156. Bored to Metaphoric Death

Reporting live from work: I am going to set fire to the pantry if nothing interesting happens soon.

It’s a belief of mine that the best thing you can do to a writer is to bore him to metaphoric death. Deny him entertainment. Starve him of stimuli. Cut off the supply of distraction. When he’s doing thrashing around the empty room, and when you’ve helped him to patch up his skull that’s been broken after one too many hits against the wall, he’ll thank you.

Because when you take everything away, the writer turns to his only remaining source of entertainment: his imagination. If there’s a good substitute for last-minute panic to inspire some creativity and productivity, it’s dreadful, soul-crushing boredom.

(though this only works as far as creative work is concerned. The typical response to attempts to bore a person into doing tedious work is: “I’m bored, not desperate”)

Sitting at the desk right now, my whole body feeling like it’s going to burst from inactivity, I realize that boredom is also the worst thing that can happen to me. To illustrate, first a science lesson:

You know why deep-sea divers wear full-bodied suits when they dive. Water pressure increases exponentially with depth, and if you dive deep enough, the water pressure will first make it uncomfortable to even stay at that depth. Go deeper, and it becomes increasingly difficult, then eventually impossible to breath. Go even deeper, your blood will stop flowing. You’ll be long dead, of course; but in the chance that you manage to go even deeper than that, the water pressure can and will become strong enough to crush your bones.

But the opposite happens in space. Outer space, to be exact. In outer space, the pressure you have to worry about isn’t coming from the outside – it’s coming from inside your body.

The mixture of air that makes up the comfortable layer of atmosphere that we breathe in is at that perfect pressure for our bodily functions to work properly. It allows for the exchange of gases in your lungs as your breathe. It keeps your eyeballs from popping out of their sockets. As you travel into the higher levels of the atmosphere and out of it, however, this pressure around you drops – and you will be literally bursting out of your skin. Your blood doesn’t flow correctly. You can’t breathe properly.

It’s why high-altitude jet pilots wear full-body suits and full-faced masks. It’s why airplanes have pressurized cabins. It’s also why astronauts need such big, cumbersome suits.

The perfect work environment balances pressure from the outside – deadlines, tasks to be completed, audits, etc – with the innate pressure on the inside of us to bloody do something. Too much pressure on the outside, ad it’ll crush you. Take it all away, leaving you in an activity vacuum, and you get what I’m feeling right now.

On second thought, boring a writer to death probably isn’t the best thing you can do for him. Just give him drugs and have it done with.

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