Charles Simic’s reunion with boredom

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When flooding caused by Hurricane Irene left Charles Simic, who lives in New Hampshire, isolated and without power, he was forced to revist a pre-technology boredom. With no television, no computers, no smartphones, the former poet laureate remembered what it was like, years ago, to be isolated -- and bored. He writes about it on the N.Y. Review of Books blog.

Being without lights and water is a fairly common experience for those of us who live in rural areas on roads lined with old trees. Every major rainstorm or snowstorm is almost certain to bring down the lines, which, because of the relative scarcity of population, are a low priority for the power company to fix. We use oil lamps and most often candles, so our evenings around the dining room table resemble séances. We sit with our heads bowed as if trying to summon spirits, while in truth struggling to see what’s on our dinner plates. Being temporarily unable to use the technology we’ve grown dependent on to inform ourselves about the rest of the world, communicate with others, and pass the time, is a reminder of our alarming dependence on them. “Nights are so boring!” my neighbors kept repeating. Our days were not much better, with overcast skies that made it even difficult to read indoors. All of this reminded me of the days of my youth when my family, like so many others, lived in a monastic solitude when the weather was bad, since we had no television. It wasn’t in church, but on dark autumn days and winter nights that I had an inkling of what they meant when they spoke about eternity. Everyone read in order to escape boredom....

Although Simic sees a destructive force in that boredom, he also says he owes something to it. ‘Drowning in it, I came face to face with myself as if in a mirror,’ he writes, ‘I became a spectator of my own existence, which by turns struck me as being either too real or totally unreal.’


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