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Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Letter to the Bored Kid

Dear Kid -
Are you a boy or a girl? I can't tell from here. I can't see you.
But that's OK. What I know is that summer is coming, and you are a person who gets bored sometimes even when it's not summer. I want to help because I remember being a bored kid, too. Not like my cousin Meghan, who was always active and loved horses and seemed to have a million cool things going on. (That's part of why I liked visiting her in the summer. I was in awe.)

Adults became frustrated when I would complain about being bored. "Go out and play!" my mother would say.

Easy for her. She didn't understand that Lynn was on vacation with her family and we'd already explored the dump across the railroad tracks earlier in the week and I didn't care if ever saw my Hula Hoop again -- that's how much I had practiced. There was nothing to do!

It seems strange to remember that time, when I look back at it, because now I am almost never bored. I say "almost" because I admit that every so often I am trapped in a conversation with someone who isn't all that interesting, and all I wish to do is get away. I used to also be bored at church and in meetings (grownups often go to boring meetings), but now I always have a sketchbook with me, and I'm never bored when I draw, and I would happily draw in church or at a meeting.

I cannot promise you that you will never be bored again, or even that your parents will let you draw in church, if you go to church. But when I look back on the time when boredom seemed to crawl out from under my bed like some oozy, yawning slug, I think of all the things I could've done to make myself unbored. It makes me a little sad now, since these days my biggest problem is finding time to do all the stuff I want to do.

Anyway, YOU have time. You'll have even more of it in a few weeks. So I thought I'd give you some things to think about if you feel bored.

1. Take something you already like to do, and make an EPIC PLAN. If you like to draw (I like to draw, so I tend to use that as an example a lot), decide you are going to make a massive, highly detailed, wonderfully colored drawing that will take weeks to finish. If you like to build things with popsicle sticks or Legos or wood or straws, design something bigger and better than you've ever built. If you take flute lessons, see if you can invent your own tune for the flute. If you play a sport, invent a tournament for you and some friends. You don't even need the standard number of players. Create a trophy or prize for the winner. The point is, make it big.

2. Now, start working on that epic plan immediately. Do not hesitate. Making the plan was itself an anti-boredom device. Seeing the plan grow into something real is another one.

3. Start a notebook and be a reporter. If you are a girl, it's possible that someone has given you a gift of a "diary" or a journal. It is also possible that you don't really know what to write in it, because, after all, you are bored and have a boring life, right? (That's actually not correct, but that's how you feel, and that's what matters at the moment.)

Instead of trying to write just about yourself in your notebook, use it as a tool for learning about things that matter to you. Tell people you're planning a book (maybe you are, maybe you aren't) and you need to interview them. Tell them that it's your "anti-boredom book," and that you want to find out interesting things. Make a list of questions. Maybe you can start out with "What do you do when you're bored?" When you have a list, find your person and start asking. It's OK, because most people like to talk about themselves.

Write down their answers. Then, later, you can write your thoughts about what they said, if you feel like it. Or not. But I guarantee that when you ask people about their lives, you find out all kinds of interesting things. Then maybe write a book, when you get some good material. Or create a fake newspaper. Or, if you hear something astonishing that inspires you -- "Well, I collect butterflies that have blue on them, and give them French names" -- you can put down your notebook and try someone else's idea of a non-boring thing.

The point is to stop thinking the same old boring thoughts ("I'm so bored I'm so bored I'm so bored") and discover the power of asking questions.

**Hint: Start with grownups, because they'll be flattered that you're interested in them, and they will think it's charming that you're asking. You'll get confidence in your interviewing skills, and then you can move on to more difficult subjects -- like other kids. Other kids will think it's cool that you're writing a book. Which you may or may not be doing, but you can decide that later.

3. Move around. People who like sports already know this, but the rest of us have to learn it the hard way. If you keep your body still for too long, it's like opening up a cap on your head and draining out all the energy and interest. You don't have to go outside and run around. You just have to stop being still. You can decide you want to organize your books or art supplies. You can toss toys to your cat. I used to do somersaults up the steps of our house, but because I am now an adult, I cannot recommend that. (But I did it all the time.) The point is, energy makes energy.

