I I have a visceral fear of boredom, not for my own account, but for others. I never get bored. This is not because he is always too busy doing a lot of cool things. I am not. It’s just that I can always fill the calmest minutes, hours, and days, which can be boring, with dark thoughts of anger, anxiety, regret, sadness, or outright panic about something or another. There is a lot of rich material to draw on. I am resourceful in these matters. It’s unnerving, distressing, and even paralyzing, but it has many advantages: It is never boring.
My fear of boredom comes from the horror of being the source of anyone else’s boredom. I think this started 40 years ago during a conversation with my history teacher, Miss Finney. He was talking about something pretty clever, I thought, when I saw the start of a yawn on his face. These movements soon hardened into a firm position of his jaw. She had clearly resolved, bless her, to do everything in her power not to let out this yawn. I heard tedious words that kept coming out of my mouth as I watched his face spasm in an ecstasy of desperate little contortions. He wanted to yell, “Just yawn!” but I was too afraid of him.
I guess it may not have been my fault; She may have had a late night, but she didn’t seem like the type to have a late night. I was emotionally marked by the conviction that I was responsible for this fight to the death between Miss Finney and her yawn.
I’ve been on red alert for yawns ever since, especially the stifled ones. A live audience is traumatic for me because one yawn, just one, will destroy me. I’d rather they just leave, yelling insults. Anything but yawning. I fully appreciate that, bitterest ironies, you might get bored reading this, but it’s okay because I can’t see you, poor thing. This allows me to suspend my disbelief and delude myself that everything is fine.
However, the truth will always intrude in the end. A couple of months ago I was told that something I had written here had been clicked on more than any other Guardian story that day. But in the next breath, this data provider added: “However, not many read it to the end.” Despair and humiliation prevailed; I could see the yawns as their leaks clicked from me. I would rather they hadn’t clicked at all than to be too bored to finish it.
On live TV I’ve often broadcast to many millions of people, but that’s okay because, again, I can’t see any of them. In the studio itself, I only have to keep up to a dozen people awake. But if I catch one of them making a Miss Finney, I’m devastated. Once, I felt, I was playing the blind man while talking to a studio camera. I looked at the cameraman for approval, expecting to see him with a chuckle. But he didn’t realize it, absorbed in a copy of Woodturner magazine. It was less interesting than a piece of wood. This was difficult to accept.
It’s one of the many reasons I can’t throw parties – a yawn from anyone and I want to kick everyone out.
Nothing good comes out of this nonsense, of course. It is psychologically ruinous to waste your mental space thinking about other people; in giving so much importance to their feelings. It can take you to all kinds of ridiculous places. Therapy is an excellent example. It is not good to worry if your counselor finds you boring. I’m afraid there have been a few times when, by watching a psychiatrist stifle a yawn, I have added a little twist to my problems to keep them interested.
I saw a brilliant, caring and compassionate German psychologist for a long time. He listened to me hum, apparently fascinated, for hours and years. Once, just once, I saw him stifle a yawn. And now when I imagine it, that’s all I see.
This will be my death, possibly literally. My tombstone will read: here lies someone who can no longer bore. Mind you, even that is not true. Henry James, among others, has been boring me beyond the grave for years.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism