Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Joy of Boredom

I can’t remember the last time I felt bored.

Having a lot of responsibilities can definitely stem boredom from ever blooming, but even if I didn’t have kids, didn’t have a job, didn’t have a pet, wasn’t married, or had no other responsibilities to speak of and had literally nothing but free time, there would still be no end to the potential entertainment ideas to occupy my time and stop boredom from ever showing up at my doorstep.

There is always something bright, colourful, pretty and perfect to entertain us with these days. You can read about anything online. You can Google. You can spend hours on social media. Pinterest is so fun! You can spend hours in its black hole, looking at countless variations on the perfect versions of an outfit, of a birthday party, of delectable dishes for any event and of any theme, of a beautifully-landscaped yard, of a dream house. You can spend hours watching Netflix/Crave/Shomi/Crackle/Hulu/Hugely-Gigantic-Database-of-TV-Shows-and-Movies-for-a-Low-Monthly-Fee. You can play games and read books, or you can play games while you listen to books, or you can read books while you listen to songs or entire crafted-for-your-mood playlists on a tens-of-thousands-of-songs-database-for-a-low-monthly-fee; there is no end to the possibilities. All the while, don’t forget about the long list of contacts in your phone with whom you can have conversations –all at once, if you want, via text or Messenger or WhatsApp.

Seriously, though: remember what it felt like to be really, truly bored? To have nothing to do? To sit quietly and think? To go to bed early because there were no good shows on the few channels available? (To go to bed without spending 10-15 minutes on your phone, in bed, until your arms got too tired from holding the phone up in front of your face?) To think through the boredom and find something interesting to do? To happen upon some interesting thought or activity? To end up doing something or talking about something or going somewhere new and perhaps having something to show for it in the end, leaving you feeling like you really thrived as a human being that day?

Have we reached the point in our civilization at which we are no longer capable of being legitimately bored?

We have so much to entertain ourselves with, which is great, I suppose, in some ways. However, I think we might be losing something along with the boredom that for me, at least, is growing scarce.

We have a lot of options with which to fill our spare time. Ours is such a “busy” society that I think we really guard our spare time with swords and shields and feel this need to be efficient at maximizing our spare time. I have definitely begun to feel less and less content with just one thing to do at a time. However, in order to fill my spare time with lots of options, these options have increasingly become easy options—ones that require less and less thinking. I’ll sit in front of the TV with at least one device by my side. I often prefer to watch shows or movies that do not require my full attention so that I can both watch the show/movie and scroll through [whatever] or text [whomever] at the same time. In other words, I am doing “more” but also doing “less.” Quantity over quality.

Between social media, the glorious Internet with its bottomless depth of information, email, texting, calendars, lists, and everything else we do on our devices, it’s like we live our real life with part of our attention and energy, and then we also live a parallel life on our devices with the other part of our divided attention. Texting while making dinner. Instagramming while watching TV with the kids. Looking up tracking information for a package while folding laundry. Putting a reminder in my phone to pay some bills after I finish up a phone call at work. Pulling out the phone to take a picture of something “significant” that just happened, feeling like it should be shared with the world. Watching The Martian and quickly Googling “Mars” to find out whether anyone has actually set foot on Mars yet (spoiler alert: no one from Earth has yet).  Unfortunately, the more these parallel universes combine and overlap, they dilute each other.

I have seen and read a lot of articles and quotes and miscellaneous encouragements about being mindful, about being in the present, about putting the phone away when you’re with the kids, about focusing on one thing instead of many little things...all of these ways of life are so important, but actually being mindful and focusing on the present is really challenging. To do anything on my phone while I am doing something else in my parallel universe is really easy. Unfortunately, this has caused me to become so over-stimulated with information that I forget most of what I read and don’t actually allow my mind to process anything securely enough to build those important connections in my brain—to really think things through. It’s like my mind is a landfill site, and front loaders are dumping a heaping lot of bits of things in there, and I’m standing there trying to clear a pathway...and basically see less and less of a point even trying.

