’ll ever do.