By Greg Mitchell.
I cannot remember when I learned the word “bored”.
My feeling is that it must have been when I was at least in my teen years and even then, I can’t ever remember saying it out loud to my parents.
If I did make that classic proclamation of modern childhood “I’m bored!” as if it was someone else’s fault, I am pretty sure I knew what my parents’ reactions would have been.
My mother would have got me to clean something. Cleaning was a task my mother never completed and something that seemed to preoccupy all of her waking life. In those days this was called being “a good housewife”, these days it’s called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Mum’s two key missions in life were to make the house spot-less and totally ordered and to leave that house looking absolutely perfect even when she was going off to be an “invisible mender of nylon stockings” hair, make-up and clothing remained meticulously clean.
Mending stockings so that the darn was invisible was a perfect job for a women with an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Occasionally I was welcomed in to this world of complete femininity. The “factory” was simply a large room with work stations swathed in long boxes carry the stockings and bright spotlights that illuminated the small tears for repair. The repairs were done by hand under a magnifying glass.
The repairing was done with a weird needle which had a handle and a kind of tiny latch that lifted the minute stitches and drew the laddered holes together. Nylon stockings in those days were quite expensive… a luxury item for many.
This work enthralled my mother and she developed an incredible speed.
I liked going to the factory because all of the women their spoilt me rotten when I turned up. They hugged me, fed me milk and biscuits, examined my looks and debated openly just how handsome I might grow to be. I adored this because praise was a scarce occurrence in my house.
They also supported my mother’s always fragile mental health. It was a sad day when the sweat shop was closed as cheap disposable panty hoses took over the market and mum left to become a fruit and veg lady at Woolworths and I never was allowed to even talk to her at work let alone be hugged by her co-workers.
My father never left the house looking perfect… the jam factory where he worked was not interested at all in flawlessness.
My father had never been bored because he had work to do… man’s work.
Dad used to work doing all sorts of jobs at a factory called Monbulk Preserves. Monbulk Preserves was a monstrous looking assembly of buildings that squatted like a crapping giant at the top of a hill in the country about 15 kilometres from where we lived. There it emitted a range of odours that would have made a giant proud.
Because my father worked in such an interesting place he never knew boredom and if I showed even a glimmer of being disinterested or vaguely jaded, my father spirited me a way to the hill to do countless meaningless jobs which I found completely fascinating.
The jam factories obsession was production. It was initially created and owned by a family who were known to like the idea of getting the most out of a small budget and who tenaciously found ways to turn a mountain of local cheap produce into a reasonably digestible fusion for others to spread on bread or to place in cakes and generally damage the world’s teeth with.
To make this all happen the factory had been constructed of a wild assembly of interlocking grey corrugated sheds which were built from oldest to youngest up the hill face.
These sheds were full of a seemingly endless array of archaic looking machines which each had a different voice.
I remember standing deafened and stunned by a massive conveyer belt, at least three metres wide, that transported what looked like an acre of strawberries, bathed in water which shimmied toward the Jam Room. On edges of the vast sweet smelling tableau, stood gum-booted women who wore what looked like a prison uniform and who stretched out and plucked unsuitable fruit from the healthy throng and threw them into bins.
The jam room was a belching inferno of heat, sugar and fruit that worked tirelessly churning out jam in an array of tin cans, jars of all manner of shapes and sizes.
It was powered by an equally as hot boiler room that lived in a cavern at the very heart of the plant.
Above that was the lunch room which was brilliant in winter and intolerable in summer.
On the other side of this was the canning room where acres of fruit were peeled, sliced, diced and crammed into cans and then sent on a conveyer belt journey through a frightful machine called the “cooker” and eventually arrived at the packing room.
This is where many of the jobs I was in involved in took place.
This where I got to stack endless rows of “bright” unlabelled cans on pallets to be stored until needed. This should have been boring but I loved it. It involved using a “fork” with 32 prongs in it and a handle that you inserted into a row of cans on a conveyer belt, lifted up swivelled and placed on a wooden pallet lined with cardboard dropped with a flick of the wrist on the pallet.
