The Benefits of Boredom: How to Stop Distracting Yourself and Get Creative Ideas Again

Here in the 21st century, we have conquered boredom. Impressive though that achievement may be, it hasn't come without cost: As with many other conditions we've managed to eliminate from our lives, boredom now looks to have been essential to full human existence. Has our reality of on-demand distractions, tailored ever more closely to our impulses and desires, robbed us of yet another form of everyday adversity that built up the character of previous generations? Perhaps, but more importantly, it may also have dried up our well of creativity. The frustration that descends on us when trying to come up with new ideas; the itch we feel, whenever we start doing something, to do something else; our inability to go more than a few minutes without looking at our phones: we can hardly assume these modern problems are unrelated.

"When you're bored, you tend to daydream, and your mind wanders, and this is a very, very important part of the creative process," says psychologist Sandi Mann in the animated BBC REEL video at the top of the post. "If you find that you're stuck on a problem, or you're really worried about something and can't seem to find a way out, take some time out. Just be bored. Let your mind wander, and you might just find that a creative solution will pop into your head."




But we've fallen into the habit of "swiping and scrolling our boredom away," seeking "a dopamine hit from new and novel experiences" — most often digital ones — to assuage our fears of boredom. And the more such stimulation we get, the more we need, meaning that, "paradoxically, the way to deal with boredom is to allow more of it into our life."

"Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander," Mann says, "you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious, which allows sort of different connections to take place." She says it in "How Boredom Can Lead to Your Most Brilliant Ideas," a TED Talk by journalist Manoush Zomorodi. Like the public-radio podcaster she is, Zomorodi brings in interview clips from not just Mann but a range of experts on the subject of boredom and distraction, including neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, who warns that "every time you shift your attention from one thing to another, the brain has to engage a neurochemical switch that uses up nutrients in the brain to accomplish that." And so the "multitasking" in which we once prided ourselves amounts to nothing more than "rapidly shifting from one thing to the next, depleting neural resources as you go."

We've become like the experiment subjects, described in the Veritasium video above, who were asked to sit alone in an empty room for a few minutes with nothing in front of them but a button that they knew would shock them. In the end, 25 percent of the women and 60 percent of the men chose, unasked, to shock themselves, presumably out of a preference for painful stimulation over no stimulation at all. How much, we have to wonder, does that ultimately differ from the distractions we compulsively seek at every opportunity in the form of social media, games, and other addictive apps? And what do these increasingly frequent self-administered jolts do to our ability to identify promising avenues of thought and follow them all the way to their most fruitful conclusions? As the old saying goes, only the boring are bored. But if our technological lives keep going the way they've been going, soon only the bored will be interesting.

Related Content:

How to Take Advantage of Boredom, the Secret Ingredient of Creativity

How Information Overload Robs Us of Our Creativity: What the Scientific Research Shows

Lynda Barry on How the Smartphone Is Endangering Three Ingredients of Creativity: Loneliness, Uncertainty & Boredom

David Lynch Explains How Meditation Boosts Our Creativity (Plus Free Resources to Help You Start Meditating)

How to Focus: Five Talks Reveal the Secrets of Concentration

Why Time Seems to Speed Up as We Get Older: What the Research Says

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Best of the Edward Gorey Envelope Art Contest

What a delight it must have been to have been one of Edward Gorey’s correspondents, or even a postal worker charged with handling his outgoing mail.

The late author and illustrator had a penchant for embellishing envelopes with the hairy beasts, poker-faced children, and cats who are the mainstays of his darkly humorous aesthetic.

(A number of these envelopes and some 60 postcards and sketches are included in Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyerwhich documents the correspondence-based friendship between Gorey and the author with whom he collaborated on three children’s books, including the delightfully macabre Donald Has a Difficulty.)




The Edward Gorey House, a beloved Cape Cod residence turned museum, has been keeping the tradition alive with its annual Halloween Envelope Art Contest.

Competitors of all ages vie for the opportunity to have their winning (and runners up and “very-close-to-being-runners-up”) Gorey-inspired entries displayed in the Gorey House and its digital extensions.

