This Is Not a Story About Boredom

Okay, I lied. It totally is—but it is also a story about hope and curiosity and how under the right circumstances, an unsolved mystery can be like a metaphorical lighthouse. Yes, I just said the phrase metaphorical lighthouse.

For awhile now, I’ve had this tidy plan for my high school posts. It involved character development and narrative arc and me making a timeline on a piece of notebook paper and I was going to be very chronological and organized. Those who know me will understand how laughable this is. You will understand that it just couldn’t last.

So I’m taking a small detour, because I’ve stumbled upon something I want to talk about. And by stumbled upon, I mean it was handed to me again and again.

In the last month or so, I’ve gotten a number of emails from people who are currently in junior high and high school and who’ve had some incredibly personal and insightful things to say about a deceptively rough topic: boredom.

A lot of the correspondences involve frustration—people wondering how to stay sane and if it will get better and most especially, how to survive it on a daily basis. These are good questions and to be frank, I have no answers. Boredom is a tricky thing and it comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes. I can’t tell you how to beat it. But I can tell you what I did.

Here is an admission: for most of my life, I thought people who got bored were just lazy thinkers. I’d always been able to entertain myself, either with a book or a story I was making up, a long run with the dog or an impromptu living room dance-party with my sister. People who got bored just weren’t trying hard enough.

Then I started high school and boredom became my number-one hobby.

When people find out that I was homeschooled by hippies/gypsies/raised by wolves, a lot of times they’ll ask if public school was a big adjustment. I always say no. I tell them I adjusted well and adapted quickly and kept my head down.

And that’s true.

But there’s also another true thing, and anyone who’s ever worked with animals in captivity will spot the signs immediately.

Brenna at sixteen is restless—a fidgeter. She tears up looseleaf paper like a neurotic hamster and chews the erasers off her pencils and picks apart the layers of her pressboard desk. If she were allowed up out of her seat, she would pace just as tragically as the tigers at the zoo. She begins to wonder whether or not it is possible to die from boredom. Literally die.

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Inside-Out and Backwards

Sophomore year was the year of Learn by Watching, and this worked out, because watching was what I was good at. I learned about rules very quickly, mostly because I have always had an unhealthy obsession with them. And what I learned was this: even though they told us that the rules applied to everyone, it was not actually true.

That fall, I went through an ill-advised phase where I borrowed my dad’s clothes a lot—especially this one particular T-shirt from Flying Dog Brewery, with a Ralph Steadman drawing advertising Road Dog Porter. Due to the shirt’s alcohol related message, coupled with Flying Dog’s PG-13 marketing slogan, the dress-code violation was twofold, but I was never once told that I needed to cover the shirt or turn it inside out, or even to stop wearing it in the future.

So yes, I’d begun to suspect that rules did not apply equally, but I didn’t know it for a fact until this happened:

The scene – As with most of the more dramatic scenes that first semester, it takes place in English class.

The star – A boy who sits at the back of the room and typically sleeps through class. Apart from spotty attendance and a general lack of involvement, he’s remarkably well-behaved. He rarely does the work, but is never unruly or impolite. He holds doors for people. He never draws attention to himself, which is something that sophomore Brenna identifies with to an excessive degree. The class is the last one of the day, and is basically an exercise in chaos.

Other players in the drama –

  • Nick has the desk directly behind our reluctant star. Nick is very tall, very loud, and can usually be counted on to be the one instigating the chaos.
  • TS sits next to me. She likes Punky Colour hair-dye, Vans skate shoes, and Kevin Smith movies, and is the closest thing I have to a real friend.
  • Lucas, who early on cemented his role as resident humanitarian and classroom advocate, is unable to resist getting involved, and in a misguided attempt to secure justice, kind of makes things worse.
  • M is still M, but becoming more so every day.

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Teachers as Villains, Part 1

Okay, this is a set-up I generally try to stay away from. A lot of times it seems like an easy out, and when I write, I feel this mysterious obligation to portray all my characters as evenhandedly as possible. I tend not to like the set-up in published fiction for the same reasons, the big exception being Frank Portman’s King Dork, because I swear Tom Henderson has the male version of my 10th grade English teacher—weird pronunciations, copious busy-work, and all. What I’m saying is, my real life experience was distinctly lacking in evenhandedness.

I don’t know if this is completely normal, but in tenth grade, I had a spate of really questionable teachers. Later, I went on to have wonderful teachers, but they were younger, took themselves less seriously, and mostly taught the college-prep courses. The unpleasant ones taught general requirements, which could definitely account for their somewhat tyrannical attitudes.

Looking back, I’m much more able to understand what drove them to be angry and jaded, but I still don’t condone it, mostly because they were supposed to be the responsible ones. Their jobs were to mentor, to educate us, and I think it doesn’t matter how rude a fifteen-year-old is, you should never try willfully to hurt them.

In this excerpt, I am almost 16. I’ve only been in school for about a month and already the English teacher, M, is shaping up to be my secret nemesis. Lucas sits directly in front of me. He’s popular and kind of a party boy, but generally articulate, generally kind. When the mood strikes him, he has the decency to notice I exist, and the decency to let me be invisible the rest of the time.

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