During lockdown in Switzerland when people complained about being bored, I have to admit, their complaint chaffed at my patience. Being politely asked to work from home, yet still having the ability to go for walks, eat and cook food, read books, or shop online for anything you desire — music, films, craft projects in a box, you name it — does not equate boredom to me. When people bemoaned the closure of restaurants, concert halls, clubs, and other places where we humans like to gather, I did not feel that those of us who were bored were, equally, compassionate for the financial survival of the people who are servers or bartenders in those restaurants, those who maintain or play in the concert halls, or those who spin the decks.
Conversations with bored people were riddled with a strange sense of narcissistic entitlement that, paradoxically, did not recognise its own face in the mirror. Their lament went something like this: “They took this away from me, this space to meet and be entertained! And now, I’m a prisoner in my own home. And I have to entertain myself.”
Perhaps this blindspot of privilege going undetected stems from the Western luxury of being used to having a lot — not everything, but certainly a lot. To be able to dine with your family, go for a walk with your dog or cocoon with your housemate, all of these things are not equivalent to being a prisoner, especially not a prisoner of war, genocide, deportation, forced labour and so on. Don’t get me wrong, lockdown in Europe felt excruciating at times. It tested peoples’ patience, faith, emotional and mental health. Lockdown also put many people in dangerous situations wherein they were forced to stay at home and battle addictions or cohabitate 24/7 with abusive partners or family members.
On a personal note, I was distressed that my parents didn’t see my new-born more than twice in a year and a half. And before I throw my criticism too wide, I’m sure I left a friend at least two (read: ten) voice messages in which I said that I felt bored. For the record, my boredom was the Stendhal kind: “You can learn everything in isolation, except for your own character.”
It is a scary thing, realising that you are alone and having to face yourself, differentiating between those thoughts you let pass and those you dwell on.
I imagine that if a person is in a war, they have two main feelings: utter terror and despair. Depending on the circumstances, they might feel a third emotion: the trepidation of waiting for imminent death. More about that below…
Ultimately, exchanges with friends and peers during lockdown got me thinking… perhaps the best use of time is to make, be part of, listen to, or contemplate art… rather than fall victim to our own idleness or fear of loneliness and deem it ‘boredom’. Art facilitates an audience learning more about themselves. When we are deprived of the ability to reflect and contemplate live artistic experiences it leaves us in a void – and that void can lead to asking ourselves: what gives meaning to our lives?
Having long ago stopped wearing watches, my phone has become my timekeeper. I spot it nestled beside my rosin as I am placing my violin into its case at the end of a long day of practice. It’s early evening. As I pack up, I am once again hit by the realisation that, in an emergency, if I were to only be able to carry one object with me, this case would be what I grab before I run. This mental exercise is one I stretch my mind across regularly. It reminds me to be grateful and practice humility. The idea of uprooting oneself in times of trouble and having the very tool in ones hand with which to both free the spirit whilst earning ones living is both humbling and hope-inducing. It also reminds me that I am the child of refugees, and I carry the consciousness of a collective of refugees and children of war as part of my emotional and psychological makeup — like all second-generation children of families exposed to war do.
I pick up my phone and begin to type a simple message to some of my nearest and dearest.