I get bored easily.
Really, really easily. If a few seconds go by and I don't have something that I'm currently doing, my mind takes off on a mission to find an entertaining task. If ADD/ADHD had been a thing when I was a kid, I'm sure I would have been labeled. Every once in a while this sort of thing will distract me from a boring task like finishing a sentence, but most often this desire to keep my mind engaged is a good thing.
It seems to me that our society is afraid of boredom. Give the typical American under 50 years old just a couple of seconds of silence and they'll pull out their phone to cast out the demons of boredom. Most of us are given to the lie that scrolling through miles of nonsense online is actually doing something.
But what if that silence, that boredom is actually really healthy for us to experience? We had these wood doors in our house growing up. They were stained dark brown with even darker brown organic wood grain lines. I remember staring at the wood grain and letting my eyes and my brain work together to create images, sort of like you do with clouds. There was an almost Virgin Mary on the back of the bathroom door for most of my childhood.
When we are afraid of being still, we miss the opportunity to see things. Some things are only visible after you sit and stare at them for a time. And now, some 35 years later I still remember some of those wood grain images but I cant tell you 5 things I saw on my phone 30 minutes ago.
I'm so glad we didn't have hand held electronics when I was young. I hate that my kids have them now. We made pretend guns out of sticks and had wars. We hammered together rotted boards into dangerously high ramps and raced our rickety bikes off the tops only to crash down on the other side in a huge pile of laughter. I live in fear that my kids' biggest adventures will involve Mario or happen inside a Minecraft world.
I went off to college in 1990. My only phone was connected to the wall of my dorm with a cord. I took my new-fangled electronic typewriter with me when I moved in. Our freshman dorm was a cinder block cell and we shared a bathroom with maybe 20 other dudes on our hall. When we were tired of watching TV, we walked around campus or sat in the rocking chairs on the porch of one of the historic buildings and talked about goofy things for hours.
I met that guy when I moved in. I had no idea who he was, but someone had put us in the same room together because we were both art majors. Chad Costello. That's what I knew about him when we moved in...just his name. I learned more about him over the next 4 years as roommates. As it turned out, he was cool and when I got bored in that cramped dorm and came up with some hair-brained thing that we should go do, he was always game to go do it. I like to think those goofy things helped us bond. That's an actual Polaroid instant photo, by the way, and I think it came from Stan's camera.
That summer we all had a mandatory Maymester class in the education program. We found ourselves with no studio classes, very few people on campus, and a lot of extra time to fill. That was a fun summer. And it was that mix of friends and time that gave us Matilda.
That's Matilda. Also a Polaroid instant photo. This was way before digital so these hard copies are the only documentation we have of her. Matilda was a life size paper maché cow.
They couldn't keep us out of the art building that summer and one day while walking from the art building that was next door to our apartment building we passed the giant dumpster and noticed a big wooden saw horse hanging out of the top. That was the moment our friendship dynamic kicked in. It may have been suggested that we take it and make something cool out of it. Someone agreed. Someone else agreed and may have suggested it be a life sized cow.
The next few days are a bit blurry. We worked together like a machine. We dragged that saw horse into our two room apartment. It fit perfectly in our kitchen/living room, though it took up most of the space. The door would open, but you'd have to squeeze between the leg of the saw horse and my chair just to get around the room and into the hallway. On the other side we had just enough room to open the refrigerator door. Perfect. That night we brainstormed what it was going to look like and how we were going to get enough materials to complete it. We made a couple more trips back to the dumpster to get some extra wood for the armature. We nabbed some paper and glue and we went to work. A few days later we found some balloons to make utters that would actually work and we painted her white and black.
She was beautiful.
And that's when we realized we had a life sized cow in our small apartment. The old apartment building had a cool courtyard and it was decided that Matilda needed to live there. We scoped out the site and headed back to the room to move her.
And that's when we realized she was much bigger than our door. We briefly considered taking her out the window but it was decided she would not survive such an uncontrolled and possibly violent fall. We were nothing if not expert problem solvers. Say what you will about not having the foresight to think about getting a giant cow out of a small door, but we had the entire problem solved in a couple of hours. A hand saw may or may not have been borrowed from the sculpture studio while we amputated two legs and then surgically reattached them in the hallway. The skin was repaired and repainted and she was ready for her new home. She was good as new, though a bit groggy from the anesthesia.
That's the college aged me (with hair) milking Matilda in the hallway right before we carried her outside. Afterwards we sat in the rocking chairs on the breezeway while Matilda grazed in the courtyard. Matilda was a great friend to us that summer. She taught us about the importance of boredom. She showed us the power of stillness. Sometimes when I'm wasting my minutes scrolling through my phone I can still hear her faintly mooing, "Put it down and make something."
Today Chad is a minister in Florence. In his line of work he knows a thing or two about the power of stillness. Stan teaches art in Walhalla and runs www.endoftheroadstudios.com with his artist wife, Robin and they make stuff every single day. I think Matilda would be pleased.