Remember that episode of The Big Bang Theory when Sheldon started working with Penny at the Cheesecake Factory because he was stuck on his physics problem? Like Albert Einstein discovering special relativity while working at the Patent Office in Switzerland, Sheldon thinks that if he works a menial job, then he’ll have his own epiphany and find the solution to his problem. Spoiler: he does and it costs a plate its life after it falls to the floor and breaks.
Well, studies have shown that being bored, or working in monotonous and routine environments can enable creativity. When the mind is allowed to daydream and wander away from its routine, the mind can truly demonstrate what it’s capable of: thinking freely without limitation.
Although I remind myself of this every day, I’ve found over the last few months since the COVID-19 closures began that boredom isn’t as simple as having nothing to do. For those who are at home looking to find their ever out-of-reach creative drive, I completely understand. With the amount of stress that’s clustered with your everyday thoughts, menial boredom has been replaced with anxious boredom, increased by restriction.
Falling into my own rut of creativity, I kept thinking about the last time my complete boredom inspired a creative burst.
In 2015, the Pan American Games were held in Toronto and I was completing my first year of undergraduate studies. I was volunteering with the games, and because I needed a few weeks off part way through the summer, no one wanted to hire me for student jobs. From April to July, and all of August, I had nothing to do except sit at home, pat myself on the back after surviving my first year of university, and eat cookies.
I was beyond bored.
While I didn’t have any lingering anxiety (not pandemic level at least), I had decided to start doing some clean-up work around my house and helped my mother go through some old boxes and resort through what was inside.
I found a set of five tea cups with matching saucers that my mother thought would be cute candles, I however, thought they would be brilliant canvases. Now, this was beyond normal for me. I’m a creative at heart, but of all the mediums I’ve explored and have become comfortable working with, paint was not one of them. So looking back on this project of mine, I still can’t understand how I decided to paint acrylic paint on porcelain teacups and saucers with a tony brush in the style of Vincent van Gogh’s masterpieces. Five and a half teacups and saucers later, I have a set of them.
I primed the porcelain before starting and carefully made my way through each one, painting and experimenting and making it all up as I went. I binge-watched Game of Thrones up to season five while working on my Tea van Gogh collection, and I felt pretty productive even though nothing has really come of it since then. The tea cups look very whimsical next to all my decorations and I like them because from where I work, I can see them and be reminded of a time when I was truly creative from outside the box and my comfort level and found creativity out of boredom.
Also, the sixth tea cup, the half of “five and a half” was never finished. The Pan American Games started a day after I started it and I never finished it. It’s a testament to continuing work and the fact that in my mind, nothing is ever completely finished since there’s always some way to improve. (That’s a lie. It’s not finished because I haven’t been able to rediscover the crazed stage of boredom where I thought that painting with a tiny brush sounded like a good idea. I honestly still have no idea how my brain came to that conclusion the first time around).