Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Bored Inhuman Falls in Love with Pears, Again

Three Pears & A Wooden Bowl
One day common people, endowed with common sense, are going to get bored with being inhuman or, rather, with being continually dehumanized by wealth. And they will get rid of it, even if philosophers and producers of the superfluous swear that they are wrong.

- Alberto Moravia

It's strange to me that anyone could ever claim to be bored when there is so much beauty in the world, so many small things with which we might engage, become enchanted and fascinated. Sometimes I rail, secretly and only to myself so as not to hurt anyone's feelings, the lyrics from that Harvey Dangerfield song, "I hear the voices in my head, I swear to god it sounds like they're snoring, but if you're bored than you're boring!" Or perhaps, Ani's melodious, "What makes you so lavish that you can afford to spend every sober moment feeling angry and bored?"

Tonight, I spent an hour contemplating pears. I have a love affair with pears that began last fall when, while sitting under a pear tree, one fell *plop!* right into my lap as I was reading a short story by Ursula K. Le Guin about young love. The juxtaposition inspired a poem, and the poem didn't just articulate a passion for the fruit that I hadn't known, but created an appreciation that I hadn't had, until that moment. Ever since, my brain seems hard-wired to adore pears, their soft green color, their subtle scent, the grainy, juicy texture when I bite into one. I find myself longing to collect paintings and photographs of pears, to delay beside them a little while, running my fingertips along their sides and stems in the produce aisle. Pears are beautiful, simple and strange.

So this is what I suspect: boredom is not a boredom with the world, but with ourselves. We are tired of doing and thinking the same things, of being always the same. But more than this, we are bored with being inhuman. For, indeed, being truly human means we are never really the same from moment to moment, if we engage the present fully and with enthusiasm. The simplest life lived in poverty, humility and attentive experience can offer an endless unfolding of insight and potential even within the repetition of daily tasks. Heidegger calls humanity "the shepherds of being." It is through our attention, our experiences and perceptions, that reality discloses itself, that being itself comes to be known. No manifestation or moment is the same. We view the sycamore from the bottom of the hill, and then we climb that hill and sit beneath it and this, yes, is the same sycamore, but a new experience. Even when we climb back down the hill and look again from where we stood before, our view is enlarged, our experience expanded to include that moment of deeper intimacy that now fades into the absence of memory.

What I mean is that boredom is a failure of attention, as well as of curiosity and imagination, but we are not just its victims. Boredom is not only the mistake of believing the world is pretty much the same as it ever was--and that, given its sameness, systems of wealth accumulation or stimulating entertainment can or should replace a direct engagement with the real--but it is the tragic belief that we are the same, that we do not change in response to our experiences and that, if we do, those changes are incidental, irrelevant and not worth noting or contemplating. Boredom is believing ourselves to be less than human. It is not merely a laziness on our part, but a symptom. We want to be human, we want to be "shepherds of being," to actively participate in the unfolding of the world before the self-conscious inquiring mind. Video games and television, pot and dirty jokes, can only distract us for so long from this deeper need for engagement with the "things" of the world which, through their continuing disclosures, allow us to experience and act like human beings.

What is the way out of boredom? One has to fall in love with the actual, and with the mystery of absence and mere-potential that surround it like swaddling clothes. It might be out of date to compare it to the way a lover never grows bored with the beloved, since all too easily these days romantic relationships fall apart for just that reason. What can I compare it to, then? This fascination with simple experience--touching the neck of a pear, again; watching the shivering sliver of light that splits the tea from the teacup, again; noticing the tall man and his short companion walk by the cafe window, again; licking my lips after eating garlic bread, looking all the way up past the buildings to the dark November clouds, removing the pillows and folding back the bed comforter, again... What beauty and pleasure there is in that word: again, again, again, but never twice the same.

Simplicity satisfies; in fact, sometimes it overwhelms, and luxury and wealth feel heavy with dis-ease, too much to take in or to bear. Nothing is superfluous except that which cannot be experienced and appreciated to the fullest, but when we resign ourselves to the bored inhuman, all the world might as well be superfluous.

What is the way out of boredom? I would start by eating a pear.

1 comment:

  1. With lovers and friends, watching them change can be the best antidote to boredom. We just need to pay closer attention, I guess.