2019’s theme is the highly evocative “Uncomfortable Creatures” … and depending on the speed with which you can execute a brilliant idea and deliver it to the post office, you may still have a shot—entries must be postmarked by Monday, October 21, with winners to be announced on Halloween.

In addition to Stef Kiihn Aschenbrenner’s winning envelope from the 2018 contest’s over-18 category (top), some of our favorites from past years are reproduced here. Our inky-black hearts are especially warmed to see the spirit of the master kindling the imaginations of the youngest entrants—special shout out to Daniel Miley, aged 4.

View five years’ worth of notable Halloween Envelope Contest entries on the Edward Gorey House website (20182017201620152014) or download the official entry form and race to the post office with your bid for 2019 glory.

Entries must be postmarked by Monday, October 21 and addressed to Edward Gorey House, 8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouth Port, MA 02675 USA.

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Lemony Snicket Reveals His Edward Gorey Obsession in an Upcoming Animated Documentary

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Edward Gorey Illustrates H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds in His Inimitable Gothic Style (1960)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 4 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates Louise Jordan Miln’s “Wooings and Weddings in Many Climes (1900). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Make an Adorable Crocheted Freddie Mercury; Download a Free Crochet Pattern Online

Given his passion for his pussycats, is it really such a stretch to imagine Queen frontman Freddie Mercury passing a quiet evening at home with a cup of tea and a basket of crochet supplies?

Tis but a handicrafter’s fantasy.

Other than a boyish interest in stamp collecting, Mercury claimed to have no hobbies, famously telling an interviewer who inquired, "I have none. I have a lot of sex. Try and get out of that one!"

Which is not to say sex and crochet are mutually exclusive.

If your crochet notions are rooted in frumpy afghans, lumpy baby sweaters, and 1970s beer can hats, you need to get with the times and picture a church bazaar populated exclusively by sexy woolen Mercurys in miniature facsimiles of his Wembley Stadium era garb.




Moji-Moji Design's Janice Holmes, a self-taught expert in amigurumithe art of tiny crocheted creatures, devised the pattern in order to stitch up a special request for a Queen-loving friend.

The result, complete with hairy chest, jacket buckles, and a bamboo skewer mic stand, was so fabulous that she felt compelled to share the pattern with the world, in hope that those who took advantage of the free download would consider donating to the Mercury Phoenix Trust, a charity that bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor and Queen manager Jim Beach founded to fight HIV/AIDS worldwide.

Those who braved the tricky, many-stepped pattern were invited to share photos of their final creation on Moji-Moji’s Facebook page. As of last count, there are 21, and it’s fascinating to note the slight variations in eyes, mustache, and chest hair.

In keeping with amigurumi tradition, the affordable patterns in Moji-Moji’s Etsy shop run toward cute animals, cuddly monsters, and seasonal favorites like witches and elves.

But Freddie clearly stirred something up. Read the comments and you’ll find crafters petitioning Holmes for more music icons like David Bowie and Prince.

Ready to snuggle up with a crochet hook? Download Moji-Moji’s free Freddie Mercury amigarumi pattern here.

If that’s rather too daunting, ease into the craftiness with another free download—Lady Lazybones’ far less advanced foldable cubecraft Freddie.

Even if you plan on sticking with sex as your sole hobby, please consider making a voluntary contribution to the Mercury Phoenix Trust here.

via Boing Boing

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Freddie Mercury Reimagined as Comic Book Heroes

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join her in NYC on Monday, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Harvard Students Perform Amazing Boomwhacker Covers of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin,” Toto’s “Africa” & More

Shortly before he died, Queen’s frontman, Freddie Mercury, famously remarked, "Do whatever you want with my life and my music, just don't make it boring.”

Mission accomplished, thanks to the Harvard Undergraduate Drummers, more commonly known as THUD.

