Better to be bored
May 9, 2013
Dr. Teresa Belton is the senior researcher at the University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning. Recently in a BBC interview she decried the modern practice of scheduling every minute of our children’s’ lives and allowing them to fill the occasional gap with iPhones and Instagram.
Dr. Belton believes that boredom is an essential part of the creative process and because they are constantly stimulated, our children are growing up without imaginations.
This is an issue where time won’t tell if she’s right because if we all grow up with stunted creativity, our imaginations will have gone the way of the appendix and who’ll care?
It is amazing what bored people will turn to. For instance, what drove the first person to try to write their name on a grain of rice? There are relics of rice-writing over 2,000 years old. We know two things about that first person: first, they had too much time on their hands, and secondly, they had great eyesight.
Far from the first, but certainly notable, was “Bly the Rice Writer,” Ernest Blystone. He was born in 1887 in the hills of Pennsylvania and was described by his friends as “irrepressible.” When he was 19, Bly got squashed in a railroad accident, breaking most major bones and cutting off much of his left hand. The doctors gave him only hours to live but he walked unaided out of the hospital a month later.
Bly busied himself during his recuperation by fashioning an artificial hand so he could play baseball again. He also developed an elegant miniature penmanship and is in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not for the feat of inscribing 2,871 letters on a single grain of rice. He later improved his skill to a disturbing 14,164 characters on a . . . well, I keep adding “a single grain of rice,” when I’d still be impressed if he’d slopped over onto a second one.
I knew nothing about Bly and rice-writing some time back as my wife and I were standing in old downtown Las Vegas at the Fremont Experience. In that ignorance, I was impressed by a steady-handed young man charging $20 to write “up to 22 characters” on a grain of rice (single). For that price he would also encapsulate it in a magnifying ankle bracelet.
My wife and I have developed an odd knack of speaking simultaneously with opposite output. Watching the guy writing tiny messages on a grain of rice, I said, “What a gimmick!” At the same time she said, “Gimme twenty bucks.”
Spectators watched on a screen so everyone could see what mushy thing you were going to encircle your girlfriend’s ankle with. Personal reminders like, “We’ll always have Pittsbur,” or, “You are the wings beneath m” (remember, only 22 characters).
Quickly done, he extended his work on his open palm for my wife’s inspection only to watch it fly off onto a sticky Las Vegas sidewalk. We stared after it for a second, and then looked at him. He grinned and pointed to the newly-inscribed rice kernel, safely mashed into the clay in front of him. Big laughs.
So, fast forward to last week when my wife handed me her sunglasses in two pieces, and a screw about the size of a small grain of rice, “Be careful,” she says, setting the screw into a little dish that I promptly upset, launching the screw into some remote part of our kitchen floor.
She looked at me, “That wasn’t the fake screw, was it?”