“Hey, Liz. You okay?” Rufus asked as he drove her home. “You’re so quiet.”
“I’m sorry,” she replied. “I guess I’m lost in my thoughts. This afternoon was—well—weird.”
“Amber has that effect on people.”
“I don’t know her all that well and I can’t figure out why she acts the way she does.”
“If it’s any consolation, I’ve known Amber for years and I still can’t figure her out. Maybe she’s hiding some deep dark secret. Or maybe she’s just cray-cray.”
“Has she always been so, um, pushy with you?”
“Oh yeah,” Rufus answered. “The first time I met her, she kissed me and then smacked my face.”
“That sounds annoying. And painful.”
“I don’t know why she does that. It’s always in front of Ellowyne. Maybe Amber does it to irk Ellowyne.”
Well, it irked Lizette. She hoped that someday Rufus would give up his quixotic pursuit of Ellowyne and turn his attention toward her!
Rufus chuckled. “Don’t let Amber bum you out. She’s irritating and obnoxious. But I guess she’s never boring!”
She pondered Rufus’ words the rest of the day. Boring. He said Amber was never boring. Ellowyne was never boring, either, even though she constantly complained about being bored. What was it that Ellowyne once said? It was after their Introduction to Philosophy class. The professor discussed Descartes and his most famous statement: “I think, therefore I am.” After class, Ellowyne quipped, “I brood, therefore I am.”
When she got home, she opened her laptop without even checking her email or Facebook. A newly declared psychology major, she was curious about the concept of boredom, especially ennui, since that was Ellowyne’s chief complaint.
But what she thought would be a quick search ended up taking hours. Lizette pored over information gleaned from disparate sites ranging from message boards and blogs to abstracts of scholarly papers. She read about existential ennui and four—no, wait—five different types of boredom. And then she had an “A-Ha” moment, finding something so mind-boggling that she had to share it with Rufus and Pru right away. She texted them and asked them to meet her at Molly’s Cupcakes the very next day.
When Rufus and Pru walked into the cupcake shop, they found Lizette waiting for them at a booth in the corner with coffee and cupcakes.
“Hey, Liz! What’s up?” Rufus asked.
Prudence sipped some coffee and reached for a decadent chocolate cupcake. “This must be pretty big since you’re bribing us with coffee and treats. Thank you!”
Rufus also thanked Liz and noticed that there were only three mugs of coffee and only three cupcakes. “Where’s Ellowyne?” Rufus asked, his eyes scanning the place to see if she was there.
“I, um, I didn’t invite her,” Lizette answered. Rufus cocked an eyebrow and turned toward Prudence, who glanced back at him, wide-eyed with surprise. Lizette continued to speak. “I love Ellowyne like a sister but what I have to share with you might be difficult for her to hear.”
Prudence leaned forward at the table with her arms crossed. “You said you wanted to talk about Amber. Why would that be tough for Ellowyne?”
“You’ll see,” Lizette answered. “Rufus, do you remember yesterday when you were talking about Amber never being boring? That got me thinking about boredom. And of course, I thought about Ellowyne and her ennui and how she always complains about being bored. So that’s why I didn’t invite her.”
Prudence and Rufus nodded their heads in agreement. They knew that Ellowyne could get rather prickly if anyone so much as mentioned her ennui.
Rufus asked, “Is there a difference between boredom and ennui? I thought they were the same thing.”
“I did, too,” Liz said. “And some sources, like online dictionaries or thesauruses say that they are. But others say that ennui is a state of being, an existential phenomenon really, while boredom is a temporary state of mind. There are even five different kinds of boredom.”
“Well, there’s the kind of boredom you have in a class you don’t like,” said Rufus, who declared a double major in engineering and statistics when he was admitted to the university. “Like that tedious Introduction to Philosophy class. Or Freshman Comp.”
Prudence grinned, rolled her eyes, and playfully elbowed him. “I think statistics is the most boring class ever!”
They all laughed. “But as far as I can tell,” Lizette said. “That really is a type of boredom. Look at this.” She read from the website of a favorite publication, Mental Floss. “The first category is indifference, in which someone is relaxed and mellow, not stimulated or excited about something.”
“Would that include being in an utterly boring class?” Prudence asked.
“Actually, no,” Lizette answered. If you’re in a boring class, on some level you’re agitated or disturbed about something. Indifference mans you simply do not care. Rufus, your feelings about Freshman Comp and Prudence, your feelings about statistics represent your investment in these courses. You’re bored because you want to be doing something else. Now, if you were indifferent, you simply wouldn’t care. And that brings us to the next type of boredom, apathy.”
Rufus asked, “Isn’t apathy the same thing as indifference?”
“Actually, not in this context. Apathetic boredom is common among high school and college students. Its like learned helplessness. You’re not in control of a situation and have low levels of stimulation or arousal. But you have high levels of aversion. So it’s like the class you don’t like. You really don’t like it and you actively try to put off doing homework or attending class.”
“And you only study if you have a test,” Rufus added as he gently elbowed Prudence, who made a funny face at him.
“So Liz, what’s next?” Pru asked.
“Well, this one is called calibrating boredom, and it often happens when people are performing repetitive tasks. It’s like how you might daydream or want to do something different than what you’re actually doing”.
Prudence chimed in. “Rufus, don’t you ever let you mind wander when you’re doing handyman chores at Ellowyne’s grandmother’s house?”
He blushed a little and chuckled. “Who? Me? Daydream? Never!”
When the three friends stopped laughing, Lizette suggested they look at the fifth, rather than the fourth type of boredom. “This category of boredom is called searching, which is when you experience negativism and restlessness. This can actually be helpful in that such restlessness can sometimes bring about creativity because you’re searching for something to alleviate your boredom.”
“Okay. So boredom can sometimes be a good thing,” Rufus said. Kinda like the way Ellowyne writes poetry—“
“Or how she goes to thrift shops and upcycles old clothes into funky, one of a kind fashions,” Prudence added.
Lizette nodded. “Exactly! Ellowyne is creative, no doubt about that!”
“And she’s bored,” Pru interjected.
Lizette bit her lower lip and inhaled sharply. “The fourth type of boredom—remember, we skipped that—is reactant. People who have this kind of boredom can get aggressive. They react—maybe they overreact—to stimuli and are prone to lashing out. They blame their boredom on someone else, a teacher, perhaps, or family members who they see as having control over their lives. In short, they act out—“
Prudence leaned over the table and said, “Because that’s their way of dealing with their boredom!”
Rufus’ mouth gaped open. “Is that why Amber dresses like a skank and kisses and slaps me and Penn? She’s bored?”
“Yeah, it sure seems so,” Lizette responded. “Look at her. She has all the material possessions she could possibly want but she’s still bored. Her parents have taken her to Europe several times and when anyone asks her about her travels, she just sighs and looks uninterested. And one time she left her Kindle open and I saw that she was reading The Bell Jar.”
Wide-eyed, Prudence said, “Sylvia Plath is the patron saint of disaffected young women. Ellowyne reads her poetry all the time!”
“Now, you said that boredom is a state of mind while ennui is a state of being,” Rufus said. “We know that Ellowyne has ennui but is it possible that Amber has it, too?”
The three looked at each other. Lizette bit her lip and said, “I think so. Amber’s secret is that she has ennui.”