The ensemble, which rehearses weekly, is willing to consider anything with percussive potential—plastic cups, chalkboards, buckets—as an instrument, but is best known for its virtuoso boomwhacker performances.

boomwhacker, for the uninitiated, is a lightweight, hollow plastic tube, whose length determines its musical pitch. When smacked against hand or thigh, it produces a pleasingly resonant sound. Color-coding helps players keep track of which boomwhacker to reach for during a fast-paced, precisely orchestrated number.

In theory, boomwhackers are simple enough for a child to master, but THUD takes things to a loftier plateau with custom crafted sheet music systemized so that no one player gets stuck with an impossibly complex task.




“A lot of it really comes down to feel and muscle memory,” THUD’s assistant director Ben Palmer told The Irish Examiner. “After playing the song enough and internalising it, we have a sense of where our notes come in. Also, many times our parts will play off each other, so we give each other cues by looking at each other just before we play.”

(That Kermit the Frog-like voice chiming in on THUD’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" cover, which many viewers have mistaken for an obnoxious audience member getting a little too into the proceedings, is actually an ensemble member helping the others stay the course.

As serious as the group is about rehearsal and providing local school kids with free interactive music lessons, their live shows lean in to the silliness inherent in their chosen instrument.

This good humored self-awareness defuses the snarkier comments on their YouTube channel (“So this is why Harvard's tuition is so expensive…”)

Check out more THUD performances on the group’s YouTube channel, or help defray their operating costs with a pledge to their Patreon.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Nigerian Teenagers Are Making Slick Sci Fi Films With Their Smartphones

Someone should really snap up the rights for a movie about The Critics, a collective of self-taught teenage filmmakers from northwestern Nigeria.

The boys’ dedication, ambition, and no-budget inventiveness calls to mind other filmmaking fanatics, from the sequestered, homeschooled brothers of The Wolfpack to the fictional Sweding specialists of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Be Kind, Rewind.

While smartphones and free editing apps have definitely made it easier for aspiring filmmakers to bring their fantasies to fruition, it's worth noting that The Critics saved for a month to buy the green fabric for their chroma key effects.




Their productions are also plagued with the internet and power outages that are a frequent occurrence in their home base of Kaduna, slowing everything from the rendering process to the Youtube visual effects tutorials that have advanced their craft.

To date they’ve filmed 20 shorts on a smart phone with a smashed screen, mounted to a broken microphone stand that's found new life as a homemade tripod.

Their simple set up will be coming in for an upgrade, however, now that Nollywood director Kemi Adetiba has brought their efforts to the attention of a much wider audience, who donated $5,800 in a fundraising campaign.

It’s easy to imagine the young male demographic flocking to a feature-length, big-budget expansion of Z: The Beginning. It's possible even the art house crowd could be lured to a summer blockbuster whose setting is Nigeria, thirty years into the future, a novelty for those of us unversed in Nollywood's prodigious output.

The post-apocalyptic short, above, took the crew 7 months to film and edit. The stars also inhabited a number of offscreen roles: stunt coordinator, gaffer, prop master, composer, continuity…

What’s next? Earlier this month, Africa News revealed that the boys are busy with a new film whose plot they aren’t at liberty to reveal. We're guessing a sequel, to go by a not so subtle hint following Z's final credits and a moving dedication to “the ones we’ve lost.”

“Horror, comedy, sci-fi, action, we do all,” The Critics’ proclaim on their Youtube channel, carefully categorizing their work as “films not skits.” (Their films’ length has thus far been dictated by the unpredictability of their wifi situation—Chase, below, is five minutes long and took two days to render.

“One of the targets we aim for in the years to come is to make the biggest film in Nigeria and probably beyond,” Godwin JosiahZ’s 19-year-old writer-director told Channels Television, Lagos' 24-hour news channel:

We want to do something crazy, we want to do something great, something that has not been done before, and from what has been going on now, we believe quite well that it is going to happen soon enough.

Watch The Critics’ films and making-ofs on their Youtube channel.

