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#558: Help I’m boring

Hi Captain Awkward (or any other lovely affiliated blogger kind enough to take this letter on),

I’m a very boring person. I used to think I was creative and interesting, but I find that all I really do is mindlessly consume media. I read online constantly (articles, blogs, forums, etc) but almost never post anything myself. I used to write a bit, but now I just guilty delete the 750words.com reminder email every morning. I read books, watch Netflix, listen to music, whatever, and I’m so sick of it. I’ve read all about “the top 10 ways to meet new people” and “best hobbies for 20-somethings” and I just can’t bring myself to feel anything but apathy for most things. Occasionally, something will spark my interest briefly, but I’ll only pursue it for a few days, if that.

I have a lot of spare time because my (mind-numbing, totally awful) job (that I despise) pays extremely well and doesn’t require more than a dozen or so hours of work per week. I could work more hours to make more money, but I prefer not to. I know I should fill my free time with fulfilling activities of some sort, but very little sparks any interest for me whatsoever, and my follow-through is pitiful.

I’m married and I have a few friends and family who I guess I’m close to, but they all seem to be a bit bored of me lately, and I can’t blame them. Who wants to hang out with someone who says and means “absolutely nothing” when you ask them what’s new? Most people seem to think I’m funny and intelligent, so I can have some non-awkward conversations, but I’m starting to feel a bit self conscious about my interactions with people now. I’ve (ineffectively) addressing this by reading endless articles about building social skills and being a good listener, which has the result of making me seem, well, kind of fake to be honest.

Captain, I’m sure you’re bored of me already (if you’re even reading this). How do I turn a human-shaped lump into someone worthwhile and interesting?

Oh and I suppose I should note that I’ve seen a doctor and a therapist. I tried a vast assortment of prescription medication for depression and ADHD (which I was diagnosed with 5 years ago) over the course of the past couple of years, none of which had any effect on my general well-being or motivation.

Hello there.

I don’t know where you live, but if the photo below resembles what’s been happening outside, have you considered just chalking this up to “Generalized Februaryness” and waiting it the fuck out from under a blanket somewhere?

A stop-sign mostly submerged in snow.

That is to say, you’re not alone in feeling generally “meh” and “blearggghhh” right now. From your last paragraph, it sounds like you’ve already considered that losing interest in things that used to interest you, feeling generally un-energetic, and assuming that it must be because you are inherently _______ (insert negative quality here) ticks off some ticky boxes related to treatable stuff, so, good. You’ve got medical resources you can call if you need to, I won’t belabor that aspect of your question and we can skip ahead to the existential crisis part.

Treebeard from Lord of the Rings movies

There ain’t no party like an Ent party ’cause an Ent party lasts for weeks of deciding where to have the fucking party and then like 2 years of deciding who will bring what and then 75 years of introductions and “How you been” and then you can’t be at the party anymore because you died.

 

This is by no means a perfect test, but there is sort of a way to tell if you might routinely be boring other people when you talk to them. If you feel like you never quite get to the end of a story (or answer to a work question from a colleague), if it seems like everyone around you jumps in to finish your stories or changes the subject the second you pause for breath, if you and others can’t tell when you’re done talking about something and it all… kind of… trails off …into ellipses…

...there is a chance your stories are too long or made up of too much “middle.” The great Suzette Haden Elgin suggests the Boring Baroque Response as a deliberate verbal self-defense technique to make people who are trying to pick a fight with you go away; unfortunately sometimes it’s not so deliberate. Telling a story where you include enough detail to be vivid and engaging, but not so much detail that you lose your way to the point or make the entire room silently plead, “Bring it home, Treebeard” is an actual skill that can be acquired with practice. From reading your written question I don’t think any of this is the case with you, but if you feel like multiple people in your life (vs. one or two really interrupt-y folks) are routinely tuning you out, try making your stories shorter and telling them quicker and see if it makes a difference.

Have you considered that your social circle is not interesting to you right now, and that’s part of what’s wrong? Maybe your interests have grown beyond what your habitual topics of conversations are, maybe you need to seek out more adventures together or otherwise change it up, maybe you need to look outside your usual haunts and activities for stimulation. This doesn’t have to be a solo activity, where you forsake or “escape” from your current friends. “Hey, want to take curling lessons with me?” instead of “Hey, want to grab brunch at the usual spot?” might do it.

I read your letter with great fascination, especially about your attempts at improving your conversational skills, because it taps into something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I’d write that linked piece differently now, and get deeper into the ways that the aspirational nature of self-improvement narratives are deployed to capture the attention and money of more privileged people (who should all be reorganizing our closets to create a perfect capsule wardrobe of 33 flawless clothing items) and to oppress and shame less privileged people (Why don’t you just grow your own food, poor people? Why do you “waste” your money on expensive clothes, poor people?).

There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve yourself, get better at things, make your life happier and work better for you. And readers, I want that capsule wardrobe like burning. I want to be the kind of person who can curate a personal style and be effortlessly put together, and I think the author of that piece is fly as hell and is doing the same exact thing I am here – sharing some cool stuff she learned with the world in the hopes that it will help someone, somewhere.

But, I also think that “self-improvement” as a dominant cultural narrative and as a product means that we’re drowning in “tips” and “lifehacks” and ways to “optimize” our shit in ways that distract and separate us from deeper engagement with the people and the world around us. And I think that the people who rule this Late Capitalism/Disaster Capitalism/Crony Capitalism/Corporatism/Rule By and For the 1%/Austerity/Eroding of Safety Nets and Public Institutions Like Schools and Roads & Shit What Helps Society Work – whatever you want to call what’s going on in the current political and economic landscape  – prosper at our expense when we turn our gaze all the way inward toward what we can do to change & improve ourselves. Because if we blame struggling people solely for their own struggles, and insist that they just need to try harder in order to succeed, we don’t have to face the idea that our own successes were built on more than just our personal exceptionalism. We don’t have to engage with the fact that certain basic shared assumptions about how the world should work are unjust and unsustainable.

Sorry for the tangent, Letter Writer, you’ve tapped into something that’s A Thing for me right now at work as I struggle to climb out of adjunct limbo at the day job in an impossible labor market that cannot sustainably employ thousands upon thousands of people who have bought long and hard into the idea that lifelong learning and self-improvement via education is a worthwhile thing even as we sell that thing at a huge markup to the next generation in our classrooms, and at Work as I try to figure out how to help students and readers improve their ability to communicate without falling into the trap of self-improvement vs. self-care or self-discovery or self-expression or self-exploration. As my excellent colleague Megan Stielstra rants here: teaching someone to execute a form without regard to expression or meaning or context does actual damage to their abilities! And damage to the world!

In the introductory paragraph to this essay about essays I will tell you that you don’t need an introductory paragraph, at least not of the1) topic sentence 2) structural methodology 3) thesis statement variety that we were all taught in high school. What you do need is That Thing; maybe a question, a fear or a fury. It makes your blood boil. It’s all you can talk about when you sit down with your friends over a glass of wine or two or five, or maybe you can’t talk about it with anyone, just your own heart, alone with the impossible architecture of words. As Cheryl Strayed wrote in her introduction to The Best American Essays 2013, “Behind every good essay is an author with a savage desire to know more about what is already known.” I want to talk about essays. I don’t have a topic sentence or a thesis statement, just a savage desire to know.”

Go read the whole thing. Megan is the best teacher I know.

As a teacher of filmmaking, I can tell you that knowing about the Rule of Thirds and the 180 Degree Rule will help you level up in setting up shots and shooting footage that edits together, just like getting better at listening and  other social skills will boost your confidence when meeting people.  You’ll have a better framework for communicating your ideas, and the safety net of knowing that at least you are meeting some basic expectations of craft. It also gives you concrete stuff that you can practice, which is something you can control. Time spent learning those skills and concepts and practicing the fundamentals is not wasted time.

But shooting a sequence of well-composed frames that cut together seamlessly isn’t the same thing as telling a story. And having a couple of good anecdotes, or saying “Please” and “Thank you” and “And then what happened?” and “It was lovely to see you, too!” at the “correct” intervals isn’t the same thing as having a conversation that lights you up. Skills can be acquired and improved, but they will never take the place of That Thing. That savage desire to know and to be known. I have many students who, like you, Letter Writer, are pretty sure they are not interesting, that they have nothing interesting to say, that if they did no one would be interested anyway, so can’t we skip all this “story” stuff and just learn lighting?

Sure, let’s learn lighting. Let’s light something! But before we get out the gear, answer me:

  • What are we going to light?
  • What’s happening in this scene?
  • Who are these people?
  • Where are these people?
  • What time of day is it?
  • How do they feel about each other?
  • How are we supposed to feel about them?
  • What kind of movie is this (genre, style, tone)?
  • Where are they going to stand and how are they going to move around in the space?

Shit, son, if you can figure out all that, you just told a story. You did it like a painter, with light and bodies in space and colors instead of words, but you did it. 

There’s no way to perfectly and reliably generate only perfect, fantastic, interesting, award-winning ideas and to know ahead of time that everything is going to work or guarantee they will all connect brilliantly with other people. The messy, vulnerable, failure-prone process of getting them out – in conversation, on paper, on a cocktail napkin, in a photo, in a tune you can’t stop humming – is how you figure out if they are any good. Megan said it perfectly, in the essay about essays linked upstream: “As E.M. Forster wrote, I don’t know what I think til I see what I say.” 

A Wrinkle In Time Book CoverSo where do you find the interesting bits in yourself and in others? Mrs. Whatsit knows.

She looked steadily at each of the three children in turn. “You will need help,” she told them, “but all I am allowed to give you is a little talisman.Calvin, your great gift is your ability to communicate, to communicate with all kinds of people. So, for you, I will strengthen this gift. Meg, I give you your faults.”

“My faults!” Meg cried.

“Your faults.”

“But I’m always trying to get rid of my faults!”

“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “However, I think you’ll find they’ll come in very handy on Camazotz.” – A Wrinkle In Time, Madeline L’Engle

The stuff that makes you vulnerable and imperfect is the stuff that makes you interesting. Relatable to others. Perfectly yourself. When you are with your friends, are you working so hard to be “good” at interacting with them that you are forgetting to be yourself, however you are really feeling at that moment? This is probably the source of that fake feeling you describe after trying out all the communication skills tricks.

What if the next time someone close to you asks you how you are, you said “I’m feeling weird and bored and boring lately, and I don’t know quite what to do about it”? It’s no thrilling tale of adventure, but it’s the vulnerable truth. Is that allowed in your social circle? What if the stuff you are struggling with right now is the stuff you actually talk about with other people who love you? What if those failures and worries are the interesting bits?

You are good at your job, good enough to keep everything together and fake it enough to make it. You are smart. You are funny. You have friends, family, a husband who love you. You have enough time and a little bit of disposable income you could put toward hobbies & interests if you wanted to. You have enough access to medical care to treat any brain chemistry stuff that could be going on. If you are in the northern hemisphere, the sun is starting to come back. So let’s talk about why “interesting” a thing you need to be.

Who is the intended audience for your interestingness? Who would need to find you interesting or confirm your interesting for you to believe in it, to feel that it’s true? Your friends? Your husband? Yourself? A stranger behind you in the checkout line, admiring the way you put your items on the conveyor belt or the way your coat suits you perfectly, a stranger imagining wonderful things about you wishing you well? A judgmental stranger who hates your shoes and sniffs disapprovingly at the contents of your cart? Is “interestingness” something you feel you owe other people?

A ceramic tile depicting figures in a garden from 17th century Iran, Louvre, Paris, FranceIs “interestingness” a thing one can go out and acquire? Do you just need a change of scene, to see a new sky for a little bit?

Once I went to a bunch of art & history museums in Paris and watched a particular shade of blue creep around the ancient world and slowly bleed into the modern, from stone to bowl to mosaic tile to earring to fountain to dress to abstract painting, and I’m still thinking about it now, 7 years later. Is that interesting? Is the interestingness in the foreign travel, or evidence of crisscrossing trade routes and thousands of minds in a visual conversation of inspiration with each other across history, or in the thought, or in the tale I’m telling you, or the shade of blue itself? The trip was a gift from a friend, so maybe the interestingness is in the luck & friendship that brought me to that place to be part of that blue story.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that ordinary life is boring and excitement is interesting. Once I walked out my door and heard the sound of glass breaking. I turned my head toward the sound and saw bottle smash across the hood of a car. The man in the car got out and shot the men who threw the bottle (one fatally, one not). While I stood there, frozen, he got back in the car and drove past me very slowly. He made eye contact with me for some very long seconds as he drove past, and I watched him make the calculation and the decision not to shoot me, too. I would give a lot to trade that interesting day for a (P)interesting one of finding new recipes and figuring out the best way to hang up art in my apartment. For lots of people the privileges of boredom look an awful lot like “Great! Sign me up!”

I don’t want to shame you about being bored, or about wanting your life to be more interesting. Boredom happens at the extremes of choice, where you have so many you can become paralyzed by a need to make the “best” choice, or you have so few choices and so few resources that the stakes of making a mistake are so high that the status quo is at least the Devil You Know. In the “too few choices” case, an influx or cushion of resources can make all the difference in ending decision fatigue and opening up new possibilities for someone. The months I spent as a temp shredding documents in a (literal) closet, not allowed to wear headphones or read while I did it because my sadistic fuck of a manager would sneak up behind me and then write me up to the temp agency because “team players don’t wear headphones” were among the most depressing and boring of my life. I couldn’t leave, because I needed the job. I couldn’t think my way to a new situation because document shredders are loud and the shame and exhaustion of being a smart person “who can do anything you put your mind to!” who couldn’t figure out how to NOT be shredding documents for $11/hour and who had to carefully budget and plan every penny of that $11/hour in order to survive was louder. It got better because I was assigned to a better-paying and less ear-and-soul-shredding gig, which gave me a little energy to start working on people’s movies, which led me to going to grad school & making my own movies. Without that stroke of luck, who knows?

You’ve got some cushion against catastrophe, so while you’re standing in the existential jam aisle you’ve got the shame-y buzz of “You can do anything you want to!”/”GREAT BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO WANT” going strong in your ears. So what are some ways to throw a jam jar  – any jam jar – in the cart and flee the feeling of standing in a Gursky tableau for at least a little while?

Take a trip somewhere. It’s something to do, and something to talk & think about and look forward to on a temporary basis. You probably can afford to travel with a little planning, so why not treat yourself in that way? It’s not going to make anything worse, is it?

Apply for 5 other jobs in your field that you might be qualified for and see if changing up something about that – which company you work for, some aspect of the work – gets better. If you get offered the jobs, and you decide not to take them because the current money/free time tradeoff is better, that’s a valid choice! But the process of looking at listings, crafting a letter and resume, and thinking through the decision might shake some things out.

Make an FU-fund. You say that if you worked more, you would earn more. What if you decided to work extra hours for the next 6 months to sock away some money that would give you more choices? Like taking some real time off from your job? Or quitting for a while without pressure to find something else immediately?

Volunteer. Maybe ignore the whole question of “interesting” for a while and work on “useful” for a bit. Somewhere in your community, someone needs to be fed, or read to, or listened to, or have a strongly-worded letter written on their behalf. Somewhere there is a political candidate who sucks less than the others who needs you to make calls or knock on doors for them.

Be bad at something fun/good. You are tired of reading & watching, and writing isn’t flowing right now, so what about something physical and/or dirty?

  • Sculpture
  • Figure-drawing
  • Soccer
  • Choral singing
  • Fencing
  • Metal-smithing

Good guidelines: Whatever it is has to meet regularly, involve other people, be fun, not be something you are already good at or feel pressure to perform well at. Be a beginner. If you don’t like whatever it is, quit and do something else.

Observe people…with love. Frustrated writer, take yourself to a public place and people-watch. Eavesdrop. Observe. Fill in the rest with imagination. How are the people interacting with the place you are in? Are they comfortable/uncomfortable? Are they happy in themselves and their companions? Do they dress to be noticed or to blend in? What do you think their houses are like? What do you think they were like as children?

Take a notebook and record things, but the reason for this Freshman Creative Writing prompt is not to necessarily trick you into doing any writing projects if you aren’t into it right now. The thing I want you to do is to look at people (not creepily stare, just, you know, sort of check them out sidelong). Write down things that you like about them -their faces, their hands, their expressions, the way they interact with their kids/dogs. Wish good things at them or for them. If they catch you looking and are puzzled by it, give them a smile and a compliment. “I’m sorry, I was just admiring your coat/shoes/reusable shopping bag/adorable dog/cute child/cool glasses/remembering how much I liked that book you are reading. Have a good day!” 

Observe the people you love…with love.

Your husband…what did you love about him when you first saw him? When you first knew you liked him? When you first knew you loved him? When you first knew he loved you? What’s something you loved about him last week? Yesterday? This minute? Your friends and family, what do you love and admire about them?

You have all these love stories in your life, and each one has its own beginning and its own shape. If you’re at a loss for what to write about in your journal in the morning, write those.

It might be hard to let yourself do observation things initially because they are a cheesy, sentimental and not actually subtle way of getting you to see that people are interesting in themselves, they are worthy of love and compassion all by themselves, just for being themselves, and just possibly, so are you. Does knowing the secret behind the trick make the trick not work anymore?

“I tried your suggestions and they all suck” would be an interesting story, at least.

 

 

 

 

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192 comments
  1. I can relate to the person who asked the question. I was until very recently in a very similar situation.

    After losing my amazing (second) partner partly because of my self-inflicted boringness. I got annoyed with it. I got angry. I got furious. I went crazy and ended up just smashing the problem.

    Like the person who asked the question, I wasn’t always this way. When I was younger I had a lot of fire in my belly – even though I was poor and generally disadvantaged and so I couldn’t do any of the textbook “shake up your life” things such as a holiday I still managed to be passionate about something… But then life beat me down and being boring became the norm for around 6 years.

    I know exactly what the person means when they meet all improvement suggestions with apathy… So when I finally had enough of being in a boring state, only then could I really start fixing the problem. I got that fire back in my belly and I went to a club/bar and partied my ass off immediately (and repeated a few times a week for months… Hey I had fun! Even if it isn’t your thing.) and I got into rock climbing/bouldering and have decreased my focus on writing code and gaming which has probably helped me from just gradually recessing back into apathy.

    Additionally I am really thankful for finally shaking my boring streak because I think I’ve finally decided what I am looking for in a partner (and friends) which will save a lot of time and pain where relationships are concerned.

    Work up the courage to go smash the problem, and do it. Don’t bother looking for a silver bullet in self-help articles.

