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Why Boredom Is an Illusion

I am always surrounded by opportunities to explore, to occupy my time.

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I had to go to traffic court today. Well, I guess I didn’t HAVE to go, but it feels like when your mother says “Come over here”.  The idea of not moving toward her hits you with potential consequences your imagination is unwilling to contemplate.

So there I was, in my desire not to discover the consequences of dodging the law, within the frigid walls of Van Nuys superior courtroom 102. I was seated near the front of the roughly 40 unlucky recipients of today’s Notices to Appear.

An older-yet-spritely cop took the stand. He began a rehearsed, but still charismatic introduction, outlining the proceedings. He went over ground rules of the courtroom. No laptops, no photos, no headphones. He closed with a joke. “For ten years I’ve asked you to turn off all smartphones, and in those ten years I’ve found that no matter what I say, you won’t. So let’s compromise and just promise me you’ll silence them.”

Shortly after, the judge entered and the proceedings began. Looking around, I found that the cop’s words rang true. Pretty much every one around me was immersed in a device. This isn’t an option for me, as a proud flip phone carrier. But no matter, I had come armed with a book. How else could anyone survive such incredible tedium? So I reached into my backpack to get it out.

It wasn’t there.

Shocking twist, right? Thus far you’re reading an article about a dude in traffic court who forgot a book. Not exactly the thrilling content you may have hoped for when you read the title. But the truth is, four hours is considerable time and, though I didn’t know it was going to be that long, I knew it was going to be a while. And without a book, I had nothing to do. There’s your boredom for you.

Now I suppose you’re wondering about the other half of the title, the illusion.

Well, as I sat and looked around the unremarkable courtroom, my college acting professor’s words came floating back from some far-off recess of my mind; “An actor must never be bored. An actor must always be observing.” Then she pointed out the window to a woman walking a dog on the street below. “You are actors because none of you would be interesting to her, but she is interesting to you.”

She was right. The room I was in was only unremarkable because I had failed to be an observer.

There was a lot to explore in that courtroom. At first I was fascinated by the proceedings. The way the judge and bailiff always seemed to be in the defendants’ corner, but also invariably pushed settlements over trial. The way the officers interacted with the people they had pulled over. The way some people got aggressive, and others groveled. The translator who sat in the corner, ready to assist with Spanish speaking defendants.

Then I became interested in the courtroom itself. The design of the walls, the seats, the judges bench. It had clearly been designed to be utilitarian, as if someone forbade the architect from being too expressive. Why is that? Why couldn’t it look more like a kindergarten classroom? It’s not as if the constitution says that government buildings have to look drab and austere. And yet they always do.

Before I knew it, they were calling my name.

I spent four happy hours exploring the people and things in that courtroom. I’m not even interested in legal matters. It’s just that I was confronted with a choice between exploring something new, or doing nothing at all, and ended up learning more about the world. Boredom is an illusion. A choice.

I am always surrounded by opportunities to explore, to occupy my time. There is always more to be observed, learned, analyzed, experienced… life always offers more. I had confined myself to certain mediums of entertainment. I’m not saying don’t ever watch a movie or look at your phone, only realize that those are choices made out of desire, not out of necessity.

Sometimes the mind needs a little break from mental fast food.

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    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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