By now, it’s a familiar lament. Usually it hits mid-semester, when the honeymoon period is over and the work has really piled up. I ask them how they’re doing, and in response they cover their faces with their hands and shake their heads. “Why do we get so much busy work? We have so much to do, and it’s so boring.”
“Boring,” “boring,” “boring,” they moan as if “boring” was the most offensive adjective in their vocabulary, surpassing “cruel,” “callous,” “indifferent.” Well, perhaps it is. At least cruelty can inspire indignation; they get fired up, energize themselves. Boredom, well that just requires plodding, persistence, showing up with no real high.
My students resent the assignments that seem rote, repetitive, that ask them to pay attention to details. Perhaps they are right. No doubt too much of education on all levels relies on such tasks. That however, is the subject for another piece.
My children too are offended by boredom. “I’m bored,” they cry on a Saturday afternoon, on a midsummer weekday morning, and my mother’s response always rises to my lips, “I wish I had time to be bored.”
But I do have the time, and I often am. To both groups, my students and children, I want to rage back. “Bored, bored, do you think I’m not bored?” Who wants to repeat 500 times in a semester, in a summer, “Put your commas inside quotation marks; don’t leave your flip flops in the middle of the room”? My life as teacher and mother is full of repetitive daily tasks that I often find stultifying. Let’s face it; I spend many hours in a week wanting to rip my hair out. I have gotten to the point that boredom can actually incite indignation — the “Didn’t I go to grad school to avoid this?” variety.
These thoughts inevitably tempt me to turn to my classroom and say, “If you think you’re bored now, just wait.” And I’m sorry to admit this, but sometimes I do say that. In a nice way, of course. With a smile. Because really, how much of our adult life is punctuated by these boring tasks, paying bills, dealing with broken washing machines, grocery shopping? But we do them because our worlds need to continue to spin. Tolerating boredom – it’s what we have to do, and I’m sure it’s because of love.
It’s nearly impossible to say this to my children; they don’t understand. It’s not too easy to say this to my students either, although as we’ve established, I do sometimes. At least with the latter group, I can turn to others. I play for them David Foster Wallace’s moving commencement address “This is Water.” I bring them Richard Wilbur’s “Love Calls us to the Things of This World”:
the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.
They look up at me confused: “Who writes a poem about laundry?”
But Wilbur’s words have only reinforced this realization: the ability to tolerate boredom, it’s a muscle we build with love. Love must be what keeps me up in the middle of the night, reading a pile of papers that will demand numerous revisions. Love must have me settled on the floor when I’d rather be reading, building a Lego castle just too complicated for the young optimistic enthusiast who insisted in the store that he could build it on his own. It must be this love, as complicated and irritating as it is, that brings me, day after long day in the classroom, to my kitchen table, so I can monitor homework, issue reminders that gaming is a privilege and so on.
Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body. (Wilbur)
To tolerate boredom is an act of love. I’d like to say it’s a heroic act, but not in my case. I complain too much. I struggle. I’m cranky, “bitter.” The only point I can make in my defense is that I keep going. I’d like to say that something happens when I do. That I have an epiphany, that I am filled with light and certainty. No. I cringe because there’s always another stack of homework to tackle, of laundry to do. How boring.
Wallace, David Foster. “This is Water.” 2005. Film by the Glossary. Web. Youtube
August 6, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKYJVV7HuZw
Wilbur, Richard. “Love Calls us to the Things of This World.” 1956. New and
Collected Poems. London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1988. 233-34.
Maria Jerinic’s creative nonfiction has appeared in Literary Mama, Clickable Poems, Mama Zine.Com and in the anthology KnitLit the Third: We Spin More Yarns (Three Rivers Press). She is the mother of three children, a faculty member in the UNLV Honors College and an editor for Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge University Press). Her academic critical work has appeared in a variety of publications including Honors in Practice, Rebellious Hearts: British Women Writers and the French Revolution (SUNY Press), and Remaking Queen Victoria (Cambridge University Press).