    My 2c.

  2. kazari said:

    I would also add there’s an actual book called “I could do anything if only I knew what it was” that might be useful. It’s mostly about finding a career, but it’s actually about getting unstuck.

    • That sounds like precisely my cup of tea, thanks for the rec!

  3. Jane said:

    BEST POST.

    LW, I was the person who wrote in a while back about creative discouragement. And I would guess you are feeling a little bit of what I felt then and now.

    This is maybe phase #2, after you try the things the Captain suggests — but if you do get back to writing, what about giving yourself a goofy project that you have full permission to screw up? I keep a story blog where I try to write five 1000-2000 word stories a week. They are all short bits of nothing and I’m sure they are kind of terrible, but there’s no particular pressure because I know I’m going to have five more chances the next week to write these random little fragments. Also I found that (since I, like you, had been/am in a phase of MASSIVE consumption of movies and books and such) I started regurgitating elements that I had been thinking about, and it gives me a chance to work over those things again and again until I find an angle that suits me.

    In the reverse case, I’m desperately struggling to get a nonfiction blog started, because that’s “REAL” and I can’t give myself permission to screw it up, and I get so hung up on what other people think and what’s too trite that I can’t figure out what I WANT to write about.

    • Briznecko said:

      ..because that’s “REAL” and I can’t give myself permission to screw it up, and I get so hung up on what other people think and what’s too trite that I can’t figure out what I WANT to write about.

      THIS IS ME RIGHT NOW. I like old movies, so why not write semi-academic blog about them? Because I’ll get all the facts wrong! I don’t have access to university libraries and databases anymore! Etc. etc.

      I keep beating myself up for not just sitting down and doing it, then…I don’t have time to do the research, then if I do, I don’t have time to read it, and even then, what can I say that smarter and far more accomplished people haven’t already said?

      Sorry, I don’t really have much to add – you just struck a serious nerve. I really need to break myself of this paralysis. Oddly enough, I’ve been thinking about doing a stupid side project of embroidering images of old movie stars on fabric and playing with the word c*nt (in a reclaiming way, I promise).

      Perhaps I just need to let myself do something really stupid that won’t have an audience outside of my apartment.

      Anyways, I heartily offer a *fistbump* of solidarity from one creative-ly paralyzed person to another.

      • I * love* blogs about old movies, so if you start one, I will read it. btw imdb.com is a great source for reliable movie info. And google books has a lot of great free books – including, for instance, this book on Film http://goo.gl/Hik1HO Do it do it!

      • Jane said:

        I feel like part of the answer has to be reorienting ourselves toward writing as a thing we do for ourselves, not for other people. Even if it’s on a blog, even if it *feels* like it must be a performance, we write about stuff *we* care about. It doesn’t have to be the most awesomest and most originalest post about movies to ever to be posted (or in my case, about suburban sprawl, or architecture education, or what-have-you) it just has to be about something WE like to write about. And that will carry you through, I think. Or, at least, it does for my fiction blog? Here’s hoping it transfers.

        Anyway, please post again if you do start a movie blog! I just started (well, about a year ago) trying to get my movie knowledge up to snuff, and it would great to have more ideas rolling around it my head as I watch.

      • Not sure if this is your cup of tea, Briznecko, but if you’re financially able to, and you’re near any universities with ContEd departments, taking any individual class usually gives you access to the library and database for 6 months or so. This was really handy for me!

      • keelyellenmarie said:

        Also, if you find yourself desperately needing one or two particular academic papers, there is always the option of begging college-aged friends/family to access it for you OR begging strangers on twitter (#ICANHAZPDF)

  4. Anisoptera said:

    Captain that is relevant to my interests… Just, all of it. Thank you for being awesome.

    LW – I have one more thing to add. A pertinent question to ask yourself right now is are there any people close to you reacting to you as if you’re boring? Or outright telling you you’re boring? Because your letter struck a chord with me and there were times I could have written it. In my case it was my then partner. He was Darth Vader really, but the passive aggressive kind and my head was all twisted around and I couldn’t see it. All I knew is that he tuned me out when I talked. Then when we were out with people, he would come out with all the interesting things I’d said to him when he was tuning me out (and not giving me any of the nice signs of interest that make one feel liked) and seem like a cool, interesting, engaged guy. While I sat silently being boring because he’d said all the things I would have said. And I gradually began to worry more and more that I was a dull boring person. After all, the man who loved me would ignore me when I talked for too long, and in public I didn’t have much to say. And fear of being boring made me even more quiet, because I was worried I went on and on about boring stuff.

    But sometimes I have this weird experience these days where I go out (sans ex-partner) and people seem to find me interesting. They respond to what I say and act all engaged. And I’m a little startled, because I’m still having trouble convincing myself I’m not boring after years of the closest person in my life acting as if I was.

    There are probably many ways this can play out. It might be a close friend or family member instead of a lover. But take a look around and check for any close people treating you as if you’re boring. Lengthy exposure to trusted people who treat you as if you’re dull will crush your confidence. Maybe this is entirely irrelevant to you situation (I hope so) but it’s worth taking a hard look anyway.

    • misspiggy said:

      I just wanted to say how horrible that must have been and how sorry I am.

    • JHS said:

      I have a similar problem with my family, in that if I’m talking about something they’re not interested in (sometimes in response to a question they’ve asked me!), they’ll act bored and change the subject, often interrupting me. And then I have to listen to a story they’ve told me a dozen times rather than getting to tell them something new. Very irritating. Fortunately, my friend group is completely different and has given me a lot more confidence than I used to.

      • Utter East said:

        Me too! One of my relatives calls me regularly (THEY call ME) in order to be on the phone with me, ignoring everything I say. I’ve started letting the silences just hang when it’s obvious they’re not listening.

    • Myrin said:

      I’m so sorry you had to deal with something like that, from an intimate partner no less!
      Thinking about it, I had a – in parts, at least – similar relationship with my best friend from age 11 to 15 (not a superlong time, now that I think about it, but certainly enough to mess me up in a lot of ways). She was genuinely interested in me in a time where I was either bullied or ignored by my other classmates and I thought she was a good person. Which she was, in the beginning, but she became less so over the years. She, too, would often outright demand I “entertain her” (she said that! wth?) and if I failed to do so, she’d repeatedly throw my boringness into my face. It was a very toxic relationship towards the end and I’m happy I ended it (over an argument about penisses, of all things!) and found people who neither demand I entertain them nor found me boring (or at least never said it to my face/pretended to be interested). I could breathe a little easier once our friendship was over.

      • Mary said:

        My ex-girlfriend used to do that “entertain me” / “I’m bored!” stuff, and of course it was a “joke”, but wow, yeah, it was a really energy-sucking enjoyment-sucking joke. I really did feel like I was tap-dancing badly a lot of the time.

        • Hoooooly shit. I ended my first long-term relationship a few months ago, and I couldn’t entirely put my finger on why, but this. This. I stopped having the time/energy/resources to entertain him, and it got to the point where I felt drained and guilty all the time. I hadn’t quite put it together with that. Thank you.

    • Normski said:

      I have some experience of this with friends, but not on anywhere near this level, more a sort of “grew apart, developed different interests” kind of thing. I was complaining to Current and Much Loved Town friend about having to go away for a friend from my Home town’s 30th birthday. I like my friend but I don’t really like being with her group of friends, because I always feel really boring, I never have anything to contribute to the conversation and when I do say something I feel like it’s really awkward and not cool. I was saying to my Current Town friend, that I felt like they really judged me for not watching tv programme X or not being interested in conversation topic Y and that it brought out all my high school insecurities about being cool and popular. Her response was “You know you could watch tv programme X, it’s not like there’s some minimum coolness qualification that you have to pass to watch it. You choose not to because you’re out doing stuff or you’d rather watch something else. Own the choice you’re making, that what you do is more interesting. To you.” That reframing gave me a bit more of a sense of agency instead of a sense of inferiority.

      Incidentally, I took my fiancé on the weekend with me. It was the first time he had met anyone there. He commented at the end of the weekend that only one out of the 15 people there had asked him a single question about himself. He refuses to go on another weekend away with such boring people.

    • Polychrome said:

      Oh wow — recognizable! In my case instead of talking about what really interested me I’d start fishing around for “gossip” / drama (which my darthy partner loved) because he would completely get an EYE ROLL ZONED OUT look on his face whenever I brought anything else up and I was kind of desperate to keep him interested. This, I think, both made me more genuinely negative but also laid me open to the charge of being negative (to add to the list of my bad qualities he was keeping). So exhausting. And yeah, just, after being dumped having the experience of encountering people and finding that they liked me / thought I was funny / wanted to spend time with me and remembering right! Right. This actually is possible.

      Captain — the line ending “& Shit What Helps Society Work” — so, so funny and right on :)

      • Anisoptera said:

        Yeah I used to flip through subjects looking for things he would respond positively to. Apparently tuning you out is a classic emotional abuse tactic – your self esteem drops and you keep looking for ways to please (which works out well for the abuser). Blergh. It’s amazing how not being around that sort of behaviour magically lifts your mood and self esteem. :-/

        • Polychrome said:

          It is pretty magique indeedy.

    • Thalia said:

      I am still surprised how when I’m with people not my family they seem to think I’m really quite interesting and intelligent and witty and maybe even wise but since my family likes to walk away from me when I’m in the middle of a sentence I grew up thinking I must be boring and stupid. FUNNY HOW THAT WORKS.

      Although luckily (or not luckily; it took a bit of hard work) thinking about that kind of crap makes me angry these days instead of sad.

  5. Teetertot said:

    Oh, how I love Captain Awkward’s response. So many excellent links and so many interesting things to think about, as they relate to myself and how I feel others perceive me!

    LW, you don’t sound boring to me. You sound bored (or depressed, but like CA, I am going to assume/hope you have good medical treatment to help you if so, and will leave that part to them).

    I really like the captain’s idea of being bad at something fun. Try something new. Make your own excitement, even if it initially feels forced. Give yourself something to look forward to, even if, like me, you sometimes have to trick yourself into doing the New Thing by signing up for it and then waiting so long to cancel it that you can’t get out of it at the last minute and you have to go. Honestly? Some of my best experiences have happened this way.

    • Siobhan said:

      I have found that 90% of “being boring” *IS* “being bored.” People who are interested in things are interesting people.

      There was also some study done — I really need to find this one — that linked boredom to anxiety. Boredom is the way we protect ourselves. If something is boring, it can’t hurt us — whereas if we are interested, we might fail at it.

      So yes, what I am hearing in your letter is 100% anxiety and depression, and despite the Captain’s great answer, in this case, I think those are the areas to focus on. Remember that Interested people are Interesting people!

      • Siobhan said:

        erm. “what I am hearing” is not a guarantee of what IS. We hear through our own filters and I know that when I am at my most bored, I am also at the point where not getting out of bed sounds like a good idea. IOW, boredom is a key sign that MY depression is rearing its ugly head.

      • That framing definitely makes sense to me. I think I mentioned in another comment (or maybe I just thought about posting it) that I have an overwhelming fear of failure, and I tie a huge amount of my self worth to my ability to succeed and produce things. Not taking action is terrifying, but it’s less terrifying to fail due to not caring/not trying than it is to fail as a result of my honest best effort being insufficient.

  6. M Dubz said:

    LW, I want to strongly strongly strongly encourage you in the direction of, as the Captain put it, “being useful.” Not because “you don’t know how good you’ve got it until you give.” Not out of a sense of guilt. But because obligation is what makes us human, makes us joyful, makes us feel alive. There is nothing better in this world than connecting genuinely to other human beings, feeling like you are decreasing world suck, feeling like you matter. And consider doing something like teaching or mentoring, something where building relationships is inherently part of it, because it sounds to me like a huge part of what you need right now is genuine human connection.

    • I’d just like to chime in that this works even for nonhumans. I foster kittens sometimes and it’s ridiculously rewarding to nurture a tiny creature that needs your help.

  7. Hi Captain and commentariat, thanks so much for the thoughtful responses to my letter. I’m really looking forward to reading more comments as they come up, and I’m going to sit here and think on the Captain’s response and An Essay About Essays for a bit here.

    • Drew said:

      May I just say that anyone who can rock the handle “cuntessvonfingerbang” CANNOT be a terminally boring person. In fact, I’d love to hear the story behind that name.

      • JenniferP said:

        SRSLY!

      • ginksarade said:

        OMG, so true. I have a terrible time choosing usernames, so I’m always envious of people with good ones.

      • Mercy said:

        Indeed! Also, I’ve got to say, I look forward to your comments in here, and you’re often one of the people Whose comment inspires me to drag my husband over to the computer so that I can read him this comment because I loved it so much.

        • Mercy said:

          Why did my iPad randomly capitalize that “whose”? Oh well.

      • Kerry said:

        Came here just to say this.

    • FYI, I like you a lot and I think you’re really great. So, if external validation is a thing you need/want, perhaps it will cheer you to know that people who haven’t even met you think that you are worthy, lovely and a good person to know.

      • wordum said:

        Yep, another one here! I think I’ve seen you (Cuntess) over at Ask A Queer Chick too?

    • Thalia said:

      What?! YOU wrote this letter? But you’re one of the coolest people here and just yesterday I was NO LIE thinking about how awesome you were and wondering if I could be your friend (okay, that sounds kind of creepy but I was wondering it in the same way a little kid might wonder such a thing). You are super insightful and your name is fantastic; also you linked to my blog once here (Tetanus Burger) which totally spiked my traffic so, uh, thanks I guess.

      Anyway on the subject of this I think travel can do amazing things to your perspective. Is that what this comes down to maybe, changing your perspective a bit? Being in a literally different place/land cannot but help change that, although I think (like the Captain said) you have to observe. Paying attention to the little things might get things moving; ‘boring’ is so sweeping and generalized and ignores all the small interesting things. I know that for me what makes my own life pretty fascinating is the little things. Like how Ratty the cat has that wobbly-headed way of looking at things that I notice his mother also has, or how his brother Maurice rolls around on the floor when he’s happy with a certain snap to the roll that is something the same mother-cat also does and how she’s passed different things on to her different children. I don’t know if that’s making any sense, but when I think about why or how I find All This Life fascinating it’s that sort of thing. I don’t know if that can be used to get out of boredom in an active way though.

      That you might have some low-level depression did occur to me; I know the Captain brought it up but your boredom is striking me as one of those things one might not identify as obvious depression so maybe look into that.

      Also sometimes I think we all go through periods where the surface looks empty, but it’s because there’s something going on at a deeper level. Some kind of processing or change that one just has to sort of trust in (especially when it comes to creative things). And in that case, maybe you just have to let yourself be bored for a while without rushing to ‘fix’ things?

      Very very best of luck. I think you’re wicked cool.

      • Thalia said:

        Replying to myself to say that I reread your letter and see you’re on the depression thing already, so never mind that bit.

      • *fans self* The brilliance behind Tetanus Burger thinks *I’m* cool? You’re so cool though!

        Thanks for your insight here, I’m trying to think of the last time I focused on small things in the way you describe, and I honestly can’t remember. I’m very dismissive and judgmental of my own experiences, and it’s hard for me to look at the world around me, especially the things I control, in any way other than with scorn. I feel like I’m a failure if I’m not excelling, and I feel worthless if I’m not progressing in some way. It’s kind of ironic since I’m such an anti-capitalist that I’ve emotionally bought into the idea of constant improvement and progress, and valuing myself only for the ways that I can measurably provide value.

        • indywind said:

          I think you really hit on something with your second paragraph there. A scornful frame can make anything seem boring, even awesome you.
          Maybe you don’t need to get more interesting so much as swap out your framing for one that lets you see the value that you (your experiences and perceptions and thoughts and feelings) do have.
          (p.s. Add me to the list of people who think your handle is neat.)

        • unlurking said:

          Oh, wow, your 2nd paragraph, about worth, value, ~progress, ~improvement: That has a ring of trueness for me, time for me to maybe think some thinky thoughts on that. Thank you for posting that.

        • Thalia said:

          Oh my gawd I’ll join you in that self-fanning, and if I may be permitted, *squee!*

          Over and over for me it just keeps coming down to kindness. Kindness for the world, kindness for the living creatures in it, but above all, and always first, kindness for myself. It’s damned hard sometimes given my background (where a pile of junk was more important than us kids’ welfare) but that’s the lesson I’m always brought back to.

        • Ali said:

          That protective scorn and feeling of all or nothing failure or excellence are very familiar to me. I’m still working on the scorn, but for the other I found making things helps. I ended up making steampunk jewelry because take apart watches is super fun. A couple times a month, I go try to sell what I’ve made at a local market. It isn’t always successful, but there are always compliments. Learning to make things other people find beautiful (even when all I see are flaws) has helped a lot.

    • Myrin said:

      Okay, apparently I needed like ten people to spell it out for me before I realised that your name is “cuntess” and not, as I’ve always read it before, “cuteness”. Oh well. They’re both mighty fine.^^

  8. Bonga said:

    Geezus, I could have written this letter. LW, I totally relate. I know I’m not boring, but I detest small talk and find it painful to converse with anyone other than someone I’m already friends with. I’ve got the good-paying stable job that I feel no passion for whatsoever. I’ve been able to get time off the job and I’m trying to give myself a big kick in the butt. I’ve also been stuck in a rut of consuming way too much media.

    I don’t have any simple solutions since I’m kind of going through the same thing. I’ve noticed in my life I’ve always tried to befriend more outgoing, “fun” people since I’m not so good at producing fun on my own. Maybe not the most independent strategy, but as long as the friendship is healthy, why not? I find I can be more interesting when hanging out with such people.

    On my own, I’m trying not follow my “passion” but pursue any vague interest I have. I like eating desserts, so I’m trying a baking class. Or you could challenge yourself to doing something you assume you’ll hate. I thought I’d hate running, so I tried running for a while, and I kind of liked it. I’m not obsessed with it, but I kind of like it. I always liked reading advice columns, and then I found this site! The best advice column ever! I think for some of us, we can’t list 10 things in life we are passionate about, but we can list 10 things we kind of like, and that might be as good as it gets.

    And use some self-discipline to get going. Confide in a friend, and do something with a friend to keep yourself accountable. Spend some time on something new, and then reward yourself with mindless web-surfing. It ain’t easy, but it gets easier the more you do it.

    • Jiu Jiu said:

      Hahaha I was the opposite – When I was in high school and college I used to love befriending people who loved coming along for the ride and enjoyed more the sidekick role! I was the outgoing, slightly nutty friend with crazy ideas (Hey, let’s follow that limo and find out where it’s going! Who cares if it’s 1am!).