This was a brilliant workout, It made me feel strong and manly as my sweat mingled with all manner of smells and noises to make it an experience that I can detail to this very day…over 50 years later.
Beyond the packing room hung the packaging line, the enormous store room and the loading dock where my father eventually ruled the world.
Dad was so anti boredom that he used to organise a diversion for all of those who gave up a Saturday of family and football to earn overtime money by running a little gambling game using the Melbourne horse racing guide. The idea was that for a mere 2 shillings you would see if you could chose the first, second or third horses in all of the races. Those who were good at it won a significant pile of 2 shilling pieces that was worth nearly three times you day’s pay.
Dad was never short of people wanting to work overtime for him.
What my father had inadvertently discovered is that most people once they have learned boredom a vaccinated themselves with addiction.
My father used alcohol, cigarettes, sticky buns, sport and to a lesser extent gambling to inoculate himself from his post traumatic shame from world war two. Boredom was a key to a door that he steadfastly refused to use even if he ended up alcoholic, obese, diabetic, with a heart condition and emphysema.
Psychologists have long noted this connection between boredom and other risk factors. Here’s Renee Garfinkel writing in Psychology Today on the topic,
First encountered in childhood and expressed in the characteristic “I have nothing to do” whine, boredom grows up to be associated with depression and with emotional instability and neuroticism more broadly. Boredom is most dangerous in adolescence, when a range of risky and self-destructive behaviours can become the default activities for a bored, disengaged and alienated teenager.
Comprised of both cognitive and emotional elements, boredom is characterized by difficulty focusing and becoming involved in an ongoing activity. Boredom is resistance or its anger—there are multiple interpretations. All agree that boredom is an unpleasant emotional state related to insufficient stimulation—and it’s been implicated pathologies ranging from overeating to substance abuse, from depression to aggression.
In diagrammatic terms boredom looks like this …..
For most of us we have learned that both anxiety and the boredom zones are bad for us and just like my poor parents we have strenuously sort comfort. The weird part is boredom is therapeutically very useful.
Here’s a weird little clip from a strange source here’s Cherif Medawar, Real Estate Hedge Fund Manager, Author and Educator who explains it better than most.
Medwar’s point link the anxiety and the boredom zones in an incredibly interesting way.
Both of my parents were actually embracing acceptable boredom to try and protect themselves from the chaos caused by the war years.
My mother was using boring work and endless repetition to still her mind from the anxiety of being married to a man with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the fact that her life had not taken the path that she had hoped it would.
My father was trying to protect himself from a chaos of dark thoughts and memories that come from spending six years in a war.
Both of them hated boredom and eradicated the very word and ensured that I should never ever entertain it.
Their aim was comfort through and predictable repetition.
What they didn’t know was that their fear of sharing their trauma actually made their problems bigger and that regular repletion and elevating those problems to boring mundanity would have given them a much more comfortable life.
For me I have written this blog in an attempt to embrace the excitement of a childhood being fascinated by things that other people found boring.
The jam factory for instance provided me with and endless supply of experiences that greatly enriched my life. I loved stack cartons full of tins of jam, every different carton had a certain stacking pattern that you learned and repeated again and again and again. It gave you muscles and I think it would make a fabulous gym experience where you have to lift and stack different shaped patterns at speed again as clock or another person would be something worth designing.
Learning how to run extremely idiosyncratic labelling machines was fabulous fun as was learning how to stack and write identifying markings on cartons for deliveries to shops so that the truck driver could find a small order without unpacking everything was a great challenge.
And spearing large cans of tomatoes that were about to explode because they had been prepared wrongly was dangerous but exhilarating.
Not to mention the people I got to work with from all over the planet who worked in the jam factory because anyone could get a job there and you didn’t need great English skills.
These days I fret about a generation of children who have been saying “I’m bored!” since birth.
I firmly believe that children should learn that boredom is good for you. Not just therapeutically but as a means to thinking things through.
