Boredom, A School Memoir


I used to consider boredom the remote affliction of others. Bored  people lacked imagination and an appreciation for beauty.  In my childhood, I spent hours  tilting and gazing at kaleidoscopes. Plaster patterns on the wall continuously evolved and reshaped into faces, beasts, and foreign geographies.  How could anyone be bored when all they had to do was look?

My assumptions about boredom were misguided. I struggled mightily with boredom, especially in the forced confines of school. I fidgeted and interrupted upon occasion. Usually, though, I traveled in my brain.

I remember Rafaela and her ponytail holders.  Decorated with translucent red balls, the holders fastened tight and close to her scalp.  I mentally traced the smooth channels of her dark braided hair up to the holders and back down again.  Sometimes the light would hit the holders just right and they would glow. Eventually the teacher picked up on my fascination and seated me elsewhere.

High school algebra classes numbed my brain. I digested material instantaneously, making lectures redundant and banal. One day I brought a Phillip’s screwdriver to school and disassembled my desk top.  The mischief makers behind me regarded me with new respect.  I spent the rest of class balancing the desk with my knees while I charted the progress of a rolling pencil.

Not soon afterward, I spoke to my math teacher, Mr. Tigers. “I know all of this, “ I told him, “From chapter one to seven. Test me.”  He didn’t bother and let me go to the library instead, provided I take scheduled exams. I wound up using my free period to tutor the special ed class he taught.

I relished making learning fun for other people.  Math class bored me  because it was too easy. The kids I tutored found math boring for the opposite reason–it was too hard. This irony escaped me at the time.

In my senior year, I took calculus with Mr. Guam, the wrestling coach. The course took place in a big booming room that felt more like an oversized bathroom stall than a classroom.  The ceiling was twenty feet up and small windows seemed to float in the distance.

Uneasy, for  subtle, incomprehensible reasons,  I drifted away during lectures.   I deemed his instruction style bewildering and disorganized.  Furthermore, his homework and assignments did not correspond to the book, impeding my understanding further. He held homework sessions after wrestling practice, too late for my anxious self to attend.   Coincidentally, his exam questions derived from these very  sessions (the wrestlers did quite well).  I hated his strategy and handed in a nasty note in place of my second exam.  He gave me a D-.

A year later, I re-took calculus at a university. My instructor was an unintelligible foreign professor, yet I aced all my exams. He followed the textbook. The next year I became a popular calculus math tutor.

So what happened to me? Why fail in one class and not another?  I’ve asked myself these questions hundreds of times, because my academic career was so mixed.

I succeeded when I worked alone and followed the book. I failed in a distracting and social environment. It is the story of my life.

So how does one with such a brain raise a chatty, precocious boy with autism?

I doodle (above), bounce on a yoga ball, and get excited about teaching my son math.

10 thoughts on “Boredom, A School Memoir

    1. Thank you Moosh. I read his wonderful address to the graduating class of 1987.

      I selected excepts from the essay to share.

      “From Joseph Brodsky’s “In Praise of Boredom”

      When hit by boredom, go for it. Let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is, the sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. The idea here, to paraphrase another great poet of the English language, is to exact full look at the worst. The reason boredom deserves such scrutiny is that it represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor.

      In a manner of speaking, boredom is your window on time, on those properties of it one tends to ignore to the likely peril of one’s mental equilibrium. In short, it is your window on time’s infinity, which is to say, on your insignificance in it.

      Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open. For boredom speaks the language of time, and it is to teach you the most valuable lesson in your life – the one you didn’t get here, on these green lawns – the lesson of your utter insignificance.

      “You are finite”, time tells you in a voice of boredom, “and whatever you do is, from my point of view, futile.” As music to your ears, this, of course, may not count; yet the sense of futility, of limited significance even of your best, most ardent actions is better than the illusion of their consequences and the attendant self-aggrandizement.

      For boredom is an invasion of time into your set of values. It puts your existence into its perspective, the net result of which is precision and humility.

      The former, it must be noted, breeds the latter. The more you learn about your own size, the more humble and the more compassionate you become to your likes, to that dust aswirl in a sunbean or already immobile atop your table. Ah, how much life went into those fleck! Not from your point of view but from theirs. You are to them what time is to you; that’s why they look so small. And do you know what the dust says when it’s being wiped off the table?