  9. oh god I will read the rest of this I swear but first I HAVE to comment on the cult of self-improvement, more specifically the obligation to be okay, because holy crap I felt that burden after my brother died, and holy crap it’s hard to figure out what to say these days when someone asks me how many siblings I have and what they all do and my options are either A: pretend I never had a big brother Josh (which, never); or B: let things get all awkward and sad when I finally happen to mention him or something he did in the past tense and they ask and I answer and then sometimes the *whole damn conversation* becomes all about my dead brother and like, that was six years ago, y’know? I’ve said about all I can say about it, at least to people who didn’t know I even had siblings ten minutes ago. That was a really long sentence but sometimes you need a really long sentence when you have ideas like this in your head because they’re *big* and they move so *fast*…

    And right now I’m going through my first breakup, and I really loved him, and for that whole first week, I was really, seriously not okay. I was not okay in a way that my roommates, who have known me less than a month, could very easily see. I cried every single day. I cried over my homework. I cried over my diary. I cried and cried and cried and I had constant headaches from the crying and it was hard to focus and I was NOT okay and that should’ve been okay. It should be okay to not be okay sometimes, y’know? And then sometimes people start in on that whole “everything happens for a reason” thing (never ever EVER say this to someone who is hurting btw), and also the whole “positive thinking will make good things happen in your life!!” both of which I find abhorrent, and I’m just like, Fuck off already, I am not okay today and if you can’t deal with that then I can’t deal with you. Something beautiful is gone from my life and I’m allowed to mourn it for as long as I need to. I’m going to school and studying hard and doing my household chores and y’all can just leave me ALONE if I’m not always as chirpy and happy as you want me to be. I’m not a machine.

    Anyway. Sorry for the off-topic rant; I’m done now.

    • stellanor said:

      oh lord I also have a dead brother and I hate when people ask me how many siblings I have or whatever. I end up doing the single-breath “I-had-a-younger-brother-he-died-a-while-ago-how-about-you-any-siblings?” subject-change thing. Also then they ask how he died, and the answer to that is nontrivial, and shit just gets super awkward as soon as you say there was a homicide investigation…

      I mean it’s not people’s fault, they did not know that conversational land mine was there until they stepped on it and blew up the conversation. But you know.

      • Oh no, that’s terrible! As if a helicopter wreck wasn’t bad enough; homicide investigations sound like something that would take any conversation to a whole new level of we-don’t-know-each-other-well-enough-to-talk-about-this-and-yet-here-we-are. In an awful way, though, it’s a relief to find someone else who has this problem. Everybody asks that question! Everyone! And as soon as they ask it, you pretty much know the conversation is fucked. It’s really just a question of when, how, and whether or not you can get it back on track afterwards with talk of things *other* than this horrible tragedy that mars your every casual conversation with a new person. I tend to have mixed success on that one.

        • embertine said:

          Eeeeeee, so glad to see that I am not alone in this. There was a homicide investigation after my brother died in Korea, and it went on for months, and when we finally got his ashes back they were not…. um….. very ashy (I’m sure I don’t need to spell it out) and the pressure to grieve in a sweetly conformist way that felt palatable to everyone around me was HUGE.

          I did a lot of telling people to fuck off in those months, and it felt wonderful, not least because my brother would have thoroughly approved. When people ask me now if I have any brothers and sisters, I reply briskly “Yes, I had an older brother who died some years ago. How about you/Tell me about your pets/How ’bout them Cowboys?” or equivalent.*

          *This throws people particularly because I am not American and they generally have no idea what I am talking about. It’s… football, right?

        • stellanor said:

          Yeah, it’s like, welp, let us have a moment of silence for this conversation, which has just now died. … okay now let’s talk about your dog.

      • btw, sorry for the double-reply, but have you ever also gotten that thing where you’ll mention that a sibling died and people will be like, “Oh, that’s so terrible. What a tragedy! *le gasp* Oh, but what about your *parents?*” Which, okay, yeah, I get why that’s a big question, but um… hello? What about me? Standing here, in front of you? I don’t speak for my parents; if you want to know how they’re doing, you’ll have to ask them yourself. In the meantime, I am miserable and lonely and feeling smaller and more ignored every time someone does that, so maybe you could worry a little more about the high school student to whom you are speaking, whose entire world is unravelling before her eyes?

        • stellanor said:

          Sometimes I get that, but I sort of understand because, like, at that point I am there standing in front of them being terribly competent and not visibly having a complete breakdown. In the intervening years I’ve accomplished a lot of stuff that is indicative of my life being not over — people are mostly aware that I have earned a graduate degree, landed a big shiny job, and maintained a long-term relationship.

          They generally have, however, no data on my parents. For all they know they’ve spent the last several years crying and popping sedatives. (They haven’t, it was hard but they’re doing well with the hand they’ve been dealt.)

          I am, however, kind of an old fart, and at this phase in my life I’m taking care of my parents more than they’re taking care of me, so people asking me after their health is pretty standard.

          • Ah. See, I was a teenager, and I was desperately sad and lonely. I felt very alone in everything I was dealing with, so whenever someone skipped right past whatever *I* was feeling to ask about my parents, I felt ignored. And I get that losing a child is a terrible thing — I was there to watch my dad fall apart, believe me, I know — but losing a sibling in your teens is pretty terrible too, y’know?

            Though come to think of it, I think it’s possible that in a way, they *were* asking about me, too. I was still in high school when this happened; I needed my parents. Maybe they were asking if I still had them. I guess I’ll never know. Probably better to give them the benefit of the doubt, at least for my peace of mind.

    • I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about my recurring battles with depression, and she said something to the effect of “someday, things will get better,” and I about lost my shit because no, you don’t KNOW that, you’re just saying that because that’s what you hope will happen, and just because you really want things to get better doesn’t mean they will. If someone had cancer you wouldn’t be like “someday you’ll be cured!” because really it could go either way and passing it off as just a temporary thing that will eventually be over trivializes the shit that person is going through at this very moment.

      Um. This may be another off-topic rant. But yeah, it should be okay to not be okay sometimes.

      • *all of the hugs for you* Another thing is, when people keep talking about “someday,” what they miss is the fact that *right now,* things suck, and *right now* is an important time, too. The fact that it sucks does not make it an insignificant part of your life. You should be allowed to own this time and live in it as it is, even if that means you don’t feel or act very “positive.” I doubt the people who say this stuff *mean* to invalidate the experiences of the people they’re talking to, but they kind of do anyway, when they talk as if you should ignore the shittiness of the now in favor of the potential awesomeness of the later. That is not helpful in the slightest.

        • MrsMorley said:

          People aren’t saying “someday” because they don’t understand the misery of now. It’s more that they don’t want you to completely give up and they don’t know how, or are scared to say that they get you’re unhappy and life sucks. They do the same thing with people with cancer.

          Part of why I believe this is the experience of a friend.

          When her friend was hospitized for surgery with cancer, my friend was the only one who came out with saying how terrifying this must be. Her friend was so relieved to be allowed to be not ok.

          So where I’m going with this is that when things are horrendous you don’t have to be stoic. You can say it’s bad. You don’t have to take care of the people who aren’t brave enough to offer you truth.

  10. Jiu Jiu said:

    One of my favorite ways to “be interesting” is to do interesting things. Strike that – to do THINGS. Different things. It’s a great and simple way to get out of a rut, create interesting memories with friends, and it SOUNDS interesting.

    I set this up with a friend of mine. He had 3 months left in Korea, and I said “Let’s choose a different place every time. That way we can say Remember when we went to ___? rather than Hey, remember that time we went to our regular place – no, not that time, the week before – no, not that time…

    Ultimately it ended up creating interesting MEMORIES and adventures. Sure, every so often we repeated a place, but it had to be REALLY GOOD. Other than that. we ordered different food, went to different shops, and had a wonderful infusion of NEW.

    New seems to combat boring in my world.

    And as far as feeling fake – my feeling is that if you fake it long enough, it BECOMES real. That facade becomes your face. That idea that if you smile, you can trick yourself into feeling a bit better. The secret is that SO MANY PEOPLE feel like frauds, especially when we foray into new territory. I’ve been doing my martial art for 4 years, and when people ask my rank, sometimes I feel like a fraud because I feel like I’m not as good as my rank, and pretty soon someone will figure out my ruse and take this from me!! You stick with it, though, and eventually that feeling can leave way. It’s that idea of cognitive dissonance (iirc) – that your actions and your thoughts need to align – and if they don’t, one of them will change.

    So – if you’re acting in a way that you want to be, you may find it eventually is who you are.

    Or maybe not, and that’s okay, too.

    • I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO FELT THAT WAY. About the martial arts – I’ve been practicing for almost 3 years now, and I still feel that way any time someone asks what rank/how long I’ve been practicing (especially since one of those years I had to focus more on the non-physical aspects of the martial art due to a back injury).

      …It just made me feel better to know that I’m not the only one who feels that way and I thought you should know that. Thank you.

    • TheJackdaw said:

      Totally off track and a tangent – but I’ve been training for 7 years and got my black belt last year and I still feel like it’s not real and I don’t deserve it! I even joke when it falls off while I’m sparring that it’s rejecting me because it knows I’m not worthy. I did a seminar last year with a black belt from another martial art, someone asked her what rank she learnt the most at and she said black.

      It’s not about the rank or the technique or who you can beat – it’s about chipping away at ego slowly but surely. Your teachers would not have passed you if they didn’t think you deserved it – hell, they probably shouldn’t have let you grade unless they thought you could pass. And your pass is different to someone else’s pass – my (4’11, chronically ill) black belt is different to my husband’s (training for 22 years, 5’9, athletically gifted) black belt. But it’s still mine and I still deserved it. Because I worked as hard as I possibly could and did everything that was asked of me. If you didn’t quit because that person kicked you a bit hard in sparring or because you forgot what you were doing half way through a kata or a lower belt who’s bigger and heavier tapped you out but you just got up, dusted yourself off, tapped gloves and carried on, then that rank is yours. You deserve it.

      /MARTIALARTSFEELINGS

      • Spoony Bard said:

        Thanks for this. I recently earned my green belt, and part of me is still amazed when I look down and see it there. There are a lot of orange belts in my dojo, and when I was still orange myself I would ask them if they were going for the next belt test. “Oh no, I’m not good enough yet,” they would say,and I would think “holy crap, you’re better than me. If you’re not ready, what business do I have testing?” But I felt ready. I wanted new challenges and felt like I’d been stuck at the same place forever. So I studied and practiced my ass off and earned that belt. And yet, even knowing all that, I still doubt myself. But what you said, Jackdaw, about doing everything asked of you, that makes sense. It’s ‘my’ belt. I did what I needed to do to move up, and that path is different from what some other orange belt might need to do. /ALLTHEMARTIALARTSFEELS

      • Cyberwulf said:

        At the moment I’m the highest ranked student in my [martial art] class, and sometimes when I stumble over techniques that I’ve already learned I feel like a fraud. What helps a lot is showing the beginners how to pull off throws/locks/sequences etc. Firstly, it makes me slow down and make sure that I’m doing the technique right. Secondly, when I can see where they’re going wrong and what they should do to correct it, I realise that yes, I *do* know this. I deserve my rank.

    • miss_chevious said:

      I love the suggestion of “new.” It doesn’t always turn out great — sometimes New = A Big Pile of Not For Me — but it breaks me out of a rut and gets me to look around a little. And it definitely is new, which is not the same old.

  11. Oh Captain, you are my heart’s friend.

    You know, LW, I’ve been seriously worried that I’ve been boring lately, because, like you, I’ve just wanted to shove terrible novels into my face while also kind of hating myself for shoving terrible novels into our face.

    But you know what? We are entitled to our fucking sabbaticals. You don’t need to perform Manic Quirkypixie Interesting Girl 24/7. It’s a hard performance! It takes juice! Maybe it’s not even true to your truest self – which means it takes even more energy!

    You’re allowed to lay down on the floor making the bibble-bibble noise with your fingers over your lips. You’re allowed some time off to recharge. Maybe you’re harvesting energy, or going through a personal transformative process; maybe you need something to look forward to, maybe you need to structure your free time, maybe you’re growing out of your Quirkypixie stage and you’re pupating to emerge in three month’s time as a Toughlady, maybe your brain is generating evil chemicals, maybe you’re the sort of plant that needs more sun – at any rate, it doesn’t matter. You’re entitled to every stage of your process, and that includes the slow chapters.

    • Jane said:

      Also, I didn’t notice if CVF noted how long this period of consumption and quiet had been going on. But I’m really starting to think that it’s pretty normal to have cyclical fallow times in your life, where you are taking in more than you put out, ESPECIALLY if you are a creative person. Maybe consider the possibility that this type of period is not an anomaly and that you are always going to go through this cycle of productivity and quiet. (I know a very few people who can constantly produce, but they are not very healthy people.) I pretty much go into hibernation between December and February — partly because of SAD, partly because my preferred move-my-body activities are better experienced in warm weather (I really need to get a pair of snowshoes.)

      Conversely, I think it’s okay to just be unhappy and dissatisfied with your life. I’ve been feeling a little empty and lost in my own life for about a year, but that’s caused me to try some new things and solidify some plans for change the next year. It is okay to feel sad because things need to change!

      The thing to remember is: IT IS NOT BECAUSE ANYTHING IS WRONG WITH YOU. YOU ARE FINE. THIS IS OKAY.

      • Kerry said:

        I’m really starting to think that it’s pretty normal to have cyclical fallow times in your life, where you are taking in more than you put out, ESPECIALLY if you are a creative person

        I think this is really true. Sometimes I’ll be banging stuff out so fast I can’t even keep up with myself, and sometimes I’ll be reading a lot and thinking a lot but when I try to create something I just go “fffffffnah can’t” and watch TV and hate myself instead.

        • aliasCelli said:

          I am totally that person who expects to be doingdoingdoing all the time and then beats myself up when I collapse in front of an all-day Chopped marathon. It’s amazing how I have had precisely zero problems in my life that I could hate myself into fixing–and yet it’s still the first thing I try. LEARN THINGS, ME.

      • Yes, and what a lovely use of the word “fallow” – normally you’re forcing fertility and productivity from the fields, but after a few seasons of harvest you won’t be able to force ANYTHING from them unless you let them rest!

        And I know I always bang on about the metaphor of the empty well, and how you can’t draw water up from an empty well – but I’m going to repeat myself ANYWAY. If you want to draw on your creativity, you need to re-fill the well. You can get as upset as you like at the idea that your creativity/orginality/”interestingness” is not something that flows from a tap, but it doesn’t change the fact that it has to come from somewhere.

        To go back to LW’s metaphor of consuming media – sometimes you make the food, and sometimes you eat the food, but you really can’t skip the “eating” step too often.

        • Jane said:

          I like the idea of fallowness because it conveys 1. necessity 2. naturalness 3. replenishment all in one.

          To expand a bit — I myself definitely have cycles of quiet/productive (which is the healthy flipside of depressed/frantic) that (generally) happen on several temporal scales:

          A. monthly cycle — four weeks on, one week off
          B. yearly cycle (already mentioned) — eight months on, four months off
          C. quintannual (is that a word?) cycle — four years on, one year off

          I’m not totally sure about the exact scale of the last one, but you get the idea.Our lives have bigger rhythms that the staccato of everyday. I once saw Junot Diaz speak (he came to our book club *faints*) and he said he literally read at least one book every single day. He reads so much. And yet! This is a writer who turns out one (fucking amazing) book every five to ten years!

          The farm I volunteered on last summer and where I will return this year was let go for ten years, and it is probably going to take at least five to get it back to the way it was when the owner was a child. He could probably could have tried to get all the gorse cleared, the brackens cut down, the walls rebuilt, the drainage ditches re-dug, the outbuildings recovered, the boat refinished, a cow and pigs and chickens bought, and the fields re-planted in a single year, but he didn’t. It’s okay for your life to take its own time. It’s okay to let yourself ebb and flow.

      • Elsajeni said:

        I think you’re very right about the productivity/quiet cycle, if only because of the sheer number of people I know (including me, I won’t lie) whose relationship to their creative work looks something like:
        1. Have a period of intense productivity. Lots of writing! Lots of art! Lots of new readers/Tumblr followers/kudos/whatever it is that reinforces you to feel good about your work!
        2. Output slows down a bit. Feel kind of bad about it. Put in lots of energy to try to get output back up to previous level.
        3. Run out of energy to keep doing that. Fallow period; no output for a while. Feel terrible. Beat self up. Begin experiencing new readers/comments/etc. not as “yay, people like me and my work,” but as “oh no, people have expectations of me that I’m failing to meet, I am a hateful slug.” Retreat into hateful-slug cocoon.
        4. … Energy and inspiration gradually returning. Tentatively produce something. Audience response feels good and reinforcing again. Productivity increases. Repeat cycle.

        I think probably it would help a lot of us to accept that productivity/quiet or intake/output cycle as natural. (For one thing, I can only speak for myself, but I’m sure I’m prolonging the fallow periods by 1. trying so hard to prevent them from starting and 2. beating myself up so much during them. I’m working on it.) The idea that “to be a writer, you must be a reader,” that consuming and enjoying and experiencing other people’s creative work is important and helps to fuel your own work, is pretty well accepted; maybe it would help to start thinking of that fueling as a separate phase, like stopping to gas up the car.

    • edelc said:

      agreeing totally with elodieunderglass.

      I have a theory (is it just me or does that song from Buffy play in your head everytime you say that) …that when we are busy, we get used to being busy and so it becomes the new normal, then we get busier, running around, getting stuff done, improving ourselves , etc etc….that is the new new normal..and when we keel over in exhaustion, or just need a break and step down to what was the original normal…it feels slow, it feels like we are slacking off, it feels wrong…

      LW, I need to give myself permission, regularly, to just slacken off…to not create, clean, work, do stuff. that my hamster busy brain tells me that I should be doing….I need to give myself permission to read, watch endless netflix, scroll through pinterest , whatever…

      personally at the moment, I have been battling at work, fighting with my bank, been immersed in red-tape for so long that I struggle to lie on the floor and make the bibble bibble noise…but I need to…and LW maybe it is OK for you to do it too…

      as Elodie says, ‘You’re entitled to every stage of your process, and that includes the slow chapters.’

    • unlurking said:

      >heart’s friend

      I KNOW, I LOVE EVERYONE IN THIS BAR, OKAY.