Here’s a list of 100 things you could do to overcome boredom… this is for those of you who do not have a nylon stocking sweatshop or a jam factory to engage with:
1. Attend a SMILE Teachers Retreat.
2. Tell someone you love them.
3. Rent a car that you have never driven.
4. Draw with sidewalk chalk.
5. Make bubbles and have a bubble blowing contest.
6. Head to the dollar store for fun.
7. Make some fun cookies by adding one new ingredient to the recipe! (like Chocolate Anzacs)
8. Go on a long walk in the bush.
9. Paint each other’s nails.
10. Play a game of cards, like Uno.
11. Play a fun game of hangman. Classic!
12. Build a kite.
13. Build a mini sail boats and float them down the gutter.
14. Visit a garden centre and then plant some stuff.
15. Check out the local museum.
16. Go to cheap Tuesday movies.
17. Play hide and seek.
18. Try and cook a gourmet meal for $10 using minced something!
19. Have a pillow fight with anyone.
20. Take a glow stick-lit bath.
21. Watch old movies.
22. Look through old family photos.
23. Cover your hand and/ r face with aluminium foil and make a sculpture.
24. Cook a snack together.
25. Make homemade lemonade.
26. Make a fort out of pillows and blankets.
27. Turn an old box into a spaceship.
28. Make a time capsule.
29. Hide a treasure and draw out a pirate map.
30. Write some poetry.
31. Get your camera and take fun pictures and post them to working people.
32. Take dry erase markers and leave messages on mirrors.
33. Make a sign to welcome people.
34. Finger paint using custard, cream and icing.
35. Go star-gazing.
36. Have a picnic either indoors or out.
37. Plan the perfect birthday meal.
38. Plant some seeds in indoor starter pots.
39. Have slinky races down the stairs.
40. Play a game of hot potato.
41. Use old clothes or even new ones and play dress up.
42. Get out old makeup and do a makeover on a man.
43. Host a talent show.
44. Practice your lip sync skills.
45. Make your own play dough.
46. Download free game apps.
47. Make popsicles out of real fruit.
48. Enjoy your favourite board game.
49. Assemble a puzzle.
50. Look up facts about your favourite animal or better still adopt something endangered
51. Plan a pretend vacation to anywhere in the world.
52. Build stuff with wood and power tools.
53. Make bandanas out of old scrap fabric.
54. Enjoy a movie on Netflix.
55. Play your own game of charades.
56. Plan an indoor fashion parade.
57. Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time.
58. Better yet, write them a letter.
59. Volunteer at a local to walk dogs or cuddle cats at a pet rescue.
60. Cook for someone less fortunate.
61. Go and talk to old people at a seniors place.
62. Go window shopping.
63. Download a free book on your reading device.
64. Look up facts about your most inspirational people
65. Walk your dog or play with your pet.
66. Make your pet a toy out of an old t-shirt. Just rip into strips and braid.
67. Do a bug search in a garden and see if you can find some that you don’t know.
68. Write a list of all the items you collect or want to collect.
69. Collect a box of toys you no longer play with for donation.
70. Now go through your books and do the same thing!
71. Interview a family member.
72. Make up some new dance moves.
73. Even better, put on some music and host a dance party.
74. Hug a hundred trees
75. Make adventurous cupcakes with fruit centres and melted toppings
76. Make healthy snack bags to stop you from eating all of the cupcakes.
77. Make an indoor tent and have a campout.
78. Find a place that is having a bulk rubbish pick up and look for fun stuff.
79. Play flashlight tag indoors.
80. Get a tattoo!
81. Play hairstylist and try some new styles.
82. Go to a zoo and think about the moral idea behind it!
83. Find a beautiful flower and grow it.
84. Make jewellery
85. Try rock climbing, theirs a wall somewhere near you.
86. Check out an op shop for cool old clothes
87. Play Simon Says.
88. Do a workout from YouTube
89. Eat 10 vegetables for dinner
90. Make your own smoothies or shakes.
91. Find a YouTube clip that you are proud to share with anyone.
92. Try bird watching.
93. Look up facts about your favourite sports team.
94. Find a kids joke that makes you laugh.
95. Create a four step handshake.
96. Make yourself a new business card.
97. Make a balloon animal.
98. Mow someone’s lawn
99. Read your favourite children’s book.
100. Write a better Children’s book.
101. Wash all of the cars in your street