Support their work with a pledge to their recently launched Patreon.

via Kottke/Africa News

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How to Focus: Five Talks Reveal the Secrets of Concentration

Disagree though we may about what's wrong with life in the 21st century, all of us — at least in the developed, high tech-saturated parts of the world — surely come together in lamenting our inability to focus. We keep hearing how distractions of all kinds, but especially those delivered by social media, fragment our attention into thousands of little pieces, preventing us from completing or even starting the kind of noble long-term endeavors undertaken by our ancestors. But even if that diagnosis is accurate, we might wonder, how does it all work? These five video talks offer not just insights into the nuts and bolts of attention, concentration, and focus, but suggestions about how we might tighten our own as well.

In "How to Get Your Brain to Focus," the TED Talk at the top of the post, Hyperfocus author Chris Bailey relates how his own life devolved into a morning-noon-night "series of screens," and what resulted when he did away with some of those screens and the distractions they unceasingly presented him — or rather, the overstimulation they inflicted on him: "We think that our brains are distracted," he says, "but they're overstimulated."




Reducing his own level of stimulation further still, he deliberately engaged in such low-stimulation (more commonly known as "boring") practices as reading iTunes' entire terms-and-conditions document (and not in graphic-novel form), waiting on hold with Air Canada's baggage department, counting the zeroes in pi, and finally just watching a clock.

Bailey found that, absent the frequent dopamine hits provided by his screens, his attention span grew and more ideas, plans, and thoughts about the future came to him. "We think that we need to fit more in," he says, but in reality "we're doing too much, so much that our mind never wanders." When we have nothing in particular to focus on, our mind finds its way into new territories: hence, he says, the fact that we so often get our best ideas in the shower. He references data indicating that these mental wanderings take us back into the past 12 percent of the time and remain in the present 28 percent of the time, but most often fast-forward into the future, a habit also explored by neuroscientist Amishi Jha in the TED Talk just above, "How to Tame Your Wandering Mind."

"Our mind is an exquisite time-traveling master," says Jha, "and we land in this mental time-travel mode of the past or the future very frequently. "And when this happens, when we mind-wander without an awareness that we're doing it, there are consequences. We make errors. We miss critical information, sometimes. And we have difficulty making decisions." In Jha's view, a wandering mind can be dangerous: she labels its "internal distraction" as one of the three factors, alongside external stress and distraction in the environment, that "diminishes attention's power." Her laboratory research has brought her to endorse the solution of "mindfulness practice," which "has to do with paying attention to our present-moment experience with awareness. And without any kind of emotional reactivity of what's happening," keeping our finger on the "play" button "to experience the moment-to-moment unfolding of our lives."

As a mindfulness practice, meditation does the trick for many, although precision shooting champion Christina Bengtsson recommends staring at leaves. "I focused on a beautiful autumn leaf playing in the wind," she says of her decisive shot in her TED Talk above. "Suddenly I am completely calm, and the world champion title was mine." That leaf, she says, "relieved me of distracting thoughts and made me focus," and the experience led her to come up with a broader theory. "We need to learn to notice disturbing thoughts and to distinguish them from not-disturbing thoughts," she says, a not-disturbing thought being one that "knocks out all the disturbing and worrying thoughts." In this framework, the thought of a leaf can drain the distracting power from all those nagging what-ifs about our goals and the future ahead.

"Focus is not about becoming something new or something better, but simply about functioning exactly as well as we already are," says Bengtsson, "and understanding that this is enough for both general happiness and great achievements." Among her other, non-leaf-related recommendations is to create a "not-to-do list," a form suited to a world "no longer about prioritizing, but about prioritizing away." The not-to-do list also gets a strong endorsement in "How to Focus Intensely," the Freedom in Thought animated video just above. After opening with an elaborate analogy about robots, boxes, and factory fires, it goes on to break down the key tradeoff of attention: on one side directed focus, "providing undivided attention while ignoring environmental stimuli," and on the other generalized focus, which does the opposite.

