Suck it up. Boredom is a pandemic privilege
The backdrop to my childhood contained Monty Python songs, the Goodies on telly (still sad about Tim Brooke-Taylor), 20c lolly bags, and the repeated refrain: Only boring people are bored.
On stinking hot afternoons, drizzly grey days, even on perfect autumnal evenings, me and my siblings would drone: "We're boooooooooored".
"Only boring people are bored," one of the parentals would respond. Maybe with a twinkle, maybe with an eyeroll, always with a subtext: Find something to do. There's always something to do. To read, to make, to run circles around. Find something.
Disclaimer here: I'm lucky to be almost the opposite of bored in this surreal time. I'm anxious that I won't get everything done while we're in this national moment of pause. The book pile, the house projects, the amazing novel I was always going to write if only I had enough time (and now I have time, the anxiety that it was never really about lacking time, but about lacking talent).
But again, I'm lucky.
Imagine being in a tiny New York apartment. Somewhere with no outdoor escape. In China, some people were sealed inside their homes by authorities.
We still have people in prisons, and in detention. And aged care homes. And without internet access.
Still, we're all at home a lot more, with fewer avenues of escape.
So "I'm boooooored" is echoing through the Australian suburbs, while parental teeth are grinding with frustration.
It's not just the kids, either.
Australian astrophysicist Daniel Reardon ended up in hospital, after reportedly getting so bored he stuck magnets up his nose.
In the UK, boredom has overtaken anxiety as the leading emotional state.
In France, they're complaining of ennui.
In Italy, a Harvard survey of 3500 people found they ranked boredom as a bigger problem than loneliness, or a lack of fresh air.
News sites are piling on with listicles of ways to beat boredom, which is feeding into an immense pressure to use this time to achieve something extraordinary.
Buy the app, get ripped like Chris Hemsworth. Learn a language, or origami. Make a film.
Social media is overflowing with motivational ideas to do, to produce, to achieve.
Now there's a pushback, too, a nudge to relax (sort of). Learn mindfulness, relax, go to Bunnings and buy everything you need for the perfect Zen home.
Must be a pain in the bum to hear all of that when you're just trying to make sure you don't accidentally turn up nude to a Zoom meeting, that the background doesn't include shameful household slovenliness or the dog's mess and the kids aren't audibly wailing "I'm booooored".
Here in Australia, we're bloody lucky to have the space to be bored.
Boredom is better than the thrumming anxiety this pandemic can induce. It's better than fear about this collective drama we're living through, this bewilderment at the suddenness with which our normal lives were ripped away, and replaced with this odd existence.
Now, our worlds have been reduced to our homes. Smaller circles, while the virus rages.
And it's not just the disease that's terrifying.
This week, Australian academics warned about the various ways in which we might meet our doom.
The Commission for The Human Future - an Australian mob chaired by former pollie John Hewson looking at the threats facing us - say coronavirus gives us the perfect opportunity to look at other looming cataclysmic events.
It's chilling reading. The collapse of ecosystems leading to mass extinctions, lack of access to water, and food, global pollution, nuclear weapons, uncontrolled new technologies such as artificial intelligence, and other pandemics. And, of course, climate change.
Give me boredom any day.
Chronic boredom, when people are prone to listlessness no matter what is going on around them, can be dangerous.
It can come from, or lead to, depression. And we all need to be taking care of our mental health right now.
We need to watch out for loneliness in our isolation, we need to find ways to engage.
But this time will pass. This impatience, this frustration, is only temporary.
In Australia, boredom is a privilege. A boring privilege we have earned by being boring, boringly obedient, and doing the right things to avoid having mass graves dug in our public spaces.
Only a few eedjits have been so incapable of dealing with idleness that they've packed out beaches or had houseparties.
We've earned our boredom by not being the sort of maniacs we're seeing in the United States who are, lemming-like, forming mass protests to be allowed out. Coughing and spluttering all over each other. Choosing the disease of death over the banality of boredom.
It's not just boring people who get bored. We all do sometimes, and kids do particularly because they have less control over their situations, and more need for stimulation. But for a grown up to whinge about being bored when things could be so much worse? Booooooring.
Originally published as Suck it up. Boredom is a pandemic privilege