The feeling of boredom is something I miss. Sitting at a restaurant before my friends get there, just taking it all in, people watching, considering the tacky decorations—what is that like, again? Waiting before a doctor’s appointment or a class, making small talk with the people around me and learning something interesting about someone else there—what is that like, again?

I miss a lot of that now because my first instinct when I sit with two minutes of free time by myself is to whip out my parallel universe—my phone—and check on the orbits of all the planets there. (This is saying a lot because I am the type of person who likes to chat it up with whomever, and I do love to observe people and restaurant decorations.) What am I forgetting to put in my calendar? Whom do I need to text about something? What happened in the 10 minutes since I put my phone in my purse and drove here? Wait...what—nothing happened? So...did those 10 minutes actually happen? Two minutes later, after checking my email, and scrolling through whatever app whose icon I tapped without thinking, nothing significant has actually happened, really, whereas two minutes of just “being” there would have been way more beneficial to my psyche...and more environmentally-friendly to my mental landfill.

See what I mean? I worry about the loss of boredom. We need time to sit at a loss of things to do and not have anything to fill our minds with clutter sometimes—in order to declutter our minds. We need to take it all in and remember what it felt like to be somewhere, to do something, to talk to someone. We need to let our minds be innovative and curious—let our minds process the information we have and navigate through boredom into creativity or something meaningful and significant instead of always reverting to the easy road, which for me is whipping out my phone, my tablet or finding something to watch on Netflix, or all of the above. “Entertain me,” I exclaim. “Dance for me, puppets!” The entertainment options are endless, but they push the memory of a good, healthy boredom further and further away.

This conflict, these parallel lives, the increase of entertainment and time-fillers, the decrease of boredom, the need to be mindful in the present pushing against the convenience of Google at our fingertips—all of these forces continue to push against each other in this ebb-and-flow that has left me wondering whether there actually can be a solution or a balance. There is something to be lost and something to be gained with the conveniences of modern-day entertainment and technology. There is something very significant to be said of mindfulness and boredom and time to just be, but it is always being held up beside this perfect, shiny, bright beacon of light and possibility, which is our devices and all that they can offer.

I never thought I would say this, but if I ever feel that real, authentic kind of boredom again, I will get really excited. I promise that I will enjoy it; I will really try to enjoy it.

PS If you actually read this whole post until the end without getting distracted by something: you get 1 million points. If you read this whole post without getting bored: I’m glad this wasn’t boring and thanks so much for that; now go, do nothing and feel bored, please. Your mind will thank you and give you another million points.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Dear Music

Dear music, dear songs, dear sounds, dear simple strands of lyrics, thank you. Thank you for being there for me and providing a therapy that neither anything nor anybody could provide in quite the same way. Thank you for sound-tracking so many moments and seasons in my life and leaving a forever print on those times, bringing me back to certain emotions more accurately than looking at old photos would.

 You get me to sing in my car every time—and I don’t stop at traffic lights. You assure me that I can dance (I can’t, but you convince me that I can, so I do). You serenade me in my kitchen while I am cooking. You energize me through the killer leg lifts in Pilates class. You inject my soul with happiness and make me feel more alive. How do you do that? You weave your way through my mind and stay there for as long as I need you. You never fail to offer a variety of sound solutions—one for every mood, every problem, every side of me that needs to be covered with soothing notes or encouraging words.

You offer me a way to worship God. You are the bond I create with countless people. You bridge the gap between my spirit and its expression, between soul and circumstance, between body and movement. You make me want to express myself and make me confident to do so. You provide any and every type of vibe I need in any and every scenario. You lull me to sleep, you bring me to dreams and you wake me with the hope of a new day. You make me want to write, to sing, to think, to dance, to feel, to love, to be.

