How to be Bored

How to be Bored by Eva Hoffman is part of The School of Life, a series dedicated to life’s big questions.

I am a person who is forever consuming. Whether it’s podcasts, social media, Netflix, books or Youtube videos, there is always something filling up my mental space.

As I grow up and face my own life’s big questions (how is it possible for me to not know what I want? And, furthermore, if I can’t even figure myself out, how on earth am I supposed to deal with other people?!), it occurred to me that maybe I would have an easier time answering them if I spent half as much time listening to myself as I do… well, the entire internet. That maybe I was even using the internet as a way of deliberately avoiding doing so.

A couple days after thinking this, I found this book (while I was in Hay-On-Wye, actually). I glanced at the blurb and saw ‘We live in a hyper-active, over stimulated age. Uninterrupted activity can seem exciting, but it can also leave us emotionally disoriented and mentally depleted. How can we recover a sense of balance and richness of experience in our lives?’ … I was totally sold.

How to be Bored is a short book that contains a whole lot of wisdom and some simple reminders of how we might best spend our time on this planet. Here are just a few of my favourites:


On the internet…

‘We absorb large quantities of culture, which may be all to the good; but too often, we consume culture in the spirit of – well, consumerism. We do things in order to have done them, or simply to fill time with an activity.’

‘If we rush ceaselessly through disconnected activities without checking in on our moods or motives, we can lose track of ourselves; in a sense, we lose the ability to experience our experiences.’

On reading…

‘Books help to create a sense that we live in a shared world, or what some sociologists call “imagined communities”. But the fundamental reason for taking the time to read is because books (good books, that is; books that matter) are the best aid to extended thought and imaginative reflection we have invented.’

‘It is often a good idea to read the beginning of a book especially slowly and attentively; as in exploring a new place – or person – we need to make an initial effort of orientation and of empathy. Eventually, if we are drawn in, we can have the immensely pleasurable experience of full absorption – a kind of simultaneous focusing of attention and losing our self-consciousness as we enter the imaginative world of the book.’

On art…

‘… art reminds us that we are attached to the world through our physical perceptions – through our relish of the textures and colours of our surroundings – and it also helps us understand that the way we perceive the external world and human form is informed by our inner vision. Hostility or fear makes the objects of our vision ugly; on the other hand, aesthetic appreciation arises out of an intense appreciation or cherishing – a way of looking that requires attentiveness and a kind of love.’

On music…

‘Being immersed in the musical language… reminds us that we have inner lives that are more than superficial or politely socialised; that we have the potential for powerful feelings and responses; and that if we consign ourselves to functioning only on the surfaces of ourselves we lose rich dimensions of experience, and a measure of our humanity.’

On making decisions…

‘Arriving at complex life decisions – decisions that involve not only commodities, but ourselves – cannot be done by statistic calculation, if only because we are not statistically constructed.’

‘We need to ponder not only what we are like, but who we want to be – what qualities or attitudes in ourselves we want to affirm, and what we do not admire. In other words, we need to create our own guideposts for important decisions – our own ethical, as well as emotional, criteria for choice.’

On life…

‘It is only when we give ourselves a chance to nurture all our faculties and ways of understanding the world that we can begin to feel ourselves to be rich in internal resources, and to experience richly.’

The Art of Asking

Considering the amount of posts I’ve written concerning memoirs by ladies, it’s weird to me that I haven’t yet talked about The Art of Asking, by Amanda Palmer.

Chances are you’re wondering who Amanda Palmer is.

She’s a singer-songwriter.

She’s also a lot of other things. She’s a music industry rebel who lied her way out of her record contract, then went on to run a record-breaking Kick Starter campaign where her fans (including myself) collectively provided over a million dollars to fund her independent record and subsequent tour. She has since turned to Patreon where fans (including myself) pay her per thing released (as of now she earns $35,312.82 per thing). She encourages illegally downloading her music, so long as you share it with your friends. Almost all of the music she has produced independently of her ex-label you can either pay what you want for or have for free. When she’s touring she couch surfs, usually staying with fans.

She is a loved woman.

A lot of people hate her.


A really great introduction to Amanda and her book is her TED talk. I really recommend it.

In her wonderful foreword, Brene Brown says of The Art of Asking:

‘… this book is not about seeing people from safe distances – that seductive place where most of us live, hide, and run to for what we think is emotional safety. The Art of Asking is a book about cultivating trust and getting as close as possible to love, vulnerability, and connection. Uncomfortably close. Dangerously close. Beautifully close. And uncomfortably close is exactly where we need to be if we want to transform this culture of scarcity and fundamental distrust.’

I have never read a memoir like The Art of Asking. In terms of thematics, it has much of what I’ve written about previously. It considers everything that’s harmful in the way we live our lives, and offers an alternative. The way it does it, however, I haven’t really seen before.

In terms of chronology, this book is all over the place. It is a bucketful of puzzle pieces tossed into the air, somehow falling into the perfect portrait of Amanda’s life and values. The book isn’t separated into chapters so much as vignettes – Amanda marrying her husband, Neil Gaiman, Amanda graduating from college and not wanting a job because she wants to make art (sounds so familiar), Amanda’s human statue years, Amanda meeting and falling in love with Neil Gaiman, Amanda’s escape from her record label, her disasters, etc. I think she chose to write the book in this style because in the end the timeline doesn’t really matter. Throughout her life and career Amanda Palmer has been driven by one value: her connection with others through art. That means radical trust. It means loving without question. It means being able to ask for help when you need it.

I think what is particularly compelling in Amanda’s version of this story is that she’s honest about the fact that this isn’t easy. She didn’t hesitate asking her fans to help her make her record, but when it came to her husband offering her a loan to see her through until the aforementioned funds came in, the choice was agonising.

I so admire people like Amanda Palmer, who live their life in a way that seems from the outside at least, to completely speak to their values. I love to read about people who live their lives in purposeful and compassionate ways. This book is an inspiring and heart-opening read for anyone who would like to stop worrying and let people help.

Also, if you didn’t already, you will an enormous crush on Neil Gaiman by the end.