I’ve just one ambition in life: I aspire
To go on and on being boring.
(Wendy Cope, ‘Being Boring’)
Last week I wrote about Stevie Smith’s ‘Never Again’. In that poem, the speaker thinks about the moment when she will have ‘had enough’.
Since then, I’ve continued to think about ‘having enough’.
People are proud of being busy. Someone who does nothing is boring. Everyone wants to be doing more, experiencing more, getting more.
Wanting more drives consumerism (more stuff). More subtly, it underlies things like the lust for travel (more experiences) or the academic ethos (more knowledge).
Wanting more – or desire – is seen as a basic good.
So what does it mean if you find things boring?
I’m reading Boredom: The Literary History of a State of Mind, by Patricia Meyer Spacks. Spacks says that boredom ‘almost always…suggests disruptions of desire: the inability to desire or to have desire fulfilled.’ (x)
I like Spacks’ definition because it names two forms of boredom. On one hand, you might not get what you want. On the other, you might not actually want anything at all. When Spacks defines boredom as ‘the inability to desire’, she shows that the bored person isn’t just passive – they are trying and failing to have desires. Who’d want, these days, to be the bored (and therefore boring) person who doesn’t want anything?
Smith strikes me as someone who’s always navigating this second kind of boredom. Often, the speakers of her poems sound like they’re dawdling in an unappealing waiting-room:
My life is vile
I hate it so
I’ll stay awhile
And then I’ll go…
Or – as in Smith’s own self-description – they may be ambivalent party-goers, hanging around at the sides:
I keep myself well on the edge. I wouldn’t commit myself to anything. I can always get out if I want to. I think this is a terribly cowardly attitude to life. I’m very ashamed of it, but there it is, dear.
Smith holds life at arms’ length. She knows this isn’t socially acceptable, but refuses to apologise – ‘I’m very ashamed of it, but there it is’.
And one of the things Smith seems to be doing, very quietly, is carving out a space in our lives for boredom, indifference, inertia. In a society which demands that you’re always on, always chasing newness, always trying to produce, that can be surprisingly revolutionary. Smith, like Wendy Cope, is – in some ways – OK with being boring.