On Not Knowing What to Do Next

Last weekend, I called my mom from the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden, and because I rarely call my parents unless I need to ask them something, she expected me to launch into an explanation of the latest bureaucratic mishap, minor illness, or disaster in the kitchen. Instead, I told her, “I’m bored.”

“I’m bored” was a ridiculous thing for me to say at that exact moment. The reasons are as follows:

  1. I was listening to free jazz in a notable cultural institution.
  2. I was sitting across from a sculpture that was probably worth more than my lifetime earnings.
  3. I was drinking sangria that was too sweet and not fruity enough to be considered good but still made me feel super cool anyway.
  4. Even if the jazz was too abstract for me to really appreciate it, I had The Luminaries, which, with its 800+ pages, is impressive both in a literary sense and its ability to kill the occasional scary spider that crawls from the bushes.

Yet somehow, I’ve run out of things to do. Or to be more accurate, I have convinced myself that I have run out of things to do.

In most cases, boredom, especially the inattentive or dismissive kind that comes from confronting something that is simply uninteresting, usually leads you to pursue possibilities. The mind wanders, daydreaming of the ways the passing minutes could be better spent or plotting the next move. At a certain critical point, you eventually take a next step towards doing something else, and nine times out of ten, it’s something marginally more riveting. But in recent days, I’ve been experiencing a restless ennui that feels like a craving for a mysterious snack food that you can’t describe or find in your kitchen cabinets.

The terrible part about this particular brand of boredom is that rather than truly leading me to something else, it blankets possibility in blandness. Yes, I could walk around the Jefferson Memorial or grab a free ticket to Winter’s Tale or wake up early enough to beat the crowds at the Holocaust Museum’s permanent exhibition. I could also do absolutely nothing. All these choices have become equivalent.

The best part about this particular brand of boredom is that it does lead you to wander, albeit listlessly. Usually, these are the times when it’s best to take a walk or go window shopping, where you can look at a dress on a mannequin or a book display or a scarf on a sales rack, items that don’t seriously demand your attention. Or maybe it’s a brightly painted Victorian-era house or the dog that comes to investigate your ankles. Eventually, something snags a neuron, and this snag is enough to remind yourself how to find the world interesting again. As you continue with your walk, you remember that dress or scarf or house or dog and wonder what is next.

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