Music is my steadfast companion. Sometimes our relationship gets complicated, when I long to hear a song that I know will make me feel sad, but I can’t help going back to it anyway—it’s good to feel strongly about something sometimes, even if it means feeling sad. Sometimes, just as I feel our relationship couldn’t get any better, a line in a song comes along and I am carried helplessly through the tunnel to the light, up higher, down deeper, and I am in a complete state of bliss. Sometimes I didn’t realize that I needed to hear a song until I hear it for the first time, and I experience this sort of reverse-desire-fulfilled kind of phenomenon. Whatever state our relationship is in, it is intimate, for I can attach my deepest thoughts, most tender memories and also the most vulnerable, the happiest, the most uplifting and reassuring moments to music.

I will be forever grateful to those who created the flow of sound that promises to fill any listener’s ears, then brain, then heart, with therapy, with life, with a reminder of our own passions.

The Grammys are airing tomorrow, so I thought I would share a list here of my top songs of 2015, which are my favourite songs from records that were released in 2015. (The whole albums that these songs were released on were all really fantastic, though—in some cases, it was hard for me to pick only one song.) My criteria: these were the songs I kept going back to and had on repeat from the moment I heard them:

·         Half Moon Run: “Everybody Wants” - this song's lyrics are so incredibly relevant and true to me, and they are nestled in a very beautiful and raw song structure. I sense that the musical interlude of the voices rising up partway through the song are like a plea--a "please, God"--that is making its way up to heaven. I am also a sucker for "the build," and this song has an awesome build, complemented perfectly by the desperation in the lead vocals. 

·         My Morning Jacket: “In Its Infancy (The Waterfall)” - Jim James' lyrics are just so amazing. He is so philosophical and interesting and just extremely cool. I love this song and how it evolves, both lyrically in the description of the waterfall, and also how the song keeps changing (there are three parts to it).

·         Gary Clark Jr.: “Star” - This song came on one day when Joel and I were in the kitchen, and halfway through it, we were like, "Who is this?" This song will make you move from the moment you hear the bass. It's funky and jazzy and bluesy and chill, and it's also really fun to sing along to and pretend you have an amazing voice like Gary Clark Jr. does. 

·         Mumford and Sons: “Wolf” - A very popular song, I know. "Wolf" is one of those songs that is so positive and uplifting, and it always makes me feel like everything is going to be OK. It makes me love life and feel so happy. 

·         The Maccabees: “Spit It Out” - I first heard the Maccabees when we saw Mumford and Sons last summer in Niagara-on-the-Lake. After Marcus Mumford told the audience that the Maccabees was one of his top two favourite bands ever, I was like, OK, I think I like them, too! This song is ridiculously awesome. That piano riff throughout the song is beautiful.

·         Muse: “Defector” - As a loyal Muse fan, I was very excited for Drones to be released last year. This was my favourite track, hands down. I love it so much, and it quickly became one of my top Muse songs of all time. It's rocky, with lots of guitar distortion, and the chorus has an unexpected rhythm to it, with the standard Muse/Queen sort of sound. The bridge is gorgeous.

·         Foo Fighters: “Iron Rooster” - Joel showed me this song. It is on the Foo Fighters' EP, Saint Cecelia, which was released last year as a free download on November 23. This song is catchy and almost reserved in a way, and the lyrics are great - a bunch of questions that leave you thinking about them after the song is over.

·         Arcade Fire: “Get Right” - This track was part of the deluxe edition of Reflektor, which was released last year (Reflektor was originally released in 2013). It's a really gritty, bluesy song that develops and builds into something more, something that sounds more like an Arcade Fire song. Being one of my favourite bands, of course I loved the songs on this deluxe edition. This song especially was one that I had on repeat.

·         Nothing But Thieves: “If I Get High” - I just discovered this band like a week ago. They sound a bit like Muse and a bit like Royal Blood. The singer has a very powerful and beautiful voice, and the songs are sometimes really rocky and sometimes really quiet. Warning: The video for "If I Get High" is really sad and emotional. I could hardly choose between my other two favourites on the album: "Graveyard Whistling" and "Lover, Please Stay," another ballad that showcases the lead singer's beautiful voice and reminds me of an Adele song without the hype.