Dispatches | March 18, 2011

My brother-in-law is a kindergarten teacher. He’s one of those guys that kids–all kids–immediately like. Over the winter holidays, he, my sister-in-law, my wife, and I were all hanging out at our house when he said the most interesting thing. In his view, he said, little kids today aren’t bored enough. It’s when kids are bored, he went on, that their imaginations kick into high gear. 

“Think about it,” he said.

So I did. I thought about being a kid, being bored–which sometimes I was–and the games I created to fill the time (three pennies and any solid surface became a baseball game), the stuff I drew (mazes on increasingly large sheets of paper), the business I started (Hot Wheels car repair shop), and the stories I wrote (you don’t want to know).

Does boredom spawn creativity out of necessity? There does seem to be a sort of inventive thinking that comes from having to do nothing, or close to nothing, for an extended period of time. I used to dream up story ideas while driving. I began to rely on highway hypnosis to help me solve problems with whatever story I happened to be working on. Now that I live in a small town and don’t drive nearly as much, I’ve lost what was once fairly reliable access to my unconscious.

I also wonder whether our new ability to keep in touch with others all the time via Facebook/texting/etc. is reducing our periods of boredom and, in the process, our periods of forced creativity. When was the last time you sat around and felt bored without reaching for your phone or going online? Or is that no different from flipping on the TV, an option that’s been around for decades? (Then again, we didn’t carry televisions around with us 24/7.)

And with those questions, I’ll stop writing–lest you get bored.

Michael Kardos (michaelkardos.com) is the author of the story collection One Last Good Time. While earning his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri, he served as Contest Editor for The Missouri Review. He currently co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.