Fighting Listlessness


def: Characterized by lack of interest, energy, or spirit.

^A fancy, poetic synonym for the word “boredom.”

I’ve come to hate the term, but find myself experiencing it nonetheless–not often, but certainly more often than I would prefer. Boredom’s presence is unnerving; too much like a spider that, no matter how many times you take it outside, still somehow manages to find its way back into that same corner of the basement next to your Kleenex box. (Although in reality, I imagine boredom a bit more imposing–like the river Styx roiling up and down my bloodstream, carrying any creativity I have across its dark waters and into a ring far deeper than Dante’s ninth.)

At those times when I’m charioted across by a river whose flow completely stymies any productivity I may have once had, I find I tend to respond in one of three ways:

  1. I wallow into a sort of languid stupor, allowing listlessness to think for a short time that it has prevailed for the day. As a consequence, I get very little of anything accomplished, inspiration is a foreign concept, and any suggestions made to placate this stupor sound unappealing and inadequate, even against the sober state of boredom in which I exist–similar to that feeling you get when you crave mint ice cream and someone offers you Cherry Garcia instead. You just know you won’t enjoy it.
  2. I stare at the floor. That blank space I spoke of earlier? I actually think it’s a spot in my carpet where the cat has stretched one too many times, kneading its claws into the fibers until the thread is completely gone, leaving only the plastic wicker backing beneath.
  3. I fight back. No, you cannot have me, Charon, you bestial guardian of all things mundane. I will not allow myself to sink beneath the waters of Netflix and hapless Facebook scrolling. I will work on my novel. I will paint. I will go for a jog. I will do my laundry. I will call my best friend with whom I haven’t spoken in too long. Maybe I’ll even do all those things today.

I have found that #3 is the most gratifying, but the hardest to accomplish because it involves recognizing your own excuses, admitting them as such, and physically choosing to turn them around. We sort of seem to get sucked into a warp, as though watching a movie in French and neglecting to turn on the subtitles. We wind up falling in love with the sound of the language without ever truly understanding what anyone’s saying, and soon we’re in a daze and the entire day has gone by and we haven’t gone grocery shopping, haven’t gotten the oil changed, haven’t stopped by the park to watch the dogs or read something meaningful or have a genuine interaction with anyone, including ourselves. We haven’t even so much as paused to realize that we’re alive. Autonomous.

And because we occupy this space of autonomy, we are given the ability to choose for ourselves the lives that we imagine. We’re not obligated to merely look at the chalk drawings on the ground, we can take Mary Poppins’ hand and leap into the picture itself. We have that choice.

Honestly, I’ve found we all experience boredom, every single one of us, whether you’re Ralph Waldo Emerson or The Cable Guy. It’s just that some of us experience it for lesser periods of time than others. Sometimes it’s for the flash of a second, others the flash of a day. Sometimes the Earth will have completed a full rotation around the Sun before we even feel we have the ability to turn ourselves around in order to live a life outside of a blur of I’m bored‘s and I don’t know‘s.

But always, without fail, the time comes when we suddenly realize we’re indulging in a perpetual state of non-existence, hardly thinking or feeling or contributing much of anything in particular and subconsciously relishing the experience. For those of us who like to claim we’re artistic, ambitious, or creative in the least, this is a little bit more than jarring. It’s downright despicable.

It’s at this time that we choose to flip the switch. Take action. The trick is to be vigilant, to watch for the stupor that will suck you into its vortex, and to refuse to be carried by something that is only a product of yourself anyway. Listlessness is not some sort of undefinable ideal, such as justice or beauty. It is a state of mind that is 100% under the control of its master–You.

So turn on the subtitles of that French film.

Jump into the picture with Mary.

Kill the spider that keeps sneaking back in.

Use the Force, Luke.

Above all, walk with caution, and the second you feel yourself descending into boredom’s maw, leap the hell out of there before your brain turns to a churning puddle of elastic goop. Remember to create for yourself the life that you dream, because nobody else is going to create it for you, and when you do take that chance and resist boredom’s deceiving pull, you’ll find far more than ever you had initially imagined waiting on the other side.


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