I can remember as a boy lying on a pile of leaves I had raked the day before, bored, staring up at the clouds. For whatever reason, years later, I recalled this incident (if you can call it that) and told my mother, “Some of my best memories are of being bored.” For whatever reason, this nonsense delighted her, and over the decades she would sometimes remind me that I had uttered those syllables, as if they embodied some great truth about the human condition.
Truth be told, my best memories do not include that time our broken-down train sat motionless for four hours somewhere between Edinburg and Inverness nor those hours spent sitting through seemingly interminable high school productions nor glancing up every three minutes at the slow clock ticking in Mrs. Waltrip’s Algebra class (even if she did occasionally enliven things by pointing at integers on the chalk board with her middle finger).
Of course, there’s a distinction to be made between mere boredom (languishing in a waiting room) and ennui, which might be best embodied by John Berryman’s poem “Dream Song 14.”
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.
Ennui is malaise, enduring, beyond the cure of looking up the etymology of “balderdash” (originally a weird mixture of liquids like beer, milk, Nu-Grape soda, etc.) or “poppycock” [which comes from the Dutch pap (soft) and kak (dung), so poppycock = soft-poop].
No for ennui, we need something stronger, maybe a serotonin enhancer, a love affair with Oscar Wilde or Dorothy Parker, something more substantial than watching PW Pabst’s 1929 masterpiece Diary of a Lost Girl (my morning’s entertainment).
The fact is I wasn’t really bored when I was lying in that pile of leaves looking at the clouds. I was using my imagination. I was happy.
Characters? Base them on people you know. One of your old high school teachers, an aging history droner with badly dyed hair (you choose the color).
Mix and unmatch outfits.
Add a recent widow with helmet-like hair and a nasal Midwestern accent, a brayer when amused.
You, the protagonist, a lonely man or woman who has joined out of desperation. There’s someone there you sort of dig, maybe. Make him or her up yourself. Have your would-be love interest constantly checking a Tinder feed.
It’s all up to you because I’m not going to write that short story. Writing fiction is too damned demanding.
Crucial Tip #1: One of the most effective ways to overcome writer’s block is to give up writing.
* * *
If you’re a poet and stuck, you can always come up with an image and start from there, whether it’s a memory from childhood, your alcoholic father snoring on a sofa at four PM on a Saturday, his hairy over-abundant stomach exposed beneath a too-small wifebeater, the stomach inflating and deflating while a college football game blares from the TV.
Or a tropically bright painted bunting with nervous eyes doing reconnaissance. He darts out of a thicket as he cops drops trickling from the so-called waterfall in an aquatic garden in your back yard. He flits back, disappearing into shadows.
Cf. Wordsworth and Dickinson.
Coming up with ideas for poems isn’t that taxing, but writing a good poem is almost impossible, and there’s absolutely no money in it. Plus poets tend to commit suicide with such abnormally high rates that actuaries prefer to insure wingsuit fliers over sonneteers.
Crucial Tip # 2: One of the most effective ways to overcome writer’s block is to give up writing poetry. (It just very well could save your life).
* * *
Therefore, if you’re one of these self-indulgent people who must write, I suggest non-fiction, and it would seem there’s so much to write about – the homeless, McMansions, the state of the spray-on tan industry, the Death of God/the Republican Party, the history of Mensa/the fallibility inherent in IQ testing, sleep apnea, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the evolution of intimate apparel, the problem of writing block and how to overcome it.