Pushing Punch Cards Into Slots

People often confuse boredom with depression.

We are overstimulated to excess; by that, I do not mean merely that we are too stimulated, but that we are too overstimulated. There are televisions and computers and radios in the morning, often accompanied by traffic and children and alarm clocks, microwaves that beep, drive-thru coffee shops and gas stations. We meet an onslaught of people and things in the world that demand our attention often before the sun has even risen.

This bores us. Our minds need to wander a little. They need to remember our pasts, imagine things, look ahead, concentrate on problems, but they are squeezed down the narrow funnel of schedules and maintenance. There is so much to do simply to maintain the pattern of our lives that most of our energy becomes devoted to that pattern. We are bored, because we spend so much of our time performing the equivalent of pushing punch cards into slots.

I am often guilty of mistaking the structure for my life. I can trip along in this blindness for days, weeks, and months until I stub my toe on something that moves me, like Utah Phillips telling stories or the right string of poetic phrases, and then it is as though I remember myself. The structure - meetings, my morning muffin, the city bus trips, grocery shopping, feeding the cats - becomes just that: a construct. Then, I feel flailing and hurt, because if I am not these things, what am I? I am a vulnerable thing. I am a small thing. I am a turtle without a shell.

In those soft moments between the hard particulars, I want to run like hell, light out of whatever place I am in as though my hair is on fire. I imagine that I will be a land-loving hippie with sticks in my hair. Or I will be an outsider artist on a llama farm. Or I will become an ascetic poet who still drinks whiskey. I will take up guitar. I will make art films. I will publish books. I will take thousands of photographs. I will build furniture. I will collect clockwork toys and open a museum.

But then it is time to catch the bus again, and I head home to make supper, watch television, bring the clothes up from the dryer, and ready the alarm clock for another day.

(Also posted at RealMental.org.)

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