  12. MovingOn said:

    Reading your letter, what strikes me is not so much that you might be boring but that you’re very, very bored. I have the feelings you describe a lot every time I discover a new site like Ravelry or Pinterest. So many great things I should be doing! And so many great people who are already doing them and who are so much better at it than me! And you end up spending so much time looking at things you could be doing that you don’t actually do anything at all.

    Unplugging from sites like that helps me a lot. Not completely – they are also great resources, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! – but say, just for a weekend I’d only check my email once every day and not use the internet otherwise. Doesn’t really matter what I end up doing: reading, cleaning, knitting, just sitting on my balcony not doing anything at all. But usually I end up doing a lot in these weekends. When I don’t spend energy comparing my “output” with other people’s, it makes me a lot happier and more calm. So what if I arrive at work on Monday and have to answer the question ‘So what did you do this weekend?’ with ‘Not much, just relaxing’? As long it was happy weekend relaxing, that’s fine.

    Also, ‘interesting’ is subjective and overrated. A coworker of mine used to make fun of me knitting, because he thought it was dull, something for old ladies to do. Then when he found out I enter craft competitions (and win) with my knitting, suddenly he thought it was really interesting. But it was still the exact same thing! Two sticks and a bit of yarn! (… a lot of yarn) So I don’t think you can make your life objectively interesting for outsider, nor are you obliged to try.

    • Jane said:

      Heh, seconding the knitting as subjectively interesting. I feel weird about admitting that I’ve taken it up (because of the aforementioned association with old ladies), but the honest truth is that the local knitting group is filled with fascinating and nonthreatening people, and anyway I’ve always wanted an infinity scarf.

      • remi said:

        One of my brother’s friends is knitting I think a beluga whale, life-sized. Knitting is frickin’ rad as hell.

        • Jane said:

          Well, the ultimate goal may be a child-sized stegosaurus for my niece. . . but I’m not quite that good yet. . .

        • edelc said:

          Where he is going to keep it when it is done???

        • Thalia said:

          >>One of my brother’s friends is knitting I think a beluga whale, life-sized.

          I think this may be the best thing I have ever heard.

      • MovingOn said:

        I think it applies to everything. One of the most boring people I’ve ever known was an absolutely passionate sailor. We went to university together. Every single conversation somehow revolved around sailing, being a competitive sailor, being a sailing instructor, sailboats, training… this guy was clearly very driven, loved what he did, and I can’t recall him ever being bored or saying he spent the weekend doing nothing. But I still found him boring.

        As with all things in life, there is no magical way to please everyone ;-) Not everyone is interesting in all contexts and to all people, so to make ‘being more interesting’ a goal for self-improvement is flawed, I think.

        NB: what is it with the knitting-old ladies stereotype? And why do people so often think knitting is weird or dull in general (not just weird and dull *to them*) while still wearing knit items? And do these people also only eat ready-meals because they think cooking is weird or dull?

        • Mary said:

          I’ve got to say, my experience is that people thiNK knitting is FASCINATING. waitresses stop and stare and sometimes forget to take your order! Random strangers ask what you’re knitting! People gape and ask how you learned and what the pattern means or how come you don’t have a pattern! I actually have very little to say about knitting – I like doing it, but there are many other things I’d rather talk about – and I kind of wish people found it more boring. But it’s much more often of a conversation-starter than a conversation-ended.

        • Jane said:

          I KNOW PEOPLE WHO ONLY EAT READY MEALS BECAUSE THEY THINK COOKING IS WEIRD AND DULL.

          I get on well with such people as long as they are adventurous *eaters,* as an I-cook-they-eat arrangement. I do have a cousin for whom the whole concept of food is rather boring, and that is beyond my comprehension.

          • JenniferP said:

            This is cool from a different strokes/different folks perspective, which I know is your intention, but I’m not down with any kind food-shaming at all, so let’s let this be the last word on it. Ready-meals are food. “Boring,” unadventurous food is food.

        • miss_chevious said:

          Both knitting and cooking are boring to me. The outputs are not boring, but the process? DO NOT CARE. Much like sailing is to you, or baseball is to my mother. But I agree with the overall point — not much is objectively “interesting.” But a lot of things are interesting to a lot of different people.

        • I’ve been knitting for fifteen or twenty years and I definitely think cooking is incredibly dull and primarily eat ready-meals and take-out. ;) Interest in one area of effort does not translate to interest in all areas of effort! I’d rather spend that time, say … knitting.

    • Jane said:

      Another thought your comment brought to mind for some reason is — a lot of whether I’m concerned about what I’m doing or saying is INTERESTING or not depends a lot on how safe I feel in a given environment.

      I don’t care about doing something repetitive and kind of boring (chopping veggies, cutting apart and folding greeting cards, inking the leaves on a painting) with my mom, because I’m not tense with “if she doesn’t think I’m cool enough she’ll ditch me” fear. On the other hand, I have sometimes put off trying out activities that I knew I would probably enjoy or much-needed rest activities (movies and youtube, yep) because my everyday life was happening mostly in an environment where I felt pressured and anxious. I didn’t feel like I could risk any possible loss of social standing by being “boring” — probably not consciously, but my worry about not doing enough definitely had one root in feeling uncertain and unsure in my relationships.

  13. Rachel said:

    I’d like to add that the medication/depression/counselling aspect of this question might be worth further consideration. I know the Captain touched on this (and seemed to assume the LW has it under control) but it is shouting at me quite loudly from its last-minute mention in that final paragraph. I have known people to feel extremely lethargic/unresponsive/generally not themselves when they are on medication that doesn’t suit them, or alternatively due to unmedicated depression.

    I would also add advice which I have seen the Captain give people in the past: if things don’t work out with one counsellor/therapist you can always ask to see another one. It sounds to me as if you have somewhat written off the idea that meds/therapy etc can help you, but you might not have hit on the right combination yet.

    • You may be right about that.

      I went through about a 6 month period of taking no medication whatsoever, which I think was a healthy break from a bunch of stuff that was doing bad things to me. I’ve just recently started taking Zoloft and Ativan again. The Ativan definitely helps me when I’m overwhelmed with anxiety (which happens quite frequently), but the Zoloft is giving me weird, unpleasant side effects, so I’m not sure if I can stick it out or not. I feel like I’ve tried so many different medications already, and nothing has really done anything particularly good for me. It’s exhausting and overwhelming just attempting more new things. Even my doctor (who is really lovely otherwise) is starting to lose track of all the different things we’ve tried. I can’t even list all of the antidepressants I’ve been on over the past few years. It seems like ADHD makes me react kinda strangely to some antidepressants.

      As for therapy, I do like my therapist and I think we’re working on productive stuff, but sometimes I think I should get a second therapist, or see my current therapist twice a week or something, because I just feel so broken and crappy.

      Anyway I’m not sure what the point of that ramble was, but here we are.

      • Just a note about Zoloft: it was one of several meds I tried during a depressive episode many years ago. It turned me into a total blob. I had no energy or desire to do anything, talk to anyone, go anywhere . . . it basically erased my personhood. So yes, I think you might consider that these feelings are related to “Vitamin Z.”

        • I don’t think there’s a correlation since I just started the Zoloft about a week ago, and I’ve been feeling this way for quite some time, but I’ll keep that in mind, if I decide to ignore the constant nausea and dizziness and continue taking it.

          • Zoloft made me horribly nauseated and dizzy too. I ended up quitting it and doing Lexapro instead since that has a low side-effect profile, but then the Lexapro made me feel dull and lethargic (helped with anxiety, though), so I had to add Wellbutrin to the mix before I had a cocktail that worked for me. Meds suck so much and it sucks having to go through months-long trial-and-error periods where you have to wait for the drug to kick in and then assess if it’s working, and you can’t exactly put the rest of your life on hold while you wait out the side effects.

            But it’s better than staying stuck in depression. Depression steals life from you. Sometimes when I come out of a depressive episode I just get so fucking angry that so much time has gone by in my life and I haven’t been able to properly appreciate any of it because of depression. Hang in there.

          • dsbs42 said:

            Oh man, cuntess (it DOES kind of read like cuteness!) and notemily, your comments ring with YES.

            I’ve had depression, anxiety, and OCD for as long as I can remember being conscious, and I’ve tried a few things to deal with it, but I’ve always been wary of medicine. In my teens, it got bad enough that I finally gave in, and I’ve been on Prozac for the last 10 years. THE POINT of this backstory is that the Prozac helped with the depression, but not so much with the anxiety and OCD. In 2010 I went off Prozac and tried to find something that was more helpful. My doctor suggested Wellbutrin, and what followed was possibly the worst experience of my life. I felt truly awful, had hallucinations, nausea, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, difficulty not sleeping, etc (this is excellent when you’re also a generally anxious person, because everything means OMG THIS TIME I’M ACTUALLY DYING FOR SURE). I took sleeping pills to deal with that, and some combination of all these drugs (or possibly something unrelated entirely) resulted in an allergic reaction that lasted about 5 days and sent me to the hospital. It was just hives, but they were everywhere, on my mouth, and no matter how much Benadryl I took, they kept swelling more and more until all my joints were puffy and sore. I KNOW other people have experienced worse, and for longer, and I know I’m lucky that what I’m about to say is true, but – it was my first time having to go to the hospital, and it was scary as fuck. I’m back on Prozac now and it’s still not perfect, but I am truly terrified at the prospect of trying something else, given what happened last time.

            So YES to the horror of trying to find a medication that works for you without putting your life on hold, and so much yes to the utter waste that the entire year of 2010 feels like. I did an extra year of high school and it took me 6 years to complete my undergrad, and I keep thinking I could be farther ahead in life (don’t ask me what that actually means) if I hadn’t lost so much time to depression.

      • keelyellenmarie said:

        I have gotten dizzy/nauseous on classic SSRIs like Zoloft (though I was on Celexa, which is basically Lexapro, and both are supposed to be LOW side effect drugs.), but Wellbutrin was great for my depression AND my motivation levels. Downside being that Wellbutrin can increase anxiety, which often necessitates a second drug for anxious depressive types, including myself. :-/

      • Ali said:

        It is not unheard of for someone with a neurodevelopmental thing like ADHD (or, in my case, autism) to have counterintuitive reactions to brain meds. It takes a while to find a useful combination for most people anyway, plus neuroatypical chemistry can make it feel hopeless. It’s not. You’re great and deserve to feel great.

  14. Myrin said:

    This letter resonates with me on many levels and the incredible coincidence that I was just talking about exactly the same thing with my mum yesterday evening. For me, uni starts again next week. And while I’m happy I’ve been relatively free of any kind of commitment for the last month it’s also kind of left me in a metaphorical pit and I’m really looking forward to the routine of having to get up at a certain time, leave the house, and do stuff that I’m actually very passionate about and invested in. So I hope the boredom I’m feeling right now has more to do with that and will actually lessen as soon as I have regular stuff I have to do again.

    Another thought I’ve harboured for quite some time now and never really understood to articulate well, but I’ll try: I am, for the most part, pretty good when it comes to small talk. I can also be a veritable chatterbox, especially when talking about stuff that interests me (I could talk about language phenomena for hours if I ever found myself in the company of people who are actually as interested in that as I am). However, I’m also not rarely in situations where I just don’t know what to say.

    Like, I’m literally sitting/standing/lying/jumping/flying/… there and thinking “OMG, there’s been silence for a whole two minutes now! What do? How react? Must. Find. Topic!!” and sweat into my sweater. And something I found out about these kind of situations by observing those around me is the following: The people who never have that problem, who always know something to say, a story to tell, who never seem to lack topics to talk about, actually mostly talk about others. Like “Oh, I met X and he said Y” or “Did you know Z did [thing]?”. Very rarely have I heard people talk nonstop solely about themselves.

    Now, this might be something that just occurrs in the circle of people I’m around and really not happen in other groups at all. Also, you probably don’t tell just about anyone deep and intimate things about yourself. But all of that aside, this discovery made me realise why I often don’t have anything to contribute to that type of conversation. I’m kind of a loner.

    I get along splendidly with almost everyone and can be so social that no one would ever expect that from me, but I have maybe three or four close friends and of these I only see one on a semi-regular basis (the others moved). Add to that that I’m asexual and thus don’t even have any romantic pursuits I could talk about. The only people I’m regularly super close to are my mum and my sister. And that’s just the kind of person I am, I’m absolutely not unhappy about that or anything! However, it explains why I can’t really to contribute to conversations that always seem to be about others: I simply don’t have anything to tell because I’m not in that much contact with that many people. Sure, I could talk about my family and sometimes I do, but honestly, that doesn’t interest most people unless it’s some kind of really awesome story.

    I have since started to (with my friends) actually talk about myself instead of frantically trying to find someone else to talk about and it’s actually kind of fun? I sneak my feminist ideas into the conversation or tell them a bit about my gardening experiences or explain my asexuality. And that… is just really nice I think, because it doesn’t only help others to get to know me better but it actually also helps me to get to know myself better. And realise that it’s not that I’m boring. It’s just that we as a culture, as a society, maybe think only the ~exciting~ things are worth mentioning – which is cool when a lot of conventionally exciting stuff happens to you! – whereas the more quiet and maybe personal topics are seen as boring even though they really aren’t.

    • “it doesn’t only help others to get to know me better but it actually also helps me to get to know myself better.”

      WORD. For many years, when I was struggling with severe depression, I hated talking about myself to others and barely did so at all. I hated talking about my mental health, my uni studies which I was bombing out of, the secret destructive relationship I was in with one of my tutors. Even answering a “how are you?” made me feel like a liar, since I would always say I was fine and I really wasn’t. I felt so out of practice and unworthy of engaging with people that I became convinced that I had Nothing Interesting To Contribute, and believed that I was a super secretive, shy, boring person, and that all my friends were humouring me, and that no one lovely would ever want a relationship with me because I was so ordinary and dull, and that I would have to keep dating shit-heads, etc.

      And then, very occasionally, I would get so sick of hiding, and someone would ask me about my mental health or if I was seeing someone etc., and I would unleash a strange, over-sharing spray, where I was almost proving to myself that I didn’t care. And couldn’t be touched.

      Learning to talk about myself again – sometimes just descriptively, as in “I volunteer at X” or “I had dinner with Z, A and P” – was pivotal in changing how I saw myself, and how I let others see me. And lo! Turns out that I had a lot to say – in the way that we all do. I had beautiful friendships with people with whom I traveled and lived and about whom I could rave; I had sporting wins to share; I had (personal) insights into social justice issues from volunteering in a homeless shelter for a few years; I had funny observations from the street or from public transport. It turns out the person who thought I was the dullest and most boring of them all – was me. And if others felt the same, it was because there was a fair chance that I wasn’t being real or vulnerable with them, or even just sharing whatever limited information about myself I felt OK with sharing at the time.

      Thank you for writing this letter, Cuntess, and to the Captain for her ever-fabulous response. Like many others I look forward to your comments and see you as an insightful, funny commenter. I think you’ve hit on something a lot of us experience, and I’m gladly looking forward to reading further comments.

  15. misspiggy said:

    This is one of the very best things I’ve ever read, Captain (and I’ve read quite a lot of things). The bit about blue in art – you said much more accurately what a museum expert was struggling to get to in an entirely blue-focused gallery tour.

    Anyway, when I get that feeling, I remind myself what makes me angry. I ask if I can do anything. Is it litter in the park? Is it the latest TPS report? Is it the latest thing that is Wrong and Not Understood in my field? Usually there’s something I could do, even if it’s writing an article that will never be seen, or having a rant to co-workers, or emailing the local council. Maybe that leads to a future as a kickass local environment campaigner, maybe it’s a pointless drop in a sea of confusion. But I do feel better if I’ve done something about a thing I told myself I didn’t care about, but did, very much.

    It feels like people’s natural state is one of irritation and frustration. Irritation and anger are how problems get solved, and problem solving is how our little chimp minds get satisfaction. It’s not something to mind, necessarily, as long as you can get bursts of satisfaction and fun along the way.

    The Captain’s wise words have made me wonder whether boredom and apathy are sometimes a protection from rage that can’t be dealt with – either because the issue is so great, or one’s power is so little. But if circumstances do allow you to look your frustration in the face, and act on it in some way, maybe the route out of boredom will be quicker.

  16. This will turn into a Classic Letter to CA

    What an amazing response from the Captain.

    Covers a deal that one of my contemporaries and I recently discussed: how we never get bored.

    Seriously.

    Mostly we are craving time to do our projects.

    Simply put, I stopped being a net consumer and became a net producer. (I am an illustrator-ish)

    Yes, follow what’s up in the culture, but do it as a producer, not a passive consumer.

    I think only consumers become bored.

    Meanwhile, I spent the last 6 months as a voice actor in an amateur DEAF Theatre production. The experience has been overwhelming.
    Deaf actors play roles that get signed in ASL while a voice actor speaks their line for the audience members who can’t sign. I played one of the voice roles for hearing actors.

    I share this for several reasons.

    It got me out of the house 2ce a week during the winter. I would come home through the cold invigorated.
    The logistics of being directed by a Deaf producer and corresponding with deaf actors meant intense communication. After four hours of rehearsal I felt immersed in humanity. There was no need to do anything more social after each growing experience. Drinks with pals after rehearsal? Tons to tell them about!
    Also. The “kind” of hearing and speaking people who go to the trouble of learning ASL, and then volunteer their time to become part of a sub-audio culture? They have the kind of inspirational energy nobody could be immune to.
    Its got me wanting to learn ASL.

    There’s gotta be some kind of similar outlet open to LW. Perhaps meal on wheels for those with restricted mobility? Blindness organizations are always welcoming people to come read stories to their members.

    Thanks for this letter, LW. I think we’ve all kind of been where you’ve been. And the Captain’s response talks to all of us.

  17. Rear admiral of the admirable rear said:

    Your paragraph about self-improvement enveloped me in a world of yes.

  18. christi said:

    One of your best posts ever. Thank you. Truly.

  19. TechKnight said:

    Thank you very much for this post. I’ve been struggling with something similar myself for the past two years (meaning, not seasonal).

    The part I struggle with is that the topics that interest me and get me passionate (including my work, which is rather technical) are topics that only very few people care about. That means I can’t use my enthusiasm for things to build or carry a conversation. Once in a while I’ll find something that the person I’m talking to is passionate about (like a good video game) and then it works because I can keep them talking about things, but it simply doesn’t work for me to come up with topics because I have nothing to say.

