I killed Boredom with a staple-remover


Skrik… Skrik… Ow.

That’s the noise I heard literally thousands of times a day when I worked as a staple-remover. Technically I didn’t even deserve that title. The actual staple-remover in the equation looked like this:

I was the fleshy, inefficient motor that served the staple-remover, feeding it from a never-shrinking pile of documentation from upstairs. Deep in the bowels (it smelled like it, anyway) of the flagship offices of a large and important investment bank, I was a minuscule part of this exciting and essential process:

  1. Important people upstairs yielded their detritus of received mail, printed email, rules and regulations, interdepartmental memos, etc to a giant bag which somehow made its way to the basement.

  2. I and my fellow basement apes stripped all staples from the paper, to prepare it for… The Scanning.

  3. Followed by the indexing fellows, who assigned each scanned page a reference number, so that it can be easily accessed by… that’s right, the people upstairs who created it in the first place.

If you think that last paragraph was boring you would, perhaps, have been unsuited to this particular line of work. There were perks, though: the occasional paper-cut spiced things up, and on weekends we got to listen to Death Metal (the manager was a fan, no one else was.)

It was there, crouched on my hard plastic chair over my bleeding fingers, that I really started to reap the fruits of having been an only child for the first ten years of my life. It’s easy to generalize, but one of the things you’ll find about only children is that — left to their own devices — they often develop a richer interior life. Coupled with the fact that we didn’t have a TV until I was nine; not only was I a rapacious reader, I developed a broad imagination which has alternately plagued and blessed me my whole life.

Most people would have seen a job like that as deathly boring, and I’ll admit that at first (after that brief honeymoon of thankfulness for having a job had worn off) I did too. It was almost comical in its monotony. Half the people I worked with had to stay dosed with various substances just to make it into the office.

After a short while, however, I managed to perform a kind of mental shibbuwichee on myself, and I started thinking of the long hours of repetitive labor as an opportunity. Removing staples requires so little of your active brain that you can hold quite complex thoughts at the same time.

I wrote some of the best things I’d ever written (at that time — I’m sure I’d despise ‘em now) as I sat on that crappy blue plastic chair, sprinkling staples onto the stained industrial carpet. Writing in your head takes a very different kind of process than writing on paper or computer. You need to hold all the previous work you’ve done in your head somewhere, and so by necessity you can’t get too detailed. Whilst you might come up with the odd pithy phrase, unless you have some mutant power it’s unlikely you can hold an entire story in your head complete. You’ll probably forget a lot, as well. I’ve found it most useful for writing outlines, because it forces you to condense thoughts into pithy sections, and — away from the solidity of the written page — it allows you to move around your thoughts non-linearly. It’s a lot easier to discard an idea if it’s still an idea rather than something you just spent half an hour typing out.

The important thing was that when I started seeing that time as an opportunity rather than a dolorous obligation, my entire experience changed. I almost looked forward to work (I won’t overstate it) and my shifts passed much more quickly. I got more writing done. I felt more in control of my life! Commanding the inside of your head in this way takes mental effort at first, until it becomes a habit, but there’s always been at least one possible thought to build up into a story or article. I can count the number of times I’ve been properly bored since then on one hand.

Taking advantage of potentially boring situations in this way is such second nature to me at this point that it almost seems redundant to write about it. I know I didn’t always think that way, though. Boredom is in a class of things with the common cold and eggplant. You never remember how much you hate it until it hits you.

Next time you find yourself getting bored — try writing something.