Walks, Boredom and Finding Magic in the Mundane

Photo by Esha Samajpati. All rights reserved ©

I am going to do the unthinkable and begin my post with a quote. Friedrich Nietzsche once said “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” While I don’t know about that, what I am certain about is that he wasn’t talking about neighborhood strolls with a couple of kids who have been cooped up at home for more than a month now.

I know we are immensely lucky to be able to hunker down when there are people out there risking their lives on a daily basis. My two year old doesn’t know that. Neither does the neighbor’s dog. So our walks often consist of each of us making sure that our dogs and kids maintain the appropriate distance of six feet while simultaneously squealing at each other.

My eight year old is perpetually bored. I tried telling him that boredom inspires greatness and how Neil Gaiman has advised wannabe writers to “get bored” and then I showed him this passage from Nicholas Carr’s blog

“We don’t like being bored because boredom is the absence of engaging stimulus, but boredom is valuable because it requires us to fill that absence out of our own resources, which is process of discovery, of doors opening. The pain of boredom is a spur to action, but because it’s pain we’re happy to avoid it. Gadgetry means never having to feel that pain, or that spur. The web expands to fill all boredom. That’s dangerous for everyone, but particularly so for kids, who, without boredom’s spur, may never discover what in themselves or in their surroundings is most deeply engaging to them.”

He nodded in agreement and went back to playing Minecraft. So as is the norm, we had to persuade him to accompany us for the afore-mentioned walk. Then we convinced him to wear a jacket, Spring being that in-between New England season where winter jackets are a tad too much but there’s still a hint of chilliness in a sudden gust of wind.

We have contemplated leaving him behind, but he is only eight years old and he needs the fresh air and exercise. I know what you are thinking, yes, dogs are easier. They like walks. So do toddlers. They are usually excited about the littlest of things like shoes and walks, but of course, they are also just as easily frustrated when things don’t go their way. Like when you try holding their hand during a particularly steep downhill stretch of the road that they would rather just tumble down?

So, to make the walk more bearable and somewhat less dangerous, we did a scavenger hunt inspired by an Instagram post from Earthplace.

Scavenger Hunt 2020.

We looked out for bugs, found rocks and twigs, compared colors of leaves, looked up at the cloud-filled sky and picked up acorns. We paid attention. And when you pay attention, the mundane becomes magic.

Paying attention.

Some people have this gift, they can easily find beauty in the everyday. Much like Jason Polan, who was working on drawing every person in New York (he drew over 30,000 people) and whose book Every Piece of Art in the Museum of Modern Art is an American treasure. He walked around with his pen and paper, drew what he saw, and by doing so he made the unremarkable remarkable.

We, on the other hand, took photos of what we saw. It kept the kids busy for a while. But still, there was no room for “truly great thoughts” as envisioned by Nietzsche. Most of our thoughts revolved around all the hand-washing and disinfecting that would follow this short expedition.

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