    The part that you wrote about vulnerability is interesting, but completely not applicable among my friends or family. When I have tried to expose some of my flaws and vulnerabilities in the past, the conversation turns to them trying to help me, and then getting frustrated and upset when one conversation can’t make my problems go away. The only time it works to talk about my flaws and vulnerabilities is in therapy. I’m in couples therapy with my wife so I can be a better husband for her, and I’m in solo therapy so I can be a better person and maybe become someone that people want to be around. My meds help, but no pill can make me interesting or give me conversational skills.

    This is all just a long-winded way of saying that I love this post and love the suggestions, and I wish they could work in my situation.

    • indywind said:

      Hey, don’t write off all the suggestions a priori. Just because your interests are technical or esoteric doesn’t mean nobody would be interested in hearing you talk about them. they might enjoy your enthusiasm without having any interest in the topic itself (especially if you’re a considerate conversationalist, and leave room for them to respond in their own way) and a few occasionally might be inspired to take a little more interest in topics they wouldn’t have cared a bit about otherwise.
      (My partner periodically indulges me while I natter on about things like: the genetics of equine coat coloration, musculo-skeletal anatomical variation and its implications for training diverse populations in form-based physical disciplines, metacognition, and classical behaviorism.)
      Vulnerability is not intro-level conversation matter– part of what Brene Brown (the Captain’s link) talks about is how most of us are so unfamiliar with it and resistant to it in ourselves and others, because of how our culture treats vulnerability, that we don’t have skills do deal with our own or others’ vulnerability kindly or gracefully, and we’re extra emotionally reactive about it. So when one oneself expresses vulnerability, one often feels extra tender about it, and wants it to be received by others in just the right way; not getting the response one wants to a show of vulnerability can feel pretty crummy. But other people don’t know what response is needed from them, and they have their own emotions to deal with: when someone else shows vulnerability also often feels uncomfortable for the person witnessing–who may try to fix the problem so the discomfort will go away. Yes: showing vulnerability to people is often uncomfortable and unsatisfying for everyone. That doesn’t mean it’s bad to do. It does mean it’s not easy, and takes some explicit effort and skills to have the best chance of satisfying outcome. For me it was helpful to recalibrate my culturally-messed-up idea of vulnerability, and start not with things that I felt “vulnerable” about–flaws or worries or fears or heavy existential stuff I had too many needs and expectations about–but start with things that felt small and personal, but that I could just share without worrying too much about how someone might react. Allowing myself to feel sad or sentimental about instead of pretending not, or admitting my mad was really hurt, or remarking about some small thing I noticed or thought even though someone might think it was silly. And letting go of my expectations for the other person’s reaction. Maybe they react how I’d like, maybe not, maybe they say “whatever” and walk off, or maybe they listen and share something of their own, maybe we talk a little more (accidentally a conversation), maybe it stops there. Just see what happens.

      you’re very right that no pill can make you interesting or give you conversational skills. But conversational skills can be learned, and interesting, like other personality qualities, can grow —if allowed, and not forced.

      • RedSonja said:

        “(My partner periodically indulges me while I natter on about things like: the genetics of equine coat coloration, musculo-skeletal anatomical variation and its implications for training diverse populations in form-based physical disciplines, metacognition, and classical behaviorism.)”

        Your conversation is relevant to my interests and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter. Seriously. I’m working on projects exploring behavioral differences in older or otherwise ‘special needs’ animals, and what accommodations might be helpful to them. It makes sense that different ‘types’ of horses might have easier or harder times doing things, just like chunky me is much better at weightlifting than yoga. :)

        • embertine said:

          I too would like a subscription to this putative newsletter. I don’t work in animal physiology or any related fields but I love learning new things about this stuff. The genetics of cat coat colours interest me too, I have one calico and one tortie cat who are sisters and the reason why one has patches and one is mixed is…. I’m doing it again, aren’t I.

          • I’m fascinated by the genetics of cat colors too! I love that some things are decided by genes and some things are decided in the womb so even if you cloned your cat, the clone might look nothing like your cat. Cats are so awesome.

          • Mary said:

            Really? What? That is amazing! Now I am fascinated by it too!

          • Indywind said:

            This could lead to so much digressing. Who’s up for discussing elsewhere, say Friends of Captain Awkward forums? Feel free to start a thread if I haven’t got round to it before you do. Perhaps call it “animal diversity pedantry newsletter” so anyone here can search for it.

  20. akestra said:

    Oh, do I *ever* have sooo much to say about this!

    Firstly, take out the angst about being a “boring person” and replace it with angst about “not being successful enough” and this letter is a letter I could have written. My main hobby? Yup, reading things online, checking out articles, otherwise consuming media. I am engaged to marry in a few months, and live with my partner. I have a smallish group of friends that hasn’t changed much in years, and most of my family live far away and we talk on the phone about weekly. I *want* to write, draw, and volunteer more, but I just… haven’t.

    BUT! I *dont* worry about being boring. I angst about how I’m not paid enough, work a job with no chance of promotion, and am just not very important economically-or career-wise. However, I would much rather angst about that than about being under-employed, which was me four years ago. So, progress? I don’t worry about what I’ve accomplished in life (graduated from college, been self-sufficient and financially stable/independent, have a loving partner, steady job, valued employee, bought a house, etc.) I worry about what I *Haven’t Done Yet*, like be more successful in my career, get a graduate degree, write and publish a novel, etc, etc.

    Here’s a long, convoluted story with a punchline that is kinda relevant to both of our troubles: In an old “Prince Valiant” comic strip (spoiler warnings for a fifty-year-old story), Our Hero Val meets an honest-to-god “giant” person, who rules his valley territory like a tyrant, demanding tribute and slave-labor from the surrounding towns. Val volunteers to be that year’s slave-offering, but (of course) instead manages to get the better of the “giant” and win his freedom. However! Rather than slay the giant, he sits down a listens to the giant’s story.

    The giant relates how he was treated as a freak and an outcast as a child, and abandoned by his parents. As he left his native lands and traveled, he discovered other people were afraid of him. So he fought knights and stole their arms and gold, stole the villa he lived in, and made it a refuge for other “freaks” like him, little people, old women accused of being witches, crippled people, etc. Then he started extorting the “normals” nearby to fund his operation. Val said he understood why the giant did what he did, but advised that an empire built on slavery and tyranny, even to protect the weak and outcasts, was inherently unstable, and the slaves would eventually revolt and destroy everything.

    The giant agreed, and asked Val’s advice. Val suggested he offer his workers their freedom, but also offer to share the produce of the estate with them if they stayed on, now that his estate had become prosperous enough to have an excess of food and other goods. The giant agrees, and of course most of the slaves flee immediately back to their homes. The giant rails against Val, saying his “bright idea” ruined everything! However, Val points out that already some slaves have remembered how well they were treated and returned to the estate, and that others will come back as news of the giant’s “reformation” spreads. Val leaves the giant’s valley thinking how odd that the discontented slaves of yesterday are now the happy workers in the giant’s commune, when the only real difference is before they couldn’t leave and now they can, and thinks, “Monkeys are the craziest people.”

    As usual with Foster’s work, Val engineers a feel-good for everybody pat ending, but it remains one of my favorite Prince Valiant stories. The solution all hinges on empathy, compassion, but most of all perspective. The giant was treated as a monster and outcast, and so he saw himself that way and set up his little empire based on that. Val showed him that he didn’t have to do things that way, that *he* could be a strong but generous landowner and employer, and (luckily for Val), it worked.

    It sounds to me like you focus all your mental energy on what you *aren’t* doing, and that depresses you because you see all the cool awesome stuff you *could be* doing and yet aren’t. I feel the same way a lot. But I try to remember all the things I *have* accomplished, which seemed nigh-impossible at the time, but now seem everyday and regular.

    Either that, or (if you don’t already have one & are in a position to) adopt a rescue dog. Dogs just love you so much and everything you do is wonderful and you are the center of their universe. Plus you have to work hard to meet the dog’s needs and make sure they are happy and healthy, and get the added bonus of having saved a dog. It doesn’t leave you a lot of time to angst that you haven’t yet written The Next Great American Novel. (Can you tell that I adopted a dog recently? Cause I did, and she is Awesome. I have yet to write My Novel. But I will! Someday!)

    *Blog may have eaten first comment, so please ignore if this is a duplicate.

  21. DFTBAwkward said:

    I think being *interested* is a way more important, endearing quality than being *interesting.* People who think they are ~REALLY INTERESTING~ are usually really, really tedious to me. They tend to have this attitude that they’re superior because they took a road trip or can make a great cocktail, or whatever. I find the action and bluster of it a lot less interesting than what’s going on in a person, you know? What are you thinking about, what are you driven by, who and what do you love? What are you interested in? Not what you DO–but what are you ABOUT. That’s why I love the Captain’s advice so much here–it’s inviting you to find some new things to be interested in and to remember what interests you about the good things in your life, your spouse and your friends. You’re human, darling LW, with this startlingly complex inner life, thoughts and wants bursting out of you, valuable and worthwhile all on your own. Don’t doubt that, ever. And I hope this advice helps you find something new to put your interests and time in so you get that spark back. Sending love, LW.

    • TechKnight said:

      “I find the action and bluster of it a lot less interesting than what’s going on in a person, you know? What are you thinking about, what are you driven by, who and what do you love? What are you interested in? Not what you DO–but what are you ABOUT.”

      Yes, but people aren’t interested in what I think about, what I’m driven by, or what I love. What do I do then?

      • JenniferP said:

        Be the fairly quiet person except when you find those rare people who really click with you. Being a good listener and asking questions is in no way a bad character trait. And if you’re around people who NEVER take an interest in ANY aspect of what you do or are interested in, that’s on them, not on you.

        If you are boring to yourself (like the LW is), that’s one kind of a problem between yourself and yourself. It doesn’t sound like you are that. If you’re not roundly fascinating to others, if you feel like your interactions are some kind of command performance that you are failing at, that is another kind problem between yourself and yourself, and parts of this answer are applicable to you. Mostly the ones about who is this performance of “interestingness” supposed to be for? What does “interestingness” mean to you? Why do you think it’s a thing you are supposed to be? (vs. being kind, being competent, being present with people, being loving, being interested in them). Who are the people who have this elusive quality, in your opinion?

        If the people around you criticize you for being boring, or make you feel boring, maybe you have a surrounded-by-assholes problem, or a surrounded-by-people-who-aren’t-necessarily-your-people problem. Be around them only in small doses, and save your energy for the people you really do click with.

        If when you share vulnerability people try to fix you, that’s a boundary-setting problem, and a very common one. You solve it with “Hey, actually, I’m not asking for help, just letting you know how I’m feeling right now. Can we take this out of ‘advice’ mode for a second?” If people aren’t respectful of that request, that’s on them, not you.

        • TechKnight said:

          “Mostly the ones about who is this performance of “interestingness” supposed to be for? What does “interestingness” mean to you? Why do you think it’s a thing you are supposed to be? (vs. being kind, being competent, being present with people, being loving, being interested in them). Who are the people who have this elusive quality, in your opinion?”

          I’m interested in my friends and I try to be kind and caring, but if I’m not interesting to people then they don’t want to spend time with me. I have a bunch of people I consider friends, but only a small handful of them are interested enough in me to want to spend time with me. My opportunities for socializing are very few and far between, and I’m lonely. I wish I could be the type of person that people like to be with.

          • indywind said:

            “I’m interested in my friends and I try to be kind and caring, but if I’m not interesting to people then they don’t want to spend time with me. I have a bunch of people I consider friends, but only a small handful of them are interested enough in me to want to spend time with me. My opportunities for socializing are very few and far between, and I’m lonely. I wish I could be the type of person that people like to be with.”

            Your opportunities for socializing do not depend on how many friends want to spend time with you; you can be with people other than the ones who seek out your company, and you can develop relationships that are not based on your alleged interestingness. Other possible basis for social interaction include, but are not limited to:
            –a common interest (yes, there are people who will share even quite rare interests; also, you may choose to pursue interests that are less than passionately interesting–mild interest is fine; the list of possible interests is endless)
            –a common activity (also many possibilities)
            –service/altruism (you do something helpful for a person/group, which involves social interaction)
            –business (you pay someone or someone pays you for a good or service, the transaction involves social interaction)
            –education (you learn something or teach something; overlaps with above)
            –correspondence (your situation prevents you doing much in-person socializing? write letters, emails, bulletin boards, comments on internet sites in addition to this one. still social interaction. again many possibilities.)

            No social interaction is guaranteed to end, or even ease, your loneliness. Nor is “being interesting,” whatever that is. Even if you were fabulously interesting to every person you ever met, you might still feel lonely–popular people often report feeling lonely, and wondering if all the people interested in them really know/like/take interest in the ‘real’ them.

          • commanderlogic said:

            My dude, I humbly suggest that you may have missed the point. People don’t only want to hang out with “interesting” people. Is the only thing that draws you to your friends the fact that they are interesting? Everyone is their own universe, and maybe what you can bring to the friendship table is a listening ear, or a seat at the poker table, or a quiet companion for [activity like knitting or fishing or wevs]. Look at what attracts you to your friends – a shared past, a shared hobby, a similar sense of humor – and just let that be the thing that draws you together.

            Also, instead of waiting for opportunities to socialize, consider creating the opportunities for socializing. Follow the other advice to the LW: go do something new that you aren’t good at (yet). That will give you something new to talk about and give you the opportunity to meet new people. Maybe if you already have a decent friend base but don’t see them that often, throw… [gasp!] parties. Like, not the shindig of the century, but have a potluck because it’s Favorite Show Premiere Night. Throw a pie bake-off because pie is awesome. Ask a couple friends over for pizza and board games. Have a Holy Shit It Isn’t Freezing Anymore BBQ. Don’t wait for other people to think this stuff up for you and invite you or not, but you don’t have to be an interesting person to have friends.

            Finally, I am not the most interesting woman in the world. I’m a married lady with a baby and a job that bores me to tears to explain. I just finished reading a dense literary criticism of Lord of the Rings and it was awesome. I am ready and waiting to talk someone’s ear off about how OMG, did you know that the country in the movie Frozen has a name etymologically identical to an obscure Tolkien hero? 99% of everyone would have recoiled in horror, but when I speak with my Tolkienian siblings-in-arms, it is ON. Everyone else I can talk to about That Thar Sportsballs or The Weather, It’s Wild or Kids?AmIRite? and it’ll be fine. Not every conversation has to be sparkling, or intense, or deep to count as another brick in the castle of friendship.

            If I don’t have to be interesting, then I don’t think you have to be either. We’re still good people who deserve friends.

          • COMPLETELY OFF TOPIC, but OMG, what??? Frozen and LotR? Two of my favorite things? Plus linguistics? LINK PLS. Pretty please?

          • Thalia said:

            Okay I think I ran out of nesting but this is in reply to Commander Logic’s comment because I’ve racked my brains and looked up the etymology of Denmark (border of the Danes/Northmen), Sweden (land of the Swedes/free, independent people), Norway (north way) and Finland (which is maybe land of the wanderers? maybe?) and I can’t figure out which obscure Tolkien hero you’re talking about unless it’s Peregrin/wanderer/pilgrim but he’s not exactly obscure (or a hero).

            pls help

          • commanderlogic said:

            Please forgive me, TechKnight, but we’ve run out of nesting and I had some requests to explain the Frozen/Tolkien thing. Stop reading if it is not your thing!

            Okay, so, waaaay the hell back in 1913, Tolkien was reading some verse in Anglo-Saxon to take a break from his Greek (like ya do) and read a series of names including “Earendel” which he decided he really, really liked. From context, it sounded like a rising morning star, so Tolkien decided it meant Venus. He worked it into one of the languages he was inventing as Earendil, who you COULD say was the basis for the entire Silmarillion, and therefore the Lord of the Rings itself. (I will not get into how at this juncture, because BRING IT HOME, TREEBEARD).

            The name of the country in Frozen is “Arendelle” (the country itself is based on Norway) – the name Earendel came from Anglo-Saxon which would itself have had a basis in the proto-language from which Anglo-Saxon and the Scandinavian languages all sprang. Totally legit that Arendelle and Earendel come from the same root word.

            /NEEEEEEEEEERD

          • TechKnight said:

            Hey CommanderLogic,

            I’ve tried making opportunities to socialize, but there’s only so much reaching out to people who are always busy and never reach back before I have to accept that is their answer. I try to bring what I can to my friendships, but given how people react it seems that what I have to offer isn’t enough. If my social failings isn’t not a matter of how interesting I am, then I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

          • JenniferP said:

            TechKnight:

            I’m seeing a lot of evidence of distorted thinking in your posts here today. For example, I think you are placing way too much importance on subjective and arbitrary criteria like “being interesting enough” as the primary reason for your troubles socializing.
            I think that your brain is being a big jerk to you and it is magnifying certain messages in a destructive and self-reinforcing way, creating a perfect little feedback loop that is keeping you stuck. The logic goes: If you could somehow figure out what “interesting enough” looks like and be it, you would solve your loneliness, except unfortunately “interesting enough” isn’t something you can achieve or control. The Jerkbrain likes little unsolvable traps like this to sustain both maximum self-hatred and minimum power to change anything.

            If you’re not already seeing a pro about this, please look into it. Teaching us to consciously and compassionately engage those mean tapes that play in our heads is something that a good therapist can really, really help with.

            My other suggestion:

            -Watch The Station Agent, an indie film starring Peter Dinklage directed by Thomas McCarthy. I ended up rewatching it randomly this week and your posts made me think of it. It’s not an easy thing to watch, but it’s about loneliness and connection and having weird interests that no one shares and I think you’ll dig it and relate to the characters.

            You can decide not to watch the Station Agent – I am not the boss of you! You can decide to take absolutely none of our suggestions about anything and decide we’re full of crap. We don’t know you like you know you, after all.

            But I am the boss of this thread, and I don’t like reading post after post from you where you try to convince us that you’re some special brand of boring failure guy. You sound like a pretty kind, conscientious dude who deserves cooler friends who put as much effort as you do into friendship and who share some of your interests. There are ways to go after that stuff when you’re in a better mindset. Disengage from the thread for now, please, and come back another day when you can take stuff in without that automatic “but I am broken” response.

            Thank you and best of luck.

        • embertine said:

          AAAAAH I’M SO GLAD I AM NOT THE ONLY PERSON WHO NOTICED THAAAAAT!!! I loved the story of Earendil and I wonder if the “shining wanderer” in Frozen is a reference to the fact that Elsa has to wander alone because of her powers?

          OK, geeking out over.

    • ghostwriter said:

      I agree! I used to give myself a hard time for not being appropriately interesting in an adventurous, world travelling way, because of finances/health/other commitments. It made me feel better when I realized that this type of expectation is elitist, and also the people who make a big deal about this kind of thing tend to be really insufferable.

