Turn right here

A photo of a rainbow sculpture made of plastic paint buckets.

My middle school students sometimes complained their tasks were boring. I told them that boredom was not in the task. It was in the person. I told them any task was interesting if you approached it right.

This was, I knew, too complicated a thought for them. They wanted to believe that it was the world that was deficient in interest, not the operations of their brains. But it’s what I believed, and I wasn’t going to lie to them.

I have taught every grade from pre-kindergarten to college. People used to ask me if I didn’t find teaching young children boring. No, I thought they were astonishing. They were aliens. Their thinking was utterly unpredictable and yet entirely consistent.

I admit that there have been many days when I couldn’t bring myself to do something tedious. If I looked closely, that was usually because there was some risk involved. What if it didn’t work out? What if I was wasting my time? What if I was judged by the product?

But time cannot be wasted. Time is time. It is not a substance you can hoard or spend. Here I am, in this moment. I might as well take an interest.

For instance, every day since the pandemic began, I have gone out for a walk. Often, I take the same route every day. Yet it’s never boring. For example, yesterday I walked out to the park near me, where I have walked a hundred times.

But yesterday, instead of going straight up one hill, I turned right. And I discovered some wonderful things I hadn’t seen before, even though they were right next to my normal path.

For instance, a pair of perfect white mushrooms in the middle of a vast mowed green lawn. A park house behind a wrought iron fence. The statue of someone who was sheriff and mayor of Philadelphia and head of the park commission. An installation of rainbow-colored paint buckets someone had installed on an empty plinth where another statue had long been removed. And a framed loving-kindness meditation, propped against a rock near a stream.

That’s one way to avoid boredom. Go for a walk. Turn right instead of going straight.

Here are some other ways:

  • Walk your path in reverse. Look up. Look down. Look behind you. The other side and the underside of everything is unexpected.
  • Judge not, lest ye be bored. Really look at it before you decide against it. I saw a tiny tomato on the sidewalk on the way home today. It was discarded garbage, but it was also a glorious rush of color.
  • Take a photo of the edges of something or the intersections of something, whether it’s a real photo or just looking through a viewfinder you make with your fingers.
  • If you normally walk with earbuds in, take them out, or vice versa.
  • Choose a theme based on the first thing you notice. Is today about the bronze insets in the sidewalk? Or is it about house numbers? Or fences? Is it about the color magenta? Or is it about the traces people leave behind them? Is it about fallen signs, or cats in windows?

Turn right instead of left, or go down a street you’ve never noticed before. Be brave. And then go home and do something else slow and routine, like mopping a floor or watering your plants, and let it surprise you.

3 thoughts on “Turn right here

  1. Mary Anne says:

    I’ve been doing this for almost every day of quarantine too. I take a million camera photos and post them on FB with a couple of themes (flowers, flags, non-human “faces” – gnomes, cats, flamingos, etc-, BLM). The rules also include: no people, no statues/photos of possibly sincere religious belief, no leaving the public sidewalk onto people’s walkways or lawns (with one or two exceptions where I know the people really well). My FB “flower” album has more than 2000 images in it at this point (posted in batches). Looking for those things helps me stay mindful on my walks. People keep asking me how I can keep finding new things, but it’s as you say — walk the loop the reverse of usual sometimes. Go left instead of right. Focus on ground level this trip, focus on above eyeline next trip.

  2. DMT says:

    You too! I wonder how many of us there are.
    I started the day we locked down in March. My rules are also that there should be no actual people in the photos, but many of my pictures are of “human beings just out of the picture.” That is, evidence of humanity in its absence. Empty fireworks boxes, posters, graffiti, park trees, trash, mossy walls, hiking paths, railroad tracks, vestiges of old destroyed buildings, they all belong. Even the photos of flowers are mostly drawn from people’s front-step pots and windowboxes.
    I save them to Google Photos in albums, and when we hit the summer solstice I used Google Photos to make printed photo book I titled PANDEMIC SPRING. When all this started, I couldn’t imagine we were going to go past midsummer, but now I have a new Google Photos album called PANDEMIC SUMMER 🙁
    A couple of friends have asked me how I kept seeing new things, too, as if my environment was somehow richer than theirs.

    1. Mary Anne says:

      I *do* live in a particularly quirky neighborhood, but the flowers keep changing and given the amount of gardening people are doing, I’m more surprised that people can’t see the little oddities of their own neighborhoods. The trick really lies in the noticing not the neighborhood itself….I get a lot of that same comment about “how do you see all those new things”

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