Thursday, April 11, 2013

J is for Jury Duty (the power and the price of boredom)

Last month, I had to report for jury duty for the first time. I did sort of know what to expect: mostly, sitting around in a room waiting for my name to be called. I attempted to be prepared. I brought four books with me, and some pen and paper in case any story ideas came to me (never leave home without it!).

I was told that most often you either get picked for a jury or let out before lunch. But on the day I went, they were trying to select jury for a six week trial. So they let us go to lunch, but then they held us. So we waited. And waited. And waited.

Not long after we got back from lunch, I was ready to crawl up the walls with boredom. I’d finished one book and was thoroughly sick of reading. Normally, I like to fill any stretch of unused time with Story Thoughts and Plotting. But something about that situation, about being stuck in one room and not being able to escape, killed every bit of creativity I had.

Ah, boredom. The force that takes free time and somehow turns it into mindless, soul-numbing frustration. Sounds like something to be entirely avoided at any cost, right?

My personal view of being bored: like my mind is suffering in a giant burning pit
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of a creative commons license. Attribution to Tormod Sandtorv / Darvasa gas crater panorama / CC BY-SA 2.0

Well, I’m not so sure.

In our society, boredom used to happen a lot more. Waiting in lines, sitting in train stations. But then someone invented the smart phone, and suddenly, the number of people staring into space decreased rapidly. I still have a regular old cell phone, and a new IPhone is not exactly in my budget. So for know I remain an observer.

But I have to wonder – what are we losing out on, now that we no longer have those moments to wonder and dream? How many genius ideas are we missing out on, because someone was playing Angry Birds rather than calculating a way to make the mailing of packages more efficient? Never mind any social contact that might be lost.

Of course, not all moments lend themselves to creative thoughts. Some moments, like my jury duty, are rather soul crushing. And we'll always have traffic (at least, those of us in So Cal will).

And that leaves me with the questions for today: how do you take an empty moment and make it creative rather than boring? Some things are out of our control: setting, noise, the number of idiots on the road. The amount of time we wait at jury duty.

My ideas for coping so far are few. All I've got is being prepared: bring a certain number of books. Or make preparations to encourage creativity, like making a list of story problems you want to solve before you even leave.

How do you make boredom disappear, or transform into something new?


  1. Sorry you have to go through the jury duty process. :( I've heard it's not fun. I, too, am without an iPhone (or smartphone, for that matter) so I tend to daydream when I'm bored, even when I could be writing.

  2. I've never had jury duty. Hope I never will. I refuse to put angry bird and such games on my smart phone. I don't want my kids to be plugged in at all times. I think that sometimes kids need to be bored and learn how to use their brain for entertainment. I'm a mean mom. :)

  3. I don't get the draw to games like angry birds. I tried it once and it frustrated the heck out of me. I do, however, check Facebook a lot, or read up on an agent's blog here and there. Five days a week I spend half an hour in my car waiting for my son's class to let out. Parking is such a nightmare that I would rather park and wait than get there on time. I bring books and a notepad, and spend the time working on something. Today I worked on editing a story. Tomorrow I'll probably finish it up, and type up my changes over the weekend. But I know how you feel. Some days there's just no getting around that mind-numbing chasm that is unfilled time.

    Sorry to hear about jury duty. Did you ever get selected, or did they cut you loose at the end of the day?

    1. I didn't get selected - which was a good thing, as they were picking for a six-week trial! I would not do well sitting on a jury for that long and having to pay attention.

  4. Good old jury duty. Yeah you can only read so long and get tired of sitting. Hopefully you have a good group to talk to. I never tried, I wondered if they let you play cards? Thanks for stopping by the blog!

  5. I don't want to say it and jinx it, so double knock on wood: I've never had to do jury duty. Blech. It sounds miserable. But I agree that we are not comfortable enough with boredom anymore. The quiet place in my head is a scary place if I'm not plotting a novel. I think it would probably be good to hang out there more often.

    1. Yeah, I was lucky for a long time, because 1) I was in school forever (one of the few upsides of grad school), and 2) because I kept moving around the country, but left California as my place of residence.

      Despite all my whining though, I won't be too upset the next time I get a summons. I'll be even more prepared then.

  6. I just got my letter! UGH!! Thank you for reminding me of the boredom. I'll take my laptop and books! Thank you!Peanut Butter and Whine

    1. Yeah, I think my life would likely have been much better if I'd taken my laptop! Hope your jury duty goes quickly and is relatively boredom-free.

  7. I often feel like the computer has eaten a lot of my creativity, just because it's so easy to mindlessly surf - and boy am I good at that!
    Forced time away is probably a good thing, maybe just not on jury duty.


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