We human beings often don't make that tradeoff adeptly, and the reasons cited here include stress, engagement in tasks we dislike because they aren't inherently pleasurable (even when they promise pleasures later on, since the arrival of those pleasures can be uncertain), and the habit of short-term pleasure-seeking. Along with meditation and the not-to-do list come other featured strategies like actively placing boundaries on your media consumption, structuring your day with "blocks" of work separated by short breaks, and drawing up a priority list, all while adhering to the general ratio of spending 80 percent of your time on "activities that produce long-term pleasure" and 20 percent on "activities that produce short-term pleasure."

The Freedom in Thought video also recommends something called "deep work," a set of techniques defined by computer scientist Cal Newport in his book of the same name. But to do deep work as Newport himself does it requires that you take a step that may sound radical at first: quit social media. That imperative provides the title of Newport's TED Talk above, which explains the whys and hows of doing just that. He also deals with the common objections to the notion of quitting social media, framing social media itself as just another slot machine-like form of entertainment — with all the attendant psychological harms — that, because of its sheer commonness and easiness, can hardly be as vital to success in the 21st-century economy as it's so often claimed to be.

Newport explains that "what the market dismisses, for the most part, are activities that are easy to replicate and produce a small amount of value," i.e. what most of us spend our days doing on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. "It's instead going to reward the deep, concentrated work required to build real skills and apply those skills to produce things, like a craftsman, that are rare and are valuable." If you treat your attention with respect, he says, "when it comes time to work, you can actually do one thing after another, and do it with intensity, and intensity can be traded for time." When you train your mind away from distraction, in other words, you actually end up with more time to work with — an asset that even Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, both of whom famously credit their own success to focus, can't buy for themselves.

Related Content:

How Information Overload Robs Us of Our Creativity: What the Scientific Research Shows

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Alan Watts Presents a 15-Minute Guided Meditation: A Time-Tested Way to Stop Thinking About Thinking

Listen to Wake Up to Your Life: Discovering the Buddhist Path of Attention by Ken McLeod

How to Take Advantage of Boredom, the Secret Ingredient of Creativity

Lynda Barry on How the Smartphone Is Endangering Three Ingredients of Creativity: Loneliness, Uncertainty & Boredom

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

An Artist Crochets a Life-Size, Anatomically-Correct Skeleton, Complete with Organs

How to make a life-sized facsimile of a human skeleton:

  1. Download files published under a Creative Commons license, and arrange to have them 3-D printed.

or

  1. Do as artist Shanell Papp did, above, and crochet one.

The latter will take considerably more time and attention on your part. Papp gave up all extracurricular activities for four months to hook the woolen skeleton around her work and school schedule. Equipping it with internal organs ate up another four.

To ensure accuracy, Papp armed herself with anatomical textbooks and an actual human skeleton on loan from the University of Lethbridge, where she was an undergrad. The brain has gray and white matter, there's marrow in the bones, the stomach contains half-digested wool food, and the intestines can be unspooled to a realistic length.

The grueling 2006 project did not exhaust her fascination for the intricacies of human anatomy. The University of Saskatchewan granted her open access to draw in the gross anatomy lab while she pursued her MFA.

 

As she told MICE magazine:

I wanted this work to illustrate all of the organs and bones everyone shares and to not highlight differences. Much of anatomical history is about defining difference, by comparative analysis. This can set up strange taxonomies and hierarchies. I wasn't interested in participating in that; I wanted to expose the fragile, common, and unseen things in all of us.  

The finished piece, which is displayed supine on a gurney she nabbed for free during a mortuary renovation, incorporates many of Papp’s other abiding interests: horror, medical history, Frankenstein, crime investigation, and mortuary practices.




Papp, who taught herself how to crochet from books as a child, using whatever yarn found its way to her grandma’s junk shop, appreciates how her chosen medium adds a layer of homey softness and familiarity to the macabre.

It’s also not lost on her that fiber arts, often dismissed as too “crafty” by the establishment, were an important component of 70s-era feminist art, though in her view, her work is more of a statement on the history of textile manufacturing, which is to say the history of labor and class struggle.

See more of Shanell Papp’s work here.

All images in this post by Shanell Papp.

via designboom/Mymodernmet

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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