      • This comment puts me in mind of Kate Harding’s excellent essay, The Fantasy of Being Thin (http://kateharding.net/2007/11/27/the-fantasy-of-being-thin/). It’s a staple of the fat acceptance / body acceptance movement, but I would seriously encourage a wider range of readers to engage with it. Kate talks about how much better her life got when she stopped internally apologising for the things she was not (thin! mental illness-free! an adventurous international traveler!) and started engaging with who she actually (fat! awesome! inclined to depression! a UK/US, hotel-loving traveler!)

        Highly highly highly recommended for the wisdom and self-compassion contained therein, even to those who are not typically interested in body acceptance writing.

        • Also at the old Shapely Prose archives is a discussion of “Fuck It Lists” (http://kateharding.net/2009/03/10/tuesday-fluff-eff-it/). A Fuck It List being an alternative to – perhaps even the opposite of – a Bucket List, where you write down all the things in life you could happily die WITHOUT doing/learning/seeing etc. Shapely Prose being a fat/body acceptance archive, a lot of commenters lists were around fucking off dieting, weight loss, harsh exercise programs etc.

          Maybe, dear Cuntess, you could spend some time writing a Fuck It List. Maybe by thinking in terms of “I do not give a shit if I never X, Y and Z”, you will reach a place where the natural follow-up is “but A sounds cool, I can see the appeal of B, and I’m actually pretty excited about the idea of C.” Maybe you could put down as a first item “feeling bad about feeling bored”, and see if that has any positive emotional reaction for you. If you’re engaging in the intellectual inquiry about interestingness that the Captain recommended, maybe playing with this list could be fun.

          I had a great deal of fun doing it the other afternoon, especially since I had dug up an old Bucket List and could easily transfer across many of the things that I had (previously) thought mattered to me. It made me do some serious thinking about some of my routines and habits that don’t work the greatest for me; some of the guilt and apathy I carry about my work and what that’s about etc. It let me realise that I actually don’t want or care about a lot of the things I might have said I did previously; and I feel better about focusing on the things that I didn’t want to fuck off (even if I might once have called them frivolous / uncool / selfish / boring etc.). I think it might help you see if and where you’re “shoulding all over yourself”, see if any items do actually spark a bit of interest, or if you’re ready to throw out old ideas about yourself and what you might like or want to try, and find some new ones to replace them.

      • staranise said:

        I feel so lucky that all the people I know who travelled the world and climbed mountains and went on safari and stuff are all so irritating to be around that they completely spoiled the allure of things I can’t afford for me.

    • I agree. It’s very attractive to see someone’s face light up when they talk about their interest. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s something I’d never personally do: their enthusiasm and joy is contagious.

      • Seconded. I actually really enjoy exploring things that are of little to no interest to me, that are of clear interest to another person. “Tell me all about your PhD in pure mathematics – if you want to!” I enjoy witnessing and hearing their passion; and finding out about a subject that perhaps I haven’t given much time or thought to in a way that I wouldn’t typically get to. I also like the intellectual challenge of trying to pick up new ideas quickly enough to keep asking relevant questions and keep the conversation unfurling (although I’m also happy to look a bit daft while I try and figure things out – I think anyone married to the idea of never appearing ignorant would struggle with this). It’s like a peek into a new world.

        • Kaz said:

          “Tell me all about your PhD in pure mathematics – if you want to!”

          As someone who is doing a PhD in pure mathematics, I would LOVE that response, honestly. I proooobably still wouldn’t tell you about it because understanding it requires so much ludicrously specialised so abstract it verges on meaningless background knowledge there is genuinely no way of getting it to a layperson-comprehensible level at all (worst part of doing a pure maths PhD is that it is so gd impossible to talk about what you’re doing with, like, anyone other than your supervisor), but I can do an awesome layperson-suitable explanation of the foundations of my field and the role of abstraction that… nobody ever wants to hear because they’re too busy backing away since I dropped the M word. >>

          • ordinarygoddess said:

            I so get that! Not maths – my deep geekery of choices is a very, very narrow, specific, and not-well-known-in-North-America area of history and archaeology. It’s not abstraction so much as – there’s SO MUCH BACKSTORY to explicate why a particular bit of knowledge is important. It’s so easy to fall back on “it’s complicated” as a cop-out answer.* But then I’m not getting the work out in the world! Which is the point of doing the work!

            *Or: to drag this back to the original topic: “Whatcha up to?” “Oh, you know, just keeping busy.” “What have you read lately?” “… nothing much (that anyone else would want to read).” “What did you do this weekend?” “Puttering around on Google Maps and filing, mostly.” Frustrated deep passion can be indistinguishable from interest in absolutely nothing, from the outside, until you start to sound boring and stupid TO YOURSELF.

            What makes me think harder, and have more FUN thinking, than anything else in the world is trying to drill down to talk about my work in accessible layman’s terms for the benefit of people who don’t know anything about the subject but are willing to be curious.

      • That lighting up people do is one of my favourite things in the world.

        It can be hard if the thing that interests them requires a lot of specialized background knowledge to understand, but about 90% of the time I can understand enough to ask questions and learn something new.

  22. Lauren said:

    I discovered biking. I’m not a person in full spandex gear getting in 80 mile rides, I just get home from work and eat dinner and do some exploring. It’s the first thing I’ve been excited about in many years, other than TV, food and wine. I’m not naturally an athlete, I’m actually a fat mom in her thirties who is prone to isolated activities like computer stuff and reading. Athletic cultures usually intimidate me (WHAT IF I FALL DOWN?), but what I found is that entry into this “world” is relatively inexpensive ($100 will get you a decent bike at a big box store, $300 will get you a REALLY nice bike, and you will find many on Craigslist for mega deals) and it actually puts you IN your community in a way that other activities do not. I’ve met more people, seen more things, and discovered more about the town I’ve lived in since I was a toddler in the last two seasons I’ve been in the saddle. It has also burst me out of the depression and ennui I’ve fought for many years.

    I imagine you could replace “bike” and “biking” with any number of things. The takeaway for me was that risking a little public humiliation and putting myself out there — even if I didn’t want to, was scared, and felt dumb — was worthwhile. It gives me something to be confident about, it gives me a community of like-minded people to chat with, new stories, new fields of knowledge, and new social avenues to see and be seen.

    • Jane said:

      Yeah biking! Yeah biking by people who aren’t super good at . . . uh. . . sport-type stuff (me)! Yeah biking as an aid to help with depression! I like that it can be social or not-social as you want it to be . . . (not much of a team sport person, here.) And it’s really pleasant to combine with other activities — such as: picnicking, painting (my choice), swimming (well, if you have a lake nearby), etc. etc.

      Also delightful: packing random items on the back of your bike — the facial expressions you can elicit when you pull an apple pie out of a box on the luggage rack are truly priceless.

    • fir3dragon said:

      LW, I feel you so much. I get into a rut of sitting around consuming a LOT of internet, and feeling very boring and bored. I’m also a reader and a writer, and can spend too much time in my own head. For me, doing something physical – any way of moving your body around – can help. It changes up my mode and gets my head in a different space. Can be anything from a nice easy walk to more intense physical activity of your choice. If you’re in a cold snowy place, maybe there is a mall or a school where you could walk laps indoors? You can combine it with the noticing and appreciating others exercises that the Captain suggests. I always feel a little better, even if my brain isn’t snapping out of its funk I’m all “at least I got out and took a walk.”

      • Sarah said:

        Same. I’m in grad school and have had a rough few months, and in January I got back into a physical activity I really enjoy (rock climbing/bouldering). Now I can tell the difference between a week where I climb regularly and a week where I don’t and it’s completely mental. There is something about staring at a brightly-coloured wall and working through a problem that is totally unrelated to my life as a whole that really, really works for me.

        Jedi hugs, LW.

        • JenniferP said:

          I love seeing all of these posts about physical activity after this shittastic winter, like, maybe I will want to go outside again someday and move my body in some way. You guys are making me feel very hopeful. <3

          • Muddie Mae said:

            It’s seriously the best. I went out biking on Sunday because it hit 60 here (FINALLY!) and despite the fact that my stamina is garbage right now, I ended up covered in sand, and my butt, legs, and shoulders have been mad at me since, IT WAS AMAZING.

          • MrsMorley said:

            If you have a pooch, you might find running in snow is fun.

    • Guava said:

      Yes to all of what you said. I spent my entire childhood being mocked by my family for my lack of coordination and athletic ability. As an adult, my mantra is: “I enjoy doing sports poorly.” I don’t give a fuck about my form, or whether or not I’m good at something, and I’m not going to let my own self-consciousness stop me from trying.

      I’ve found that trying something new, even if I “fail” ended up making me more confident, or at least giving me a clearer idea of what I enjoy and what I don’t. And anyway, for me, at least…”that time I tried swimming with dolphins and ended up rescued by lifeguards,” became a good story later.

    • Anisoptera said:

      +1 for biking. :-)

      It gets you away from the blogs and the TV and out into experiencing the physical world. And it gives you things to talk about that are new, as you’re out seeing things and experiencing things and having adventures. Any outdoor activity will do the same I suspect.

      Media consumption time seems to be lost time to me – it vanishes away and I feel like I got nothing for it. A bike ride or a run or a hike feels *real* somehow, like I actually did something.

    • Kaz said:

      Yay biking! :)

      In my case, I started cycling relatively early thanks to family/culture stuff (must not digress into cycling in German culture… must not digress…), but what I rediscovered in my twenties were long-distance bicycle tours. There’s something amazing about just getting on a bike and cycling off into the distance, and later looking at the map going “hey, I made it all the way from there to there!” (Easier in Europe, admittedly, which has way more in the way of cycling infrastructure and where things are much closer together.) And it’s also one of those things where you don’t have to be super-athletic. I’m really not, but that’s fine because I can set the pace and stop when I’m getting tired. My daily distances are nothing compared to what people recommend – and even less compared to those group cycling tours a la “Land’s End to John O’Groats in Ten Days” that I am sure are fun for some people but sound like my personal nightmare material – but hey, I got there in the end?

      I’ve also taken up rollerblading this year, which is much higher on the “BUT WHAT IF A FALL” scale (*rubs bruised tailbone*) but has turned out surprisingly fun – I very nearly didn’t go to the first lesson but am now so glad I did. Also, bizarrely, something I’m good at, which I’m still not entirely sure how to deal with. (I am never good at sports! Any sports! Did I slip and fall into a parallel universe when I wasn’t looking?)

      • Jane said:

        Ah ah ah! But I WANT you to digress into cycling in German culture! Beans. (Sorry, but I am U.S. American and from a very bicycle-hostile part of the country, so I didn’t learn to bike at all, really, until coming to Switzerland two years ago — I mean, I could balance sorta and pedal, but I couldn’t BRAKE. Or turn. Or go down or up hills. Anyway, then I came here, and it was UTTERLY FASCINATING to me how my German friend sort of treated his bicycle like an extension of his own body? And I didn’t know if he was just an isolated data point or if it was a cultural difference.)

        I love to walk too, but when one is tired and talking you generally have to sit down. When biking, you have the option of gliding!

        I keep trying to find an adequate winter sport. . . most of my friends like to ski, but skiing for me is like HIGH-SPEED EXPENSIVE DEATH WITH STICKS, so that’s not going to work.

        • Jane said:

          *WALKING, not talking.

        • Kaz said:

          I think there’s a lot more cycling in Germany as a rule, and it’s treated as far more of a… mode of transport versus extracurricular activity, if that makes sense. Most cities are over that critical threshold where there are so many cyclists that the drivers are used to them and the city planning has to accommodate them, and also cities are pretty dense with very little parking spaces – cycling is often the best way to get from A to B. The general level of cycling is not as extreme as the Netherlands, but it’s definitely up there. More rural areas are more car-based, of course, but I really don’t think it’s very common for a German kid to never learn how to cycle.

          It might also be somewhat class-based because my family is this sort of… upper-middle-class academic type where people can get kind of snobbish about not owning/using a car or not owning/watching TV (I have a hard time pinning down what I mean exactly and am not sure whether there’s an American equivalent). So even though we were living in the US when I was growing up, my parents went to lengths to make sure my brother and I knew how to cycle well and we’d sometimes cycle into town or to the next village – doable, since this was coastal Connecticut so relatively densely populated, but still pretty unusual. My mother mentions car drivers stopping and asking us if we needed a lift, although I don’t remember this myself! And then when we moved back to Germany, the first year we lived there I took the bus to school but my parents really pushed me into cycling and I started cycling to school when I was twelve. Despite the fact that we lived halfway up a massive hill and school was at the bottom. (Of course they were cycling to work, which entailed cycling down said hill and then up a second one, so they didn’t see the issue.)

          And now that I live in the UK, I definitely notice that Germans are more likely to cycle. Cultural upbringing making us think of it as a plausible way of commuting, I guess, and also it’s easier to cycle in a place that’s more hostile to them if you’ve already had lots of experience cycling in traffic in a more cycle-friendly place.

          Re: adequate winter sport – I’m not sure which type of skiing you’re thinking of so I’m going to guess downhill since that seems to be the default and also yes re: high-speed death with sticks. Would cross-country skiing be an option? As long as you avoid going down hills, it’s basically the equivalent of hiking. (Try to avoid going down hills if you can! Not fun.)

          • Mary said:

            I’m English but have lived in Germany, and my god I wish we cycled like Germans do. I love the fact that lots and lots of German drivers are also cyclists, so you don’t get anything like the “them and us” culture you do here, and also since so many people cycle and it’s not seen as a particularly sporty/athletic thing to do, people have heavy sit-up bikes and just poodle along at whatever speed, instead of feeling like you have to be fast and competitive. It’s one of the biggest things I miss when I come back to the UK.

            (I do like how “worried I’m too boring” is spawning all these random little threads about interesting things! I hope it was useful for you too, LW.)

          • Kaz said:

            (haha I worry I’m derailing but but cycling!!)

            Actually, yeah, this is something that always strikes me when I go home or to Cambridge, the city in the UK I know of with Germany-style levels of cycling – that you see a whole range of people cycling, ranging from kids over businessmen in suits to old grandmothers. Whereas e.g. where I live now it really tends to be vaguely athletic-looking twenty-thirty-somethings and often wearing specialised gear. And similarly, my mother tells me that electro-bikes have become really popular in Germany, where you can basically switch between pedalling and a little motor (or possibly some combination, to make it easier to get up hills? idk, never used one), and a lot of people use them in situations where they wouldn’t otherwise cycle because it’s too tiring. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these in Britain. Again, cycling as a sport vs cycling to get from A to B in a quick, environmentally friendly and hopefully enjoyable (unless it’s raining) way.

          • Myrin said:

            I just wanted to chime in as a fellow German who had no idea at all that apparently our cycling culture is so different from that in the US or the UK (actually, I’ve only ever really thought of it in comparison to the Netherlands where we seemed to “lose” when it comes to cycling) so thanks for that eye-opener.

            Also, now that I think closely about it, the “mode of transportation” thinking when it comes to bikes is definitely something that exists, I just didn’t really realise it before because for me that’s just “normal” thinking. I grew up and live in a rural area where it is, as Kaz said, definitely more common to have a car than in the city, and the carless state of my family is absolutely something pretty much everyone finds unusual. However, it’s also viewed as completely normal to cycle to school or to the train station that gets you to school and also something I found out when I started to do the grocery shopping for my family two years ago: Actually a surprising amount of people – especially middle-aged ladies, who’d have thought! – really “use” their bikes, like, cycle the same distance as I do (about 16 km to and fro).

            And now that I know that’s not the norm at all I find this all the more fascinating and will probably pay more attention to it (also met quite a few really nice people on my way; bikes are always something to talk about, even if it’s only moaning about the distance ;) ).

          • Jane said:

            Ah thanks so much for answering that! Switzerland is definitely more of a “sport biking” sort of place (at least the French bit, which I’m in) but it still seems really friendly to cyclists compared to the U.S. Midwest, where I’m from. My dad bikes as a recreational activity in Iowa, but it’s frankly quite dangerous because people are not aware of or friendly toward bicyclists — he’s been hit by a car either two or three times in the fifteen years he’s been doing it, and he’s the sort of person who is wearing a NEON COLORED JERSEY. He also regularly gets people yelling or honking at him because they think it’s not okay for him to be on the road :/ Whereas, in Switzerland, when I bike to school, even large trucks would give me a full lane when passing. (I’m far more afraid of pedestrians here . . . THEY TRUST TOO MUCH IN MY BRAKING ABILITIES.)

            @Kaz — heh, yes, my German friend has been plotting his eBike acquisition for several months now. (Foolish me, when I first learned about eBikes I thought it was a Swiss thing, as some sort of concession to the Alps.) And he’s quite fit, so I think it’s so he can make even longer trips easily on the bike. He’s also the only person I know with a full set of rain gear and a waterproof messenger bag for biking, because apparently it’s just too aggravating to have to take the Metro when it’s raining. :-)

      • Anisoptera said:

        Bicycle touring is awesome. Also, there’s nothing like a crazy HTFU tour to pull you out of a rut – in 2012 I cycled across Alaska and the Yukon and it was the hardest thing I ever did. Also, it was the exact opposite of boring, it gave me an intense connection to the area I was cycling through and it tought me all kinds of things about myself.

        Erm…probably cycling through the wilderness is not for everyone, but demanding physically challenging adventures are a hell of a way to shake up your life.

        Next up – Australia. Because I live here and don’t currently have money to do the European trip I want. :-/

  23. I also have a job that gives me a lot of free time – it allows me to work from home and pays pretty well by the hour, but I’m capped at 15 hours per week due to the nature of contracting work at the company that employs me. I don’t hate it, it’s a decent job, although the nature of it means some weeks I’m doing very boring work and some weeks it’s more engaging.

    But when I first started, it could be a struggle to fill that extra time with things that felt meaningful enough. I did take over more household tasks when I got this job (as my partner works full-time) and so would run errands, do meal-planning, etc. more, but still, I had a lot of extra time. And I’d often feel self-conscious talking about my job when the inevitable “what do you do?” questions came up, as it’s hard to explain in a sentence or two but also not necessarily interesting enough to most people that I want to launch into my two-minute description of how map research works. I did often feel pretty boring, especially since many of my hobbies are pretty quiet and don’t always lend themselves to great conversation topics (reading, knitting, baking).