      “Remember me”,
      whispers the dust.

      I’d like to instill in you affinity for things small – seeds and plants, grains of sand or mosquitoes – small but numerous. I’ve quoted these lines because I like them, because I recognize in them myself, and, for that matter, any living organism to be wiped off from the available surface. “Remember me”, whispers the dust”. And one hears in this that if we learn about ourselves from time, perhaps time, in turn, may learn something from us. What would that be? That inferior in significance, we best it in sensitivity.

      This is what it means – to be insignificant. If it takes will-paralyzing boredom to bring this home, then hail the boredom. You are insignificant because you are finite. Yet the more finite a thing is, the more it is charged with life, emotions, joy, fears, compassion. For infinity is not terribly lively, not terribly emotional. Your boredom, at least, tells you that much. Because your boredom is the boredom of infinity.

      So try to stay passionate, leave your cool to constellations. Passion, above all, is a remedy against boredom.

      So “fling your soul upon the growing gloom .” Try to embrace, or let yourself be embraced by, boredom and anguish, which anyhow are larger than you. No doubt you’ll find that bosom smothering, yet try to endure it as long as you can, and then some more.

      Above all, don’t think you’ve goofed somewhere along the line, don’t try to retrace your steps to correct the error. No, as the poet said, “Believe your pain”. This awful bearhug is no mistake. Nothing that disturbs you is. Remember all along that there is no embrace in this world that won’t finally unclasp.”

      Copyright ©1995 by Joseph Brodsky – All rights reserved. Published in 1995 by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. First paperback edition, 1997.

      I plan on pondering this essay for the remained of the day. It seems so appropriate that my own swings from boredom to hyperactivity seem to mimic a cosmic principle. Being insignificant is a cause for joy.

  1. Your doodle is awesome!

    I am never bored. My mind is always up to something. I remember those ponytail holders I used to get fixated on them too. I had my own collection of them as well. I would get fixed on the swirls that were on my desk, it looked like swirly sand. I would get in trouble for not paying attention in class because I was staring at the swirls or the glare from the lights in the ceiling.They were florescent and drove me crazy with the buzz sounds. 🙂

    I failed in math in school, but I love math. I was put into intermediate classes because I could not follow my teachers well. I am very good at math though and I love teaching my kids the subject. I see numbers as living and breathing, with colors too. I see them in everything, everything is mathematical to me, but I was horrible in school math.

    I didn’t do well at all in school because of the social dynamics, I didn’t learn like other kids, and I was always in trouble for fidgeting, getting distracted, or being “rude” and not listening. I love to learn though, I take the MIT free online courses and I love them. I read like crazy and have to stop myself at times from consuming too much information. 🙂

    “I succeeded when I worked alone and followed the book. I failed in a distracting and social environment. It is the story of my life.”


    I get excited about teaching my kids. I love the freedom we have to learn in out-of-the-box sort of ways.

    1. Angel,

      I am glad to hear that boredom passes you by. I agree that the world is far to interesting and vital to be stuck in any state of boredom.

      The problem I have is being obligated to perform duties that I do not see a point to. For example, sitting in a math class, with all it’s buzzes and annoyances when I could be in the library reading mythology books.

      What teachers are learning now is how to accomadate different learning styles. Most school is directed toward a typical learning pattern. Folks like us need a different environment and approach. Every person on the spectrum has their own learning profile.

      You sound like a fun teacher, active, enthusiastic and self directed. I become easily scattered and fear that I could not homeschool (I am thinking of it). Teaching children should never be standardized in its entirety. Teaching “out of the box” gives children more flexibility and creativity in the long run.

      When I think back on the teachers of my life, the funky, different ones always taught me the most.