4. Be an active fan. This is best done with a friend. Pick one of your favorite TV shows or cartoons or video games, then -- with your friend -- make a list of things you would do if you were running the the show. What would happen to the hero? Where would the characters take a road trip? What new characters would you introduce? How would you pay back the villain for being a bad person?

5. Do something that's "too young" for you. Remember something you enjoyed doing at a younger age. Now pretend it doesn't matter that you've outgrown it. Make mud pies. Make paper clothes for your Barbies. My daughter was bored at a restaurant a few weeks ago so she took one of the coloring books and some crayons set out for little kids, and started coloring Elmo from "Sesame Street." She's 19. She was not bored. Did anyone think it was weird? We don't know. And she didn't care. That's one of the reasons that, even though she is my daughter, she is also one of my heroes.

6. Find a friend and invent a language for the two of you. This is fun, and you can use notebooks to keep track of your invented words. It's also fun to learn an existing language with a friend. In 5th grade, Martha Brown and I taught ourselves the American Sign Language alphabet by watching a show on TV. Now you could do that using the internet. We used to sign to each other in school -- though we were better at signing ourselves than reading each other's signs.

7. When all else fails, do even a boring thing. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Doing something is definitely better than watching TV you don't care about. (Though I think watching TV can be fun, too.) Most importantly, doing SOMETHING can put you out in the world, where you bump into a friend or two. Maybe each of you, by yourself, is bored. So you decide to walk her dog (BOR-RINNGGGG!). But while you are walking her dog, three excellent things happen. First, the dog becomes tail-wagging grateful. Second, your friend's mother is so grateful that she, too, would wag her tail if she had one. Third, while you're walking her dog, the two of you come up with an idea for something interesting to do together. Why? Because you're moving and talking. Energy makes energy.

So that's it for now. I might think of other things to do later. I didn't really tell you to start drawing more, though of course that's my idea of the best thing to do. But if you are a kid and you have good ideas for handling boredom, or even if you are an adult who has thoughts, I would like to read them. And that would be something to do that could make you not-bored, at least for a few minutes.

Best Regards,
Karen at Pen in Hand


Kay said...

super advice! My sons complained of being bored..but I never had that problem as I can be happy just sitting and daydreaming! I always say that boredom isn't in my vocabulary..although your example of sitting through a boring conversation would be one I can identify with. Have a great day

sara holbrook said...

This is great. I always tell kids to embrace the boredom and take the time to daydream. I like your response soooo much better.
I once looked at my 12-year-old daughter and said, "What's with the face?"
"I'm bored, " she replied.
We were at Disney World.
Take that Mickey.

honey said...

an anti-boring book! fabulous :-) what a brilliant post.

Stephanie said...

Great post! Two more weeks of school and soon I will be hearing the "I'm bored" statements over and over. This was timely.

Gary said...

Love the post! My daughter has actually grabbed a kids coloring book in a restaurant , she's 18. I actually joined in, great fun!

Meagan said...

Hi Karen... I have a question completely unrelated to this post, but I wasn't sure how else to contact you. I think I remember reading earlier that you work with birds sometimes? I was hoping you could help me with a bird nesting issue... In our back yard we have (and had) a large (4-5 foot sphere) thorny bush of some kind, butted up against a sickly spruce tree, probably 8 feet tall. My husband and I were planning to take both down and plant a cherry tree in the spot, but when my husband got the spruce down he discovered a cardinal nest with three eggs in the thorny bush. So now we're planning to leave the bush at least until fall, to give the cardinals time to grow, but taking down the spruce already exposed the nest WAY more than it was. We're worried that the nest is too vulnerable now (in spite of the substantial thorns) and that either the eggs will get taken or the cardinals will just abandon the nest. Is there anything we could do to put up some kind of temporary screen to help them out? Any other thoughts? You can shoot me an email at hadesarrow at yahoo if you think of anything. I'd appreciate it, I love our cardinals. Thanks.

suzanne cabrera said...

Karen---I just read the 'trending report' from Etsy. Both typewriters and owls are 'in' this summer, so you may have just hit a home run!

By the way, just saw the picture of you and your pup...or should I say bear...on Facebook. Makes the drawing in your header even funnier!