    I took a LOT of walks. This is maybe specific to my area, since I’m in San Francisco where walking is convenient and interesting and the weather is nice for it most of the year, but just getting out of the house regularly did a lot to improve my mood. I’ve been working on taking more and better pictures on these walks as well, so I have more concrete evidence that I was out in the world noticing interesting things. Exploring new parts of the city helps me feel more interesting and sharing photos is an easy way to connect with people.

    A little over a year ago, I started doing some volunteer work as well, and it was a HUGE and positive change for me. It helps me schedule my time better; I spend almost as much time volunteering as I do working each week, and I’ve found that I need a fairly rigid schedule to not get distracted (it’s online so I do it from home as well), so my time management has improved.
    It’s challenging work (I do youth sex ed over at Scarleteen) and it’s often emotionally exhausting for a wide range of reasons, but it’s done a lot to help me feel like a less-boring person who’s achieving something worthwhile. If there’s some form of volunteer or activist work you feel drawn to, I think that would be a great thing to try.

  24. First of all LW: you are smart and funny. You’re interesting and valued. This internet stranger digs you.

    This may be more of a practical tip than you’d like and feel free to skip to the next comment, but there are several add-ons and apps that can help with the (oh so familiar) mindless surfing. Whoops, spent 2 hours on Wikipedia again. I’ve heard good things about LeechBlock, a Firefox add-on. I’m sure other thingies are just as good. You can customize them to certain sites and stuff.

    Even if this means you’ll sit around on the computer playing solitaire for hours (hey, nothing wrong with that), it can maybe help to break the cycle of pressing F5.

    • Thanks for the validation, I’m slightly ashamed of how good that feels.

      As for the Firefox add-on, I’m downloading it right now – thanks for the tip! I’m a little worried that I’ll be even more despondent without my usual distractions, but perhaps it’s best to just go ahead with it and see what it does.

      • misspiggy said:

        I think distractions are perfectly fine, especially if you know what from. A ‘mindfulness’ approach can be helpful, as in, ‘Why have I been surfing Wikipedia for two hours? Hmm, I think it’s ‘cos my back really hurts/I feel a swoop of doom whenever I think about my essay/I’m hungry but too tired to get up/I’m miserable about something I can’t fix.’ Then you can decide whether you want to do anything about that, whether you’d be fine distracting yourself for a bit more, or whether you’d like to try a ‘healthier’ distraction like going for a walk or loading the dishwasher. It’s sometimes nice to properly recognise that I’m distracting myself from something really shitty, yay for me taking care of myself.

        • Thalia said:

          It was definitely helpful for me to realize that sometimes when I end up playing a video game for hours (curse you Caesar III and your impossible market ladies!) it’s because I was triggered by something earlier in the day. Once I figured that out it became about instinctively taking care of myself and how smart my brain is for that rather than about wasting a bunch of time when I should have been “doing” something.

        • Guava said:

          So much yes to this. I find myself getting distracted by online mass media when I’m stuck on a work problem that I’m having difficulty resolving.

      • Everybody needs a little validation sometimes!

        As for relying on distractions, it’s not just you: http://xkcd.com/1348/

      • Kaz said:

        Another option if you don’t want to go the whole Leechblock route or have trouble with that is software that forces typing breaks, usually designed for people with RSI – workrave is an example. Not to be all armchair diagnosis, but I’m autistic and have some executive function issues that are I think common among ADHD folk as well, among others task-switching difficulties – I’ve never quite got Leechblock to work the way I want to, but often find it really helpful to have something that pops up every half an hour or so and goes “right, you! do something for three minutes that’s not on the computer!” (Or one minute, or sometimes thirty seconds will do – just enough to break me out of whatever zombie mode I’ve fallen into and let me regather and go “was this thing I was doing just now a sensible use of my time?”)

      • BookLady said:

        Ms. Von Fingerbang, this other internet stranger thinks you’re awesome too! Seriously, from your excellent comments to past letters, I’d like to agree with Drew et al that you’re not boring! Bored, it sounds like, but not boring. You have good thoughts.

        Also, double-extra echoing the bit about volunteering, elsewhere in the comments! I’ve found it really helpful. Partly, I am terrible at making my own schedule, and I really need to have places to be at set times or I get all blah. Also, if you do something that is useful to another human, yay, validation. Hard to argue with “yes, I definitely did help that kid with their homework” – plus, at the times I like myself least, I feel better when I’ve spent some time thinking about something that isn’t me.

        Also, I’m also pretty bad with follow-through and forming new habits, but if things happen weekly or monthly, and if I’ve told other people in advance that I’m going to do a thing, I’m more likely to do it.

        …It may not sound like it from this, but I swear I’m a real adult.

  25. Claire said:

    I read in your letter in quite a different way as the Captain did, so hopefully I can share a complementary vision on your problem. Here are my thoughts on the things you described in your letter : every person has a narrative on her(him)self. What you call ‘I’, what gives your life an unity and a point of view upon which you can make sense of it, is this story, rich of all its symbolic and deep-bounded themes. It isn’t explicit, but you tell part of it when you talk about yourself or what interests you with people.

    What called out to me in your letter is the fact that when people ask about what’s new, you think “absolutely nothing”. For me it’s the sign that right now, you don’t know what is your story. The ink is a little washed-out, the lines a little blurred, or maybe it is old and you have grown bored of it. The story should be ever-evolving and for whatever reason you aren’t manufacturing it these days.
    It means that your imagination has got on the numb side these days. It’s ok, it happens. Be sure that it will get going again, it couldn’t not to.

    When I am in the same situation, I find that there are things I can do to unstuck it a little faster, to not stay during days in the windless area. It is difficult to me to explain exactly what I do, but I use my imagination to dream, and put myself in imaginary places, and you bet it has to be delicious. Usually I am lying comfortably, in a bath or in my bed before sleeping. Examples ! I imagine I am on the shores of a lake, in the middle of a pine forest at dusk. It is hot, when I take off my clothes I feel the aquiescence of the forest, and the water is hot too. Then I am swimming in the middle of the lake.
    Or I am in gypsy caravan in the middle of snow-whited Russia. The wolves are howling in the night outside, and I am safe under magnificent blankets. (I imagine the pattern on the blankets).
    Well you get the idea : I just put my imagination to use, and some conditions are fulfilled : it is very agreable (the most it can be), it doesn’t need to have any link with the reality, it is effortless and it has no particular aim. And it feels very meaningful to me, though I don’t try to analyze what it means. No, you don’t have to make a thing in the real world with it, like a creative device (writing) or whatever. Its sole purpose is the joy, the calm, the pleasure, and the meaningfulness you find in it at the instant.
    What helps too is to remember your feelings as a child. You know, when you were all marveled by the world in little ways ?

    I hope you can find something for you in what I wrote.
    It is the first time I comment after reading for a year, and this website has been a very important thing that happened in my life. It helped to change it, and for the better. Thank you dear Captain, and every guest blogger, and commenters. ElodieUnderGlass, you hold a special place in my heart.

    On a side note, if you want to signal any mistake or incorrect formulation, please do so, English is not my mother language and I would be happy to improve.

    • Thalia said:

      Oh, the ‘windless area.’ Literally the doldrums, that part of the ocean where there is no wind.

  26. Jolly said:

    I have this same issue Big Time, but part of what helped me out was realizing: most other people aren’t actually more interesting than I am. And when they are, on occasion, legitimately and fairly objectively doing stuff that is more interesting than I am (no point in pretending watching Dexter for a week straight is as interesting as coming back from Peace Corps or whatever), a lot of the time talking about it is not actually inherently more interesting than talking about anything else. Really, I am just as interested in talking to someone about a story they heard on NPR and what we both think about it, as I would be of hearing all about their trip to Nepal (in a lot of cases, honestly, I’m MORE interested in an NPR story than of a million details I can’t really envision from someone else’s vacation).

    The only thing about you that is going to probably objectively bore all people is shutting down conversations a la “nothing is new in my life at all and I have nothing to talk about.” Talking about books, movies, TV, the news, the weather, is going to be way less boring than talking about how boring you are. Everybody likes some variety of boring stuff, so just find the boring stuff your friends like to talk about and enjoy the boring stuff together. No one will think you are boring if you can engage them in a conversation about stuff you both like, and if they DO think you’re boring… fuck ‘em.

    Lastly, do any of your friends have hobbies that you could join in on in some manner? Not totally piggybacking them or anything, but if one of them is talking about doing X activity, could you ask to join them some time? If you are just looking for things to bond with your friends over, or just new stuff to try out, it might be worth just seeing what they like about the stuff they do.

  27. 30ish said:

    This letter reminds me of all the times when I was between jobs or simply not busy enough. I always struggled so much when I was in that situation (and nowadays I would probably surf the web all day – I already do that too much now, even though I’m working full time) . If it were me writing the letter this would be the likely cause of the problem – hating one’s job and having to much free time on one’s hands. I’ve always fixed this by starting a new job or taking on some other responsibilities in order to have a fuller schedule. I just don’t function well if I don’t reach a certain level of being busy. If it were me I’d seriously look into working a different job with more hours or some intense volunteering that comes with responsibilities that keep you occupied.

  28. Thalia said:

    Oh, another kind of random thing: you mentioned an email from 750words.com every day which I’m assuming is a reminder to try to write that much: I find I do a lot better if I write to a time (like say 30 minutes) than a word count. It’s a lot less pressure for some reason. I found a little free timer to download for my Mac; it has a whole range of alarm sounds including one called ‘fanfare’ which is a sort of medieval trumpet-burst that makes it sound like the Queen has just entered the room, which for some reason is very satisfying and makes me feel rather proud of what I get done.

  29. Hi, OP. Since my life changed (due to disability) from getting out every day to work, lunch and activities, to staying home and doing much less, I feel Im boring. At least, I feel Im boring *people* since I often accidentally repeat a thought or one of my limited anecdotes to the few people I do see. Twitter is good for getting new ideas and topics to discuss, if it helps? I use it as a network of likeminded people, in my case many friends are disabled, often stuck at home trying not to be ill, having to cancel plans for the day – might not be the most fascinating topic ever but we are there for each other and understand and listen, so I dont feel I bore *these* friends!

    I also make sure to see a good friend regularly (but ONLY once a week, so we have enough stuff stored up from the week to talk about when we see each other) and that helps me fulfil my needs to chat and socialise face to face, someone to bounce ideas around with. So does getting out to choir rehearsals and other clubs – which may be obvious, but if you join a club that meets regularly youll find new people who you can tell your stories, and get news from them to take away and tell over dinner to your family so youve got some new ideas or anecdotes to discuss.

    In terms of writing, which I guess at one time you wanted to do, since you signed up to an email reminder – it is a skill. You practise it. If you wait til you feel you have something perfect and ready to say, you may be waiting a long time. Set an alarm for each afternoon (or whatever regular time works for you). Set aside an hour or two. Write. Publish. Watch yourself improve. Re-read your writing and realise it is better than you thought at the time. Feel accomplished. Continue.

    Doesnt have to be writing. Could be baking, or learning a language or instrument, or swimming, or… Whatever it is, do it regularly, even when you dont particularly feel like it on the day, watch yourself improve, feel proud! And maybe run into like minded people along the way, for chats where you feel you can contribute and are certainly not boring!

    Does this make any sense?

    Good luck, OP!

    • What’s your twitter handle if you don’t mind my asking? I’m big on twitter and it’s one of the few outlets I’ve found that I can use to write (occasionally) and talk to people with little to no pressure. I’m @cuntessvonf on there if you (or anyone else!) wants to follow me and talk on there.

  30. Oh god. The “how often do you get to finish a story” thing put me in a tailspin because that is a freakin’ feral peeve of mine and it does happen to me more than I would like. So I didn’t *think* I was boring, but now I’m not so sure. Argh.

    Though I do have things that keep me engaged and am having an upsurge of creative energy, I was reading an article recently on things that creative people do (or need to do) and realized I never people-watch anymore, and I could stand to start looking for a meetup group that gets me cranked up. Seeing these suggestions prompted me to go to the big retirement party for my ex-boss that I had been dreading because I am an introvert and big parties give me hives. I promised I’d go and do some people-watching. I only got as far as watching some older dude doing a tight lower body *shimmy* while listening to some speech making, but that was some quality people watching right there. And I chatted with my ex-boss and said I’d really enjoyed working with him, and I was glad I went because it was a good thing to do.

    I am fairly happy and engaged in general, but it seems like I’m either stumped for an answer when asked what’s new (because there are portions of my life where “Working on a bitchin’ fanfic!” isn’t a suitable answer) or else I’m telling a story that loses the room. (I do know this isn’t entirely the case but I’m being all extreme about it all at the moment.)

    LW, thanks for writing this, because it’s giving me lots to think about (and a link to the creativity post), and I hope you get your groove back soon.

    • JenniferP said:

      I’m a college teacher and no one on this blog would confuse me with being “concise” – the “you have lost the thread, people are sorta tuning out” thing happens to me, too!

      The trick isn’t to be so pithy and “interesting” that it never happens to you, or decide “god I’m horribly boring better never talk again,” the trick is to notice when it’s happening and in the moment wrap things up, or think about how to make the points better & clearer, etc. Like, people seem to be tuning me out lately, I must be getting lost in my own train of thought and not actually communicating with them, better work on that.

    • Suzy said:

      I know a guy who, when he tells a story, it won’t finish ever. EVER. One of my friends had only just met him and got into the situation where he decided at a party he would go to bed when the story was done. It never finished and he was up past 5 am….. waiting. Also this guy doesn’t sleep…..

  31. Amy said:

    I haven’t read all the comments but is it possible the internet is causing some of your problems? It can be so soul sucking and mind destroying and yet you just get lost inside it. Mindlessly surfing, reading the same self help/improvement/forum post etc thwt you’ve read a billion times just worded a little differently. I find I get very immersed and my motivation and sense of self gets sucked away. If I can make the effort to disengage, spend time offline (even just doing housework or going for a walk) it’s like someone switches my brain back on.

    I notice my hubby, who is an online gamer in a stressful, physical job spends time online to relax, but the more he does it, the more it winds him off. He gets bored, but doesn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. He doesn’t actually see it but if I can drag him out for a bit he comes back down to reality and has more energy, more spark.

    Also, I find the more I read about a thing the less likely I am to do it. One or two articles on writing can help if you are stuck. Four months of blogs, forums, webcasts and vlogs? Never gonna write a word in that time.

    LW I CHALLENGE you to spend a four hour block every day OFF THE COMPUTER. That is all. I can almost guarantee you will feel better! (Thwt means no tablets, smartphones, tv or consoles too)

    • Sorry, I didn’t see this comment before I posted mine on a similar topic further down, but yes, this is exactly what I wanted to say!

    • fir3dragon said:

      Amy, I think this is brilliant. Spot on, for me, about what the internet does to my brain and a supergreat suggestion.

    • Tallulah said:

      I agree with this – I was going to say that for me it’s important to be able to identify “Internet time that I need because I’m tired and need some downtime” vs “I’m not really enjoying this Internet time but it’s easier than finding something else to do”.

      When I was at university and feeling socially isolated/unhappy and stressed about the social relationships I did have, I spent a lot of time reading online arguments/posts about bad fanfiction and I don’t think that actually helped me much. (And it also didn’t help much that it wasn’t something I could talk to other people about much, so I couldn’t use it as, uh, small talk currency. Which is not to say everything you do has to be something you can talk to other people about! But Internet time can take up such a LOT of time it left a big chunk of my life as something I couldn’t use to connect with people.)

    • You definitely have a point here. My problem with not mindlessly surfing is that if I’m not doing something (even something I don’t enjoy, like mindlessly surfing or working) I get scared and anxious and upset. So I need to shift my focus to something else, but I’m not sure what. I tend to throw myself into things in an extreme and often unhealthy way, to the point that I often joke about how nothing I do is recreational, and I don’t have any hobbies or interests. I joke about it, but it’s quite true. I don’t enjoy the process of things, I don’t enjoy things that I’m not good at, and I get obsessive over measurable progress.

      I’ve been trying to give myself new activities to learn, things that I’m not already good at, so that I can start to learn to enjoy the process in a low pressure way, but I’m having trouble not seeing it all as pointless. For example, I have Codecademy and Duolingo accounts, and I’ve worked through a few lessons on both, but it all seems unimportant and pointless, so it’s a struggle to force myself to sit down and do the lessons. I’m not going speak French or code in Python at a professional level, so what’s the point?

      And I get that that’s not a good attitude to have. And I’ve done all the reading about improving my attitude and everything. It’s just this fundamental disconnect I’m feeling between my mind and my body/the rest of the world. It’s very isolating and dull.

      Thanks again for listening and commenting, all. I love the commentariat here so so so much.

      • JenniferP said:

        If it makes you feel better, almost everyone I know did Code Academy for a week in January one time and then got sick of it and stopped. Please forgive yourself for blocking their chipper emails for the rest of time if that’s what you need to do. :)

        • Haha thanks! I blocked their emails quite a while ago, but the bookmark keeps staring me in the face and I feel so guilty for not accomplishing anything. I think part of why it’s difficult is that I can’t trick myself into thinking something so unimportant is actually important, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling like a failure.

          FAILURE.

          That’s got to be the word I use most frequently to describe myself and the things I attempt. If anyone used that word to describe someone I cared about I’d tell them to stop saying such cruel things, but for some reason *I* still feel deserving of it.

          It reminds me a bit of something on Shapely Prose a while back, where (I think) Kate was posting about how for a period of time she had gotten to the point in her fat acceptance journey where she felt like it was ok for *other* people to be over a certain size, and she didn’t judge them or think they should feel shitty about their bodies, but for her *personally* it was different – *she* was not worthwhile if she was over a certain weight.

          • AH YOU ARE ALREADY A SHAPELY PROSE PERSON and you have already read The Fantasy of Being Thin. Excellent! Maybe you are suffering from … The Fantasy of Having to Be Super-Duper-Exciting? Like, Kate’s fantasy about buying an alpaca farm and marrying George Clooney, and how that was just so not her life, and was never going to be her life, and once she let go of that and started chipping away at all that was NOT her, her life got better like whoa. Maybe chipping away learning French and coding and so on and so forth might lead to a bit more interest in your own life and skills and pursuits… I commented on this down-thread but maybe a Fuck It List is what’s called for (http://kateharding.net/2009/03/10/tuesday-fluff-eff-it/). Starting with, French and coding.

          • Ali said:

            It turns out I can’t learn by myself. I’d love to be a person who can do online courses and comeoout better, but I get bored and then guilty about being bored. Adult education classes, even low-stakes, no grades ones, work for me. There’s a financial involvement, but it sounds like you could afford a class at your local community college. French? Pottery? I did sign language and it was amazing how much better I felt to learn something new. Bonus: you now have a thing to talk about.