      Thank you for dropping by my blog! 🙂

  2. I love your post, I was SO bored at school I did everything I could to get out of it.
    This included making my own fake vomit, changing clothes and getting a bus to town to feed pigeons.
    Also if I couldn’t get out of it I had a pair of plyers and would unlock an unusable toilet and wire myself in it.
    I found an old lift shaft where I would climb a ladder and sit in the dark to avoid certain lessons.
    Boredom, bullying and a terrible fear of being made to read out loud.
    I am dyslexic and I have Aspergers.
    My Dad is Autistic and both my kids are Aspie, my daughter also has dyspraxia.
    I have learned to conform but still find most day to day experiences of others so boring.
    I love my own world and how I see things, the surface experiences of life and general chit chat bore me to tears.
    There is so many and much deeper more interesting things to search for and spend energy on.
    Poetry, art, music, signs, numbers, meanings, images all hiden in the fabric of life.
    I too learn best on my own, in my own way.
    Glad I found your blog.
    Love and hugs.
    Lisa. xx 🙂

    1. Lisa,

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog!

      You sound like a very fun person! I admire your get-out-of-school strategies. The idea of making your own fake vomit is hilarious and creative. I think I’ll mix up a bag for my next uncomfortable social obligation!

      It is a delight to meet fellow spectrumites, especially when they have kids. Sometimes I feel rather alone. Just knowing that Aspie moms are out there, being different, feeling different and reaching out makes my whole world shinier.

      I will be dropping by to visit you soon. Long live “poetry, art, music, signs, numbers, meanings, images all hiden in the fabric of life.!

      Lori 🙂

  3. “I spent the rest of class balancing the desk with my knees while I charted the progress of a rolling pencil.” Ha! I love this!

    I can really relate to this post on boredom. I could not follow along with lectures in school at all. I learn everything through text books & simply love reading them. I still read them voraciously, even long I’m long past school.

    I think a lot about homeschooling, too. I know I didn’t get a decent education. Since school came easily & social skills didn’t, I literally put all my energy into making/keeping friends. I often wonder what I could have been if I had gone to a more accelerated school with less social culture. My son is 6 & performs above grade level, but loves going to school with his neighborhood friends – I’m always agonizing over what the best learning environment is for him.

    1. Quirky,

      You make a good point about social skills. They were a painful distraction. I read my son’s social skills books and think, “Oh! so that’s what is going on!” what a blessing it would have been to have an actual class for the bright but nerdy with text books!

      At times I have trouble with the approach of social normalization in schools. Seriously, we NEED diversity! I feel the best education is strength based. I’m pretty lucky to have a good team for my son’s education, but I struggle when I see how overwhelmed he is. I also struggle because I know that homeschool is an undertaking I could not manage at this time. I dream of flexible, strenght based schooling!

      Thank you for dropping by and commenting! 🙂

      1. I was just having this conversation about social skills about 2 hours ago. I understand that the general consensus is Aspies should be mainstreamed because they mimic social behaviors, but I have trouble accepting that. Sure, I learned to mimic, but Aspies in general have trouble with abstract learning. In the context of social skills, my deductive reasoning was very misguided.

        If I’d had textbooks about it instead of being forced to put on different faces with different crowds, I could have stayed authentic throughout my interactions, while still maintaining social etiquette.

        My son had a picture book series when he was 3 or so and there was one about jumping in a playing. At 33, I was stunned. I never knew you could just jump in and play. All those years, I thought you had to be invited.

        I think right now neurotypicals are running the show as far as therapies and professional advice goes. But I’m not sure they fully understand the Aspie mind. I think there need to be a lot more Aspies in the mix, deciding how to help these kids.

    2. You wrote:

      “If I’d had textbooks about it instead of being forced to put on different faces with different crowds, I could have stayed authentic throughout my interactions, while still maintaining social etiquette. ”

      This is something I struggled with throught my life. I had a very hard time naming it, but you got it perfect–how do I “stay authentic while maintaining social ettiquette.”

      Maintaining this balance is the hardest thing for me, because it does not come automatically. Everytime I have a social obligation, I struggle and second guess myself. Having illustrated books does a world of good!

      “I think right now neurotypicals are running the show as far as therapies and professional advice goes.”

      Good grief. I’ve been very lucky so far, but I remember our first SLP. She had not clue and did nore harm than good. She was well meaning, but I wondered how you could be an SLP and not know basic techniques to engage an autistic child. Alas, that is another post! 🙂

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