Does anyone enjoy being bored? Isn't it crushing when your date nips off to the toilet, leaving you to rummage around for your smartphone, only to find that you can't quench this moment of boredom because it has just run out of battery? A recent study led by psychologist Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia showed that some people are so averse to being alone with their own thoughts that they would rather undergo physical pain.
Yet, in recent times, through my neighbours' daily 'I'M SO BORED MUMMY' scream through the walls, and through the forest of websites dedicated to scrolling through memes to induce the occasional chuckle, boredom has been lifted out of the depths of the uncool and has been placed in the realm of art.
Karl Ove Knausgaard's semi-autobiographical series My Struggle, comprising of 36,000 pages spread over six novels, is about (brace yourselves...) nothing.
I'm not even joking. Nothing interesting happens.
Karl Ove grows up in a boring, rural area in Norway; he tries to start a band with his friends, but that fails; he fancies a girl in class, but that leads to nowhere. Flashforward to Karl Ove's thirties: he's in Stockholm trying to finish his novel; his father dies; he and his brother have to organise the funeral. An especially gripping 'boring' part is when he describes the action of sprinkling salt on the yolk of a fried egg.
But Knausgaard has crafted his prose in such a way that, in the New York Review of Books, Zadie Smith compared the series' addictiveness to crack. And then there was that woman who noticed me reading one of his books in a coffee shop and interrupted my reading (which, I assume she knew, was so absorbed by Knausgaard's prose) to say 'I'm addicted to those; what would you do without a Norwegian noir on a Saturday night?'.
Richard Linklater's film Boyhood is similarly long and mundane. We follow Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, as he grows up in an unremarkable suburb in Texas. He fights with his sister; he watches his mum argue with successive boyfriends; he spends time with his father; he goes to school. I remember going into the film thinking that the unique selling point, that it was filmed over 12 years, would be the only selling point, but in truth Linklater's direction effectively conveys the profoundness of growing up not just in Mason's case, but also in those around him. At first, Mason's father is distant and immature; at the end, battered by time and experience, he is a loving, reliable father to Mason and his newborn child.
What makes Boyhood so mundane is that nothing is 'unreal'. Mason's father's second wife is a conservative Christian; when her parents give Mason, a so far liberal kid, a gun for his birthday, rather than cause a scene, he politely accepts the gift and even shows his gratitude by trying out the gun with his step-grandfather. There's no drama. Only real life.
Knausgaard and Linklater draw out time so that we can scrutinise each and every moment. We reflect on how time affects their protagonists, and we cherish the earnest moments that ordinary life brings. It is easy to place ourselves in their perspectives because, like theirs, all our lives are some sort of unremarkable struggle.