      • ordinarygoddess said:

        Ohhhh I had a feeling there was a bit of this going on. See: upthread a ways, where people are talking about trying to talk about deeply passionate and geeky stuff and having a hard time with it.

        I was having a conversation with Partner about this a couple of weeks ago. (In the aftermath of a sobbing “I’m stupid and I’m not making sense of this” breakdown while in the middle of warping a warp-weighted loom for the first time, AS IT HAPPENS.) I get myself into these incredibly difficult, challenging projects and then I hate everything and everything’s pointless and what am I doing?

        But eventually, I work through it, and it all comes together in the end, and it is GLORIOUS. And I bask in that lovely feeling for about ten seconds and then dive into something else that is 99% suck and 1% glory. Why do I do this to myself?

        Because for a very, very long time, I did not work through it. I gave up, crawled into myself, and spent most of a decade doing absolutely nothing that challenged me or stretched my horizons or taught me anything new, because I was so convinced I would fail at whatever I tried. A lot of that, as it turned out, had to do with an emotionally abusive partner who was playing on childhood fears of failure and waste; a lot had to do with depression, but a lot had to do with just getting out of the habit of picking myself up and making another fucking go at the thing. Whatever the thing happened to be.

        And now I have a deep and abiding horror of wasted time and a fundamental inability to let myself get comfortable; I’m always pushing, pushing, learning something new, doing something hard, working right at the edge of my envelope. I don’t… ENJOY it, but I do find it endlessly satisfying and fulfilling. I’ve swung to the opposite end of the pendulum, I KNOW THAT, I know that it is disordered thinking to some extent, but it’s more productive disordered thinking, that does make me feel better about myself at the end of the day, than the disordered thinking that dominated that earlier period in my life. I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that I’m always going to be dealing with either depression or anxiety, and my anxiety is easier to domesticate than depression was. I’ve made friends enough with it that it only bites when it’s really riled up.

        I saw something on Pinterest or Facebook or somewhere recently – that the creative process goes like: This is awesome! -> This sucks. -> I suck. -> This might be okay. -> This is awesome! It’s so easy to get stuck in “I suck”. SO EASY. And it’s so awful. I feel like you’re not a boring person AT ALL, you’re a fantastically interesting, talented, and passionate person who’s spun your wheels and gotten stuck and can’t see a way out right now. There’s some really good advice on this thread about how to get out. I have confidence that you will.

  32. MrsMorley said:

    Dear LW

    The Captain’s advice to observe is spot on. It matches my experience too. Much, much easier to forgive yourself (myself) the flaws and imperfections that shame you (me) when searching out the details of people’s lives.

    Think of the beautifully observed (that word again!) details of dress in Guermantes’s Way.

    Now, remember this comment from the Captain “The stuff that makes you vulnerable and imperfect is the stuff that makes you interesting.”

    And finally, if possible, volunteer. It can be something small (but huge!) like reading to local school children.

    Or adopt a pet. You’ll have to socialize the animal. If it’s a dog, you’ll have to walk it, you’ll need to closely observe everything about it. Regardless, you’ll be responsible. Even fish can recognize you and offer their attention. You won’t be bored. Nor will your animal.

    You are fascinating. Allow yourself to embrace that.

  33. Ha, ironically, owning only 33 items of clothing seems unbearably boring to me. I love to play with fashion and while having a perfectly curated essentials wardrobe might make getting dressed in the morning easier, for me it’d take all the fun out of it.

    OMG THAT FUCK YOUR NOGUCHI COFFEE TABLE TUMBLR THOUGH. NEW FAVORITE THING.

  34. Oh LW, I really feel for you! Some of your situation sounds a lot like how I was last year – I was on a gap year, and tried to find a part-time job but couldn’t find anything, so I just stayed at home and ended up going on my laptop all day. I’d have plans like ‘I’ll start a blog! I’ll write a novel! I’ll pass my driving test!’ which came to nothing because I’d look round and realise I’d literally spent seven hours surfing Cracked. I think Internet addiction is a real thing, even if it hasn’t been recognised as a formal disorder yet. Anyway, I lost months of my life like that, and I felt so apathetic and empty and like I was a worthless person who had all this free time (I was living with and off my parents) and couldn’t do anything to fill it.

    One thing I eventually found which really helped was setting one ‘screen-free’ day a week. I don’t manage it every week, but I try to not surf the Internet or watch TV on Saturdays. It’s amazing what I have to find to fill all that time – writing, swimming, reading, studying, going for a walk, cooking a nice meal, catching up on housework. It’s a really nice corrective to the way being on the Internet can eat away at your attention span. Also on other days I try to ‘boycott’ the most time-wasting websites, and set a three-hour time limit on Internet activity (though again, I don’t always manage that.) Maybe that could help you? I’ll send you good thoughts with my mind anyway!

  35. MamaCheshire said:

    As someone who has been there and done that…

    If at all possible, ditch the awful job for something less-awful. I was able to do that four months ago and am starting to have the energy for actual meaningful friend-outings again.

    Even I can’t believe the difference it makes. The commute is easier, the people I work with don’t consider it acceptable to scream at each other, and I don’t have a sexist jerkface asking me about buying new dresses after the other four members of the team (all men) have spent a few minutes talking football or ridiculous procedures where every scrap of work I do needs to be quadruple-checked and it’s NEVER good enough.

    I’m now working somewhere that I am liked, respected, and treated like a trustworthy professional. SO MUCH BETTER. It probably took about three months before my energy really came back but it’s amazing what a difference it makes.

    I realize not everyone’s in a position to do this, and sometimes for reasons financial and otherwise bad job is better than no job, but getting out of toxic work environments and into ones that don’t treat their people like crap? Makes everything about existence so much better, for real.

    • I can’t wait to ditch my soul-sucking job, and believe me, I plan to! I’m so glad you were able to escape your awful old job and find something better. It sounds like it made a huge difference.

      I need to figure out what I want to transition into, because I’ll need to develop some new skills and probably go back to school for something, but I’m definitely working on figuring that out. Thinking about just how much work that’s going to take (depending on what I do, at least 2 more years of school while working my current job, probably more) is overwhelming and scary and depressing, and it almost makes me not want to try.

      • Ali said:

        Does that potential deadline help your brain? My work is somewhat toxic, but I have an exit plan with real timeframes. If you go back to school, what does that look like? What are the different ways you could do it? What’s the best balance for you? Isn’t the prospect of being done with this place worth a predetermined time spent there?

  36. mintylime said:

    Other than replacing “I have lots of free time” with “I have zero free time and haven’t in many months because I have a baby, the partner works long hours, and no local Team Me”, I could have written most of this. Everyone said that having your own was different, but I’m still just not a baby person.

    And reading the comments makes me want to weep for the sheer hopelessness of having time to *do* any of those things to make things better or me interesting again any time in the foreseeable future.

    • commanderlogic said:

      Hello fellow baby-having person! Yeah, the baby times are rough, and I already know that I would be unable to hack it as a Stay-at-Home. I love WeeLogic fiercely, but I can only read “Llama Llama Red Pajama” so many times before I feel my brain vibrating with rage. GET YOUR FUCKING SHIT TOGETHER, LLAMA. JEEZ.

      I don’t know how old your baby is, but it does get easier as they get older. Stuff that helped me and MAY be applicable to your situation, depending on your and your baby’s temperaments:

      1 – Scheduling. The daycare (BLESS THEM BY ALL THE GODS) put WeeLogic on a strict schedule starting at 4 months old that includes a no-compromises 2hour nap/quiet time, clockwork diaper changes and meals. We follow it on the weekends and there is no negotiating with WeeLogic (who is a terrible negotiator) about whether she’s wet, tired, or hungry, because she’s diaper-checked on the regular, put down for a nap when she’s been trained to be tired, and fed before she gets super cranky. The predictability makes her happy, and makes scheduling stuff for me and Mr.Logic a thousand times easier. BUT MAYBE THIS IS NOT YOUR JAM, I recognize that either you or your baby may not be down with any kind of schedule. But if you are, let me know and I’ll give you the details.

      2 – Accepting that Baby Can Entertain Hir Own Damn Self. In a safe location, obviously. We have a playpen (aka BabyJail) with all WeeLogic’s toys in it and nothing she can hurt herself with. She hangs out there while I’m making dinner. And eating dinner. And sometimes internetting.

      3 – Your partner is also a parent and can care for the baby. This is hard for some people, and some couples. Obviously, I don’t know your situation or your partner’s willingness/ableness to care for your baby, but if s/he can, and you can let them handle it for a couple of hours, get out of the house on a weekly basis without a baby in tow. And I understand that partner is working long hours, but I don’t think 2 hours a week is an unreasonable request.

      People usually say “the baby will not be a baby forever” with a wistful tone, but for me it also carries a whiff of light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel. I got knocked up with WeeLogic#2 as soon as possible PARTIALLY because it would mean a swifter end to the diaper years. Maybe you will be more of a Grade School Kid Person. Or a Teenager Person. Or an Adult Children Person. The good news for non-baby-people is, you don’t have a baby for very long. Good luck!

      • MamaCheshire said:

        Also, your kid may vary.

        Parenting FirstKid has been a very different experience from parenting SecondKid at each stage. There are some things that are generally a little bit similar but their early infancy was totally different. Also, comparing and contrasting age 4, I’m not sure whether it was easier to deal with the four year old who was well behaved at school but NEVER SHUT UP OMG at home and tended to wake up with screaming night terrors on a semi regular basis, or the four year old who had regular sensory meltdowns at school that occasionally included hitting anyone who got too close to her and who was fine once asleep but very defiant about going to bed.

        Oh, and A THOUSAND TIMES YES to “partner can take care of baby too, you know!”

      • mintylime said:

        /momentary flailing that I’m comments thread hijacking just because I am so lonely

        I have been considering daycare (maybe one day a week? can you do that?), but as I’m not properly employed, it is devilishly difficult to justify the expense “just” for me to have hours to myself not stolen from sleep.

        I keep trying to get weeMintylime (who is about 9 months old already) on something approaching a schedule, but it just keeps falling apart on weekends or whenever I need to, say, leave the house to do anything (visit the friends an hour away? groceries?). I think the baby could entertain hirself, but sie does not agree and lets me know and has more capacity to scream than I do for listening to screaming. My partner says he wants to help with babycare, but usually gives me pushback when I ask (and I have to ask. asking is the spoonkiller.), though watches sie for the 3 hours a week I go to a thing. It seems like better is always a few months away, you know?

        Also, I have not read any of the Llama books, but did see one in a grocery store display and thought it kind of hilarious – “Llama Llama Holiday Drama”.

        • commanderlogic said:

          Maybe it is threadjacking, but I think MomFlail is important enough for a sidebar. And YOU are important enough for a brief threadjack. If the good Captain requests it, I’ll move this over to the forums instead. (Plus, I think it’s an interesting sub-heading for “Constant Betterment” – Am I being a Good Enough Mom? (yes) What am I doing wrong if it’s not all sunshine and rainbows? (nothing. babies kinda suck) etc.)

          Please refer to all over this blog for the following advice: Put on your own breathing mask first before assisting others.

          Yes. You can have a once-a-week daycare arrangement. They do that. But I would heartily recommend at least twice-a-week because YOU NEED A WEEKEND.

          Mr. Logic and I worked out that being on Baby Duty is 1 full-time job, complete household management is 1 full-time job, and Work is 1 full-time job. We figured either of us could handle about 1.5 full-time jobs in a given day before complete meltdown, so the division of household labor adjusted accordingly. BUT ALSO BABY DUTY IS WORK. Moreover, it’s CONSTANT. You don’t have a weekend where the baby duty stops for 48 hours straight. Also, you don’t clock out unless the other parent or a caretaker clocks in. If no one is cheerfully clocking in for you, that is a recipe for disaster.

          So I think this calls for a childcare summit with your partner, subject: I NEED DAYS OFF. Maybe don’t have a plan at the ready when you start talking about it. Tell your partner about the babycare-as-job thing, and ask how he would feel about a 168hr/week on-call schedule, because that’s pretty much what’s up. Ask what he would suggest as a solution, not to put him on the spot, but because you need to know what he thinks. Maybe he’s terrified of screwing up as a parent. Maybe he doesn’t yet equate babycare with Work-work because he hasn’t been in charge for more than 3 hours yet, so for him it’s a nice break. Maybe babies freak his shit out. Maybe he just hasn’t really thought about it before. Maybe all of those things are true.

          Regarding the schedule – our goal isn’t to rigidly adhere to the schedule at all costs, but rather to have it as the rhythm to fall back on, so that when we DO do something different, we have a “normal” to return to. But that would probably mean one week of rigid schedule-adhering first, to make sure it takes.

          Is WeeLime sleeping through the night? If not, I found this site really helpful in getting WeeLogic to sleep:http://www.troublesometots.com/baby-sleep-what-is-normal/

          http://www.troublesometots.com/what-you-need-to-know-about-sleeping-through-the-night-part-i/

          WeeLogic is OUT at 7:30PM every night and wakes up at 6:30AM. Like clockwork. So Mr. and I have from 7:30 to our decided bedtime every night to be Adult People.

          That site’s version of Cry-It-Out might help you, too. The idea is NOT to turn off the lights and leave the baby crying all night long. You do your bedtime routine, put the baby down, and leave. If zie cries, you go in to check on hir after 3 minutes. If nothing seems the matter (diaper’s dry, you comfort WITHOUT PICKING UP for about a minute), leave hir for 5 minutes. Then 7 minutes. Then you keep checking every 7 minutes until baby conks out. The next night, you check 5, 7, 10, 10, 10. The next night, 5, 10, 15, 15. We also made sure to trade off who was checking on her so that she wouldn’t get used to “crying = MAMA!” It never took WeeLogic more than an hour to go to sleep, and now she does it without a fuss.

          It was NERVEWRACKING for sure. We cracked a bottle of wine that first night. But we comforted ourselves with the knowledge that a) we were going to see her in 7 minutes b) no baby ever died from crying c) she’d cried for way longer than 15 minutes at a stretch when we were driving to the doctor.

          But the MAIN reason I think it might help you is that if you do the 3, 5, 7, 7, 7 etc. during the day, it will help you bear the crying better. 9months is prime separation anxiety time, so it might help to remember that the baby likely isn’t crying because zie NEEDS you but because zie WANTS you. As long as WeeLime has what zie NEEDS, you are allowed to ignore what zie WANTS.

          Okay, that was kind of a lot. =/

          To sum up:
          1 – SUMMIT WITH PARTNER ABOUT CHILDCARE
          2 – Yes, you can take the baby to daycare at least once a week just so that you have time for you. Which can include GLORIOUS NAPPING.
          3 – 9 months is hard for a lot of reasons, and it’s okay to be annoyed.
          4 – You’re an amazing parent, and WeeLime is extremely lucky to have you.

  37. H.Regalis said:

    Nth-ing everyone else who’s said this letter struck a chord with them.

    I used to read a lot and generally consume a lot more media, and now I just watch/listen to the same things over and over, and I can’t find new blogs, online communities, etc. to replace the ones I grew out of, which bugs me, because there is a lot of cool stuff out there but I feel like none of it fits right and I have so much apathy towards everything.

    When I talk to people, all I really have to say about is rpgs I play or coding stuff for work, and if I’m talking to people who don’t game and/or code, I don’t have a lot to say. I don’t know if I used to be more interesting or just perceived myself as being that way. It’s not that I’n unhappy, but every day just seems the same and like it will be forever. I am actually making a change–going to backpack around another country for a while–so maybe that will help, who knows.

    The Captain’s response about how the state religion is self-improvement put into words for me something that I’ve noticed for a while but haven’t been able to articulate. A lot of stuff, particularly the more female-oriented things but in no way exclusively so that come across my facebook feed are all like lifehacks/knit-your-own-Dr-Who/fabulous cookie recipe/$other_crafty_thing and there’s just something about that that bothers me but I’ve never been able to put it into words. Thank you.

  38. sphinxxnz said:

    Hi LW. I am behind the times but, like so many people here, I feel connected to your story. Here are my thoughts and advice if you are still here!

    Too much internet and screen time can have wide ranging effects in people with mood problems. For example, are you going outside enough? Light exposure has a huge impact on our whole system, and strong bright lights early in the morning can be especially valuable. You may live poleward and have problems at certain times in the year but light therapy may be worth investigating. Also blue light at night is not good; try f.lux.

    Do you sit while looking at a screen? Sitting is another health can o’ worms. I’d suggest standing (or a walking desk if appropriate). That could also lead to an easy limitation of screen time and sync your brain with body (when you are tired, all of you is tired).

    Can you restrict some activities to partner or communal time? Such as only watching movies with another person, quite possibly your partner. That also makes these special times, valuable screen time rather than bleh, another movie. Date night! Once a week! You will certainly choose your movie more carefully. We at Chez Me have decided not to subscribe to Sky as we would just watch TV if available. Miss it out wholesale (do you need Netflix?). And keep internet time to directed searches and time limited “unlimited” browsing for a while.

    On motivation: I personally found that depression contaminates anything associated with it. So things that I tried and failed while depressed have Bad Feelings attached, at least for a while. That includes the Great Fantasy Novel. It is still there but feelings of failure and I don’t know what to do still overshadow it. Now I have other hobbies (classical guitar, crochet and weaving) but the novel still hovers. Maybe one day I will truly want to do it.

    So I’d recommend trying a hobby with no connection to your past; one that involves physical activity but not something you expect to succeed at. Classical guitar (well it works for me), fibre arts, pottery, aikido – where you can take lessons and just do. This could be a real challenge for you: doing without expectation.

    Gardening – I get an urban vibe from you, but it may be possible to find a community garden. This means getting out and about with people who don’t care if you are boring as long as you can dig or plant, and also offers a chance to see other opportunities to volunteer as there are many organisations involved in community gardens and people who need help.

    And cooking too, once you’ve grown the veges.

    I see that you want to change your job, but I can also see you changing slack internet busyness for study busyness. Wherever you go, there you are. Before jacking in the soul sucking job establish a rhythm in your life that works for both you and your partner. There won’t be time for boredom. Really no one has much that is new in their lives – your friends and family will be deeply impressed by any change no matter how trivial you may think it is.

  39. vorlord said:

    Just wanted to say that I went to a curling lesson 15 years ago, and have since met many great people through our club (and drafted other friends into the sport). It’s a great combination of exercise and sociability.

    Somehow though, I’m still boring too.

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