An Imperial Affliction: Confronting Boredom In Space, Time, and Travel

in People by

When I landed in Brazil’s  São Paulo  there was only one thing I feared: boredom.

When we travel, we escape. From something, at least, let’s just admit it. We escape from the mundane, from the old, from the known. We embark on a search for novelty, adventure, magic. There is no shame in admitting one’s imminent humanity. We are driven by the avoidance of idleness, we reject nothingness and hold dear to the crumbles of somethingness. For something is better than nothing.

Several times, I have found myself waking to the sun through a friendly window. Looking down  Berlin’ s streets,  Portugal ‘s bakeries and  Nairobi ‘s children. I’ve had to shake up the fear and anxiety of watching myself go by in a day with little to no action. With no adventure, with no story to tell.

Last night, I watched “Life in a day“. It did have the occasional inspirational claptrap in “finding the extraordinary in the ordinary“, the kind of glitter we are always reminded of in our darkest days — that every second matters, and stuff. But it also had some pretty mundane things. A cow being slaughtered, a person snoring, rain.

And you must understand. It’s absolutely imperative, reader, that you understand that this article does not, unlike others, stem from some fantastic epiphany of the self. I’m sorry. This piece is about what we do when we accept that it’s okay to spend money on a trip only to arrive at your destination and find yourself exactly where you left: bored.

Romanticizing Boredom

I find it beautiful, and perhaps therein lies the real tragedy, that we have evolved so far as to mascarade our sudden attacks of boredom.

We have converged notions and merged ambiguities, created imagery of French, intellectual ladies and well-dressed men who read books and drink fine wine as they sit and people-watch.

An honest Brazilian film expresses the sentiment, when the main character, a (failed) writer, satirically points out that  other people’s lives are so much more interesting than his . So we sit and we watch people, because we know that, though our lives, at this point in time, appear uninteresting, watching others and making stories are good for passing the time.

Time. A big, recurring and mischievous term that clouds human existence. We accumulate time as a commodity and plan around the best ways of spending it, and when we do, we want to make sure we spend as much, and as quick as possible. Neither fate nor Estragon and Vladmir’s dialogues are enough to pass the time.

Flirting With Absurdity

Once we stop to examine our musings, to calculate our breaths and to overthink life, we come to terms with the absurdity of it all. It is both hysterical and mind-blowing, that when life takes a pause, we do too.

Twenty-one-year-old Winston, yes,  Churchill , wrote of his travels to India,

“From ten to eleven, ate a breakfast at seven;
From eleven to noon, to begin ’twas too soon;
From twelve to one, asked “What’s to be done?”
From one to two, found nothing to do;
From two to three, began to foresee
That from three to four would be a damned bore. “

How to reconcile being bored while away, when you are supposed to be bungee jumping, or enjoying your life in instagrammable fragments? How can you sit still, at a garage, at the hotel room, and decide to sleep?

Modernity And Personhood

Maybe, I don’t know, but perhaps — almost certainly –, we are tasting modernity’s afterthoughts. Most of our modern heroes, our tales and memorable stories follow the lives of characters who, quite frankly and rather simply,  were bored .

Bored, and excluded, and poor and isolated. Alienated by oppression, social misconceptions, and an overall a conflicting ideation of self. Our favourite heroes are all conflicted, and very human — and perpetually bored. Even after the story’s resolution.

So here we find ourselves, the ultimate and truest form of self that sits still, idle, with no running thoughts nor occupied hands. We sit bored. And we devise strategies and ways to kill it, the boredom. We engage in small talk and find meaning in shopping malls. We take selfies and construct symbolism around popular hashtags, we force ourselves into virtual communities and wander the streets in search of virtual beings. All of it to escape something which truly prompts us to leave, to travel: boredom.

And paradoxically, tragically, but also hysterically, we come to the epiphany that boredom is universal.

It exists everywhere, and in comes in storms.

Read more:

  1. Imperial Boredom, Jeffrey A. Auerbach
  2. Cast Aside: Boredom, Downward Mobility, and Homelessness in Post-Communist Bucharest, Bruce O’Neill
  3. Neoliberal times: Progress, boredom, and shame among young men in urban Ethiopia, Daniel Mains
  4. On Being Bored Out of Your Mind, Elijah Millgram

P.S. The title, “An Imperial Affliction”, refers to the fictive novel belonging to the film, “The Fault In Our Stars“. A notable quote, “pain (…) demands to be felt“, can also be applied in the following manner, “boredom (…) demands to be felt — too“.




Lover of all things bright and yellow, with an unorthodox taste for neuroscience and politics. She travels in and out of herself, and enjoys getting stuck in transit while doing this thing called 'life'. (Mozambique)

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