Ennui & the urge to write

Post-op I spent two whole weeks at home in terminal boredom.  Yes, there were occasional trips out either on foot or with lifts thanks to the kindness of friends, but for the most part I was home alone. I did write and do the odd light household task, watch movies and occasional other useful tasks, but otherwise it was the most monumentally boring period I can imagine.  Prisoners get more light relief.  The phrases that sprang to mind are common enough: going stir crazy, climbing the walls, log cabin fever, you’ve heard them all before.

The ability to stave off boredom has a long history with me.  I call it the curse of intelligence, namely that I have a mind thirsting for information and activity, uniquely ill-suited to chilling out and doing nothing.  Switching it off so I can sleep is a nightly struggle, since whether or not I want it to it is motoring nineteen to the dozen and refuses all invitations to stop, whatever I do – the on/off button was sadly out of stock when I was manufactured.  It has been variously suggested that I take a long soak in a hot bath, listen to music, chat with friends, search through multitudes of channels in the hope of finding something to engage my interest, though that does seem remarkably difficult.

Technically there is a difference too, in that people who are merely bored may do all manner of stupid things just to do something – that the general level of excitement generated by the given set of activities required leaves space for further brain activity, merely to fill the vacuum.  Being bored can be relieved at any time when circumstances change, so it is a temporary condition.  It can make you procrastinate but can be relieved at a moment’s notice.

Ennui, by comparison and in the more abstract sense than merely the French for boredom, is more institutionalised.  It implies a greater level of listlessness and dissatisfaction, a generic melancholy that affects us all on occasion, whereupon the level of tedium gets inside your very mode of being.  The languor and torpor cannot be relieved, only fed with more pastimes that fail to deliver.  Not depression, though there may be an overlap between the two.  If you give into ennui you would never actually feel the satisfaction of being engaged to the max, extending yourself, stretching your mind beyond its limits ever again, and indeed some people can and do spend years in a virtual coma of stifled activity – writer’s block being but one example.  So it is a constant battle for your sanity to keep ennui at bay and engage your own faculties, or at least harness them for long enough that the icy finger of stagnation does not fall upon you.

Plenty of people would tell you that this general fatigue and apathy should spur you on to greater effort, putting ideas into action.  It doesn’t have to be bad for your health at all, though the point really is that when boredom sets in, so does inertia – and therein lies the battle.  Maybe it is a metaphor for the general sense of apathy felt in society along the lines of “we could campaign but nothing we can do will actually make any difference, and if it could they would ban it.”  Too cynical, maybe?  It’s not so simple, of course – once you have stopped re-engagement of interest can be a mountain to climb, in the same way that people who have been long-term employed may find the transition back to work fiendishly hard and quite upsetting.

That said, I do write many of my finest pieces by simply allowing fingers to dance across the keyboard and imposing little or no conscious or rational restriction, so let the imagination wander free to itself and see what happens.  Being terminally bored does not mean you can’t achieve things, even worthwhile activities with a worthwhile end product, but it does mean your threshold setting for that satisfaction becomes progressively higher, eventually reaching a point when no matter what you do it will never be sufficient.

Rediscovering passion for anything is a relatively difficult thing to do, though it does happen.  Those who know me well would tell you creativity is what sparks me, though I do get passionately aroused by a number of issues too.  Writing, acting and cooking are examples of what makes me feel alive, truly human, though the real trouble is that they all stop in the end; the blog or the story is completed, the production run of the play comes to an end and the set is torn down, the meal is plated, tabled and eaten.  You’re left with the memories but also a sense of anti-climax.  You need more, but then it’s like a craving – however much you consume it is never enough. It is not merely a means to an end but an end in itself, each time.

Like cigarettes to chain-smoking nicotine addicts, once I have finished one article I need the next to feed my monster within.  To write with elegance and eloquence is not enough, I must continue so to do.  I am only as good as the last words I have published and need the next fix to stave off the creeping fog of ennui.

So when my friend Dave posed the question recently “what is the point of blogging,”  there is the answer: you write because you have to write, whether or not you want to do so. Not merely writing your opinions for the sake of writing them, whether or not they are read; neither hunting for an audience, pleasing though it is if people do read and gain pleasure or interest from your work.

2 thoughts on “Ennui & the urge to write”

  1. I’m probably not intelligent enough to suffer from enui or boredom because it never happens to me. I love having time to myself and have no trouble filling each moment.

    Writing is a creative adventure for me and I wish I had more time to indulge myself. I was under a form of house arrest for almost 7 years which ended last May. You may recall I had my mother-in-law to care for and she could not be left alone. I found writing a great escape during that time although I doubt I ever managed to write with elegance and eloquence like you.

    I’m having something of a break from writing at the moment because I want to read more and I can never be bored when I am reading good literature.

    1. I don’t believe that you lack intelligence for a moment, Mavis, but I do think you have found ways to stimulate your brain in a way that gives you some constructive sensation of satisfaction. Caring is incredibly worthy but often unrewarded financially or emotionally. For doing that I admire you greatly.

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