Exercise Your Imagination

by Mark Blackwell

I don’t know about you, but I find boredom to be tedious. Let me rephrase that. I find folks who complain about being bored tedious. It’s hard for me to sympathize with a person who’s whining that there’s nothing to do. We’re living in the age of convenience and amusement. If anybody had a right to bellyache about being bored it would be the pioneers.

Two hundred years ago life was hard and monotonous. The early homesteaders were cut off from the outside world. Everyday it was the same old routine.

Get up when the durned old rooster crowed, go out and shoo the wolves from the yard. Then get out to the shed, milk the cow, come back to the cabin, whack the rattlesnake on the doorstep. Sit down to the same old biscuits for breakfast, then go back out to face the same old rear-end of the same old mule and put in a leisurely ten hour stretch of plowing. Come back to cabin, whack the rattlesnake on the doorstep, eat the same old beans for supper, and then check out what’s to watch on the fireplace. Novelty was hard to come by. Folks on isolated farmsteads were stuck for considerable stretches of time without opportunities for socializing with anyone outside the immediate family and livestock.

But here we are livin’ in the Buck-Rogers-21st-century where we can choose from 200+ channels on television or 12 movies at the multiplex or individually tailored music formats delivered by satellite to your radio. We are dog-paddlin’ in an ocean of entertainment but there’s not hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear somebody carping about being bored. These are folks with bass boats, off-road vehicles, big screen TV’s, computators, ATVs, VCRs, CDs and DVDs. They got more stuff with initials than the federal government has programs—and they’re bored.

Now, I’m not going to say that I am unacquainted with the sensation myself. It’s just that I got cured at an early age. Growing up in the country often seems boring to the young and I was young once. But, back then, to admit to an inkling of ennui within ear-shot of an adult would bring on the “remedy” with a rapidity seldom seen in modern medicine. Any grownup hearing the words, “I’m bored” would immediately rattle off a list of chores needing attention that was longer than the menu in a Chinese restaurant. The chicken coop could always use whitewash. The garden always needed to be weeded. There was grass to mow, sheds to clean, animals that needed tending and fences that needed mending. Chores were not necessarily the best medicine for boredom but they were a sure cure for the complaining about it.

The secret to overcoming boredom, I discovered, was imagination. The kind of imagination employed by spies eluding capture and soldiers breaking out of prisoner-of-war camps. It was the kind that allowed me to be anyone I wanted to be and to be anywhere I wanted to be. I confess I was an adolescent Walter Mitty. Avoiding those lists of dreaded chores gave my life meaning and purpose. I started paying serious attention to comic books when l found out that they could be more than just entertainment. They were training manuals. I learned the arts of stealth and invisibility from Mandrake the Magician. Sgt. Rock taught me how to avoid the enemy and get myself out of tight scrapes through cunning and Batman showed me the importance of having a secret base of operations. And I had many hideouts.

The cellar was my Bat cave. I had a Tarzan tree house in a hundred year old oak and a river fortress down in the brush by the creek. It was handy to have more than one base of operations when evading the forces of responsibility. They also gave me a variety of back-drops for whatever role I was playing on a particular day. In the spring, the fort down by the creek was my favorite. On hot summer afternoons the Bat cave was perfect in its’ cool darkness and the big oak was great just about anytime. It was in these locations that I fought and won World War II, discovered Mammoth cave, and helped Davy Crockett defend the Alamo.

Once it was primed, my imagination became an artesian well and I can’t say I’ve been bored at all in the last fifty years or so. My only complaint is that there’s not enough time. Between all the chores that are still chasing me (and the effort I put into avoiding them) I find I just don’t have all the time I want for learning the piano, building bookcases for the house, getting good at fly-casting, doing more history research, spending more time with my wife and friends, playing more music, perfecting my chili recipe and a whole lot of other things. Oh, and while I’m on the subject, I don’t spend much time climbing trees anymore but I do have a fort down by the woods and the cellar is still cool in the summer. Brown County is a great place to exercise your imagination.