finding surprise in the boring, sculpting meaning from stone
I'm sitting in Flywheel watching the rain go by and thinking about boring lives. I just finished Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and there's a scene that keeps playing in my head. One of the main characters is lamenting how boring their life is recently. Their friend chides them that others would call it happiness. In the world of making games (the main characters are video game designers), you're expected to pour your whole life and more into your work. You are a worldmaker, "a seer of unseen worlds." When you’re used to creating entirely new worlds and life slows to a crawl, you’re left thinking, what does it all mean?
Especially in the always-on of today’s young professional world, we take it to mean the death of life. We thrash against the loss of youth, the purging of our energy. As a preventative mechanism, we decide to uproot our lives, cut off our ties, remake our lives in search of that dynamism, the spice of life. We’re addicted to novelty, captured by transformation. We love our freedom and our agency and we love being able to do whatever we want and feel like doing, even if it means destroying sources of grounding, just to prove a point. A demonstration that yes, in fact, we still got it.
Lives are mass-produced now. We’ve cracked the Industrial Revolution for ways of being. If we don’t like the live we have, we can throw it out, swap it out piecemeal for a new one, fresh from the latest machinations of social media. Our freedom makes us reckless. We aren’t afraid of losing anything when we can trade it in for everything else in the blink of an eye. We have too much money and time on our hands. We crave meaning but settle for excessively expensive lamps, edgy outfits from the SSENSE sale, and back-to-back nomadic travels. We are afforded an easy life. We fuel the economy and see the world. We enjoy the luxuries of life. We’re living the American Dream, yet we feel deeply unsettled. We don’t have what we want, not really. Probably because we don’t know what we want. The effects of our go-to therapies, retail, wanderlust, among the traditional practices, only last so long and go so far. We feel tired. Our arms are drooping with our eyes, and in those blinks of lucid dreaming we catch a glimpse of the pit of meaning staring back at us from the bottom of our soul.
We’re scared of repetition in our world of limitless novelty. We’re afraid of being boring, of being seen as someone who leads a boring life, of losing our edge for keeping up with the times. A new restaurant, a new shoe, a new life. It’s always fun and exciting. Never boring. Never still. Never steady. And why not embrace novelty when we have the abundance to afford it? Why not sample the world for all it has to offer?
When we’re used to novelty, it becomes the main thing we see when we encounter new things. When something is exciting, that value judgment is coming from its novelty more so than an aspect of its identity. We lose the ability to see things for what they are, to bear witness to pieces of life authentically.
Newness is fun and novelty can spark inspiration, but only when these things are grounded in something constant, when there’s a foundation to evolve from. When everything is constantly shifting, where can you find a home? What is real when nothing stays?
We’re scared of repetition because we think it’s boring, plain, absolutely dreadful. But repetition doesn’t have to be doing the same thing over and over. It can mean consistency. Building a practice, cultivating a ritual, repeating your dedication to someone and something every day again, again, again.
Committing doesn't mean rejecting dynamism. We often confuse choosing to stay with giving up the freedom to explore. It's popular to pit these two principles against each other as opposites: do you live free with no ties at all, or do you chain yourself to a single way of living? Do you choose freedom or comfort? You can choose both. You can find novelty in the boring. You can commit to dynamism in the rituals that ground you: vary the paths towards knowing, discover unmapped territory, name undiscovered species.
Consistency is a commitment to honoring the things you know you love and a promise to reach for the things you want. It’s a devotion to savoring every ounce of the goodness that you've found. It’s repeating an exercise, feeling your muscles develop, and finding a new challenge in the repetition. It’s finding novelty in noticing more detail of the same reality. It’s an exercise in learning to see. Our belongings and our surroundings are brimming with stories to tell us if we spend enough time with them.
Although there’s benefit to complete rebirth, I think it’s easy to rely on as a crutch for change. I realized that doing something new, actively inventing it piece by piece, doesn't mean upturning your life every day. In fact, it’s often about choosing a “boring life.” Committing to chipping away at a raw stone, piece by piece, until you sculpt the shape of the life you realize you’ve been looking for. It means staying with the things that bring you joy and meaning while still looking for surprise in the everyday.