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Struggle to Do Nothing

Yesterday in class a student rushed through the classwork as quickly as he could. “It’s not a competition, you know,” I said.

He nodded. “Yes, I know.” But he hurried on and then he had to sit and do nothing. He fidgeted, he sighed, and stared at his now empty desk.

“What are you going to do over spring break?” I asked.

“Nothing. There’s nothing to do.”

“Nothing? Are you going to sit and stare at a wall all week?” Although that is something.

He shrugged.

I have several students like this. I ask what they are going to do or what they did, and they answer, “Nothing.” Sometimes I hassle them about it. “Where did you do this nothing? Did you do nothing sitting down or standing up? Did you do this nothing all day or did you take a break to sleep?” Sometimes after that I get real answers. Sometimes I get laughter and, of course, nothing else.

I suggest things to do. “Hey, there’s the kite festival this weekend!” or “You could sign up for Dragon Boat!” or “There’s live music for free at Waterloo Records!” and they shake their heads. No. They don’t want to do any of that. And later they whine, “Teacher, there’s nothing to do!” It seems like they’d rather be bored than engaged.

I don’t understand. Here I struggle to do everything, and they struggle to do nothing. Granted, I’m their teacher and they may well not want to tell me what they do. After all, they ask me what my favorite thing to do is and I say, “Write.” This makes me weird and suspect. It doesn’t help when I admit I’ve never been to the outlet mall.

But at least I’m never bored. In fact, if I wrote another six-word sentence memoir, it would have to be–I’ve never been bored with life.

But why should that be?

5 thoughts on “Struggle to Do Nothing

  1. I had a father who would say, “Only boring people get bored.” Or if you caught him in a bad mood, he would say, “You’re bored? I’ll give you something to keep you busy while you’re bored.” And then he would hand you a bucket of paint and tell you to paint the garage. I learned very young not to use the B word and to keep myself occupied.

    I do think it’s habit. If you are in the habit of moping around, switching channels, and complaining, then that is your life. It’s hard to break out of the habit. But if you are in the habit of finding the live music, getting inspired by the music and the people who play it, looking forward to spring kite festivals and thinking that is cool (because it is), then you have a habit of your own. It’s as hard to break that habit is the other kind. Your habits become you or you become your habits. Either way.

    I’m convinced life is really one big habit. I’d blog about that, but Blogger is in a habit of eating my posts and giving me error messages.

  2. Shelli, we’re glad you out grew that stage too!

    SBW, my dad was similar. I also learned not to say I was bored if I didn’t want some horrible chore or another. Even looking bored was risky. And as an only child with a single parent who lived out in the middle of nowhere, I learned how to be entertained on my own–thankfully.

  3. “Doing nothing” maybe the most convenient excuse one can think of without ever claiming responsibility for saying it. Or the kids are simply not engaged of even thinking. Come as we may, so they say. 🙂

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