The Heady Thrill of Having Nothing to Do

August 23, 2011

We've won the war on boredom! If you have a smartphone in your pocket, a game console in the living room, a Kindle in your backpack and an iPad in the kitchen, you never need to suffer a minute without stimulation. Yay!

But wait—we might be in dangerous territory. Experts say our brains need boredom so we can process thoughts and be creative. I think they're right. I've noticed that my best ideas always bubble up when the outside world fails in its primary job of frightening, wounding or entertaining me.

I make my living being creative and have always assumed that my potential was inherited from my parents. But for allowing my creativity to flourish, I have to credit the soul-crushing boredom of my childhood.

I grew up in the tiny mountain town of Windham, N.Y., and graduated with the same 40 kids I met in kindergarten. When we picked teams during gym class, there was no mystery about which team would win. The fourth-grader with a mustache would hit four home runs, and the kid with a limp would get thrown out at first. I lived a surprise-free childhood.

The rabbit ears on our television only pulled in one channel well, and we grew accustomed to the picture rolling for the entire evening. Our radio wasn't much better, but if I kept my hand on the antennae I could hear a rhythmic noise that I later learned to call music.

We didn't have many toys by modern standards. But I discovered that if you have a blob of clay and some Lincoln Logs, you can make your own toy rifle. You can use those same materials to create a FrankenBarbie doll with body-image issues and a G.I. Joe that looks like an angry starfish with snow shoes. I'd take turns shooting at both of them, sometimes using the Lincoln Log rifle and sometimes the handgun that I whittled out of a block of wood. I blame society for all of that.

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