Thursday, 29 January 2009

bored and terrified


War has been described (by someone I am too lazy to look up) as lengthy periods of boredom punctuated by moments of indescribable terror. That sounds credible to me. Sergeant Bilko is my hero to end all heroes, but I know that army life is not really that funny. Training, marching around, more training ... and then BLAM your buddy gets his face shot off.
What I did not fully realize until yesterday is that the two contrasting emotions can co-exist.
Driving through the snow and slop yesterday, I discovered that it is possible to be bored and terrified at the same time. This I would not have thought possible. But there I was, crawling along the highway at less than a quarter the legal speed limit (which means about a sixth of the normal driving speed) nose to tail with all the other vehicles, yawning and anxious. I hate driving slowly. I get mesmerised by the red lights around me. I roll my eyes, flick the radio on and off, compose sonnets to my landlord rhyming gouge with ouch, and leaking sink with freaking drink. I long to be anywhere else. But yesterday, despite the slow slow going, I had to pay constant attention to my car, because I never knew when it would hit an extra slippery patch and decide to try to spin out of its lane. Every few miles we came across vehicles which had crashed into each other or the barrier. We slowed to a walking pace, and crept around them as they sat there embarrassed, with crumpled fenders, headlights facing the wrong way, waiting for tow trucks.
I was reminded of a herd of cattle, moving stolidly across the range except for the odd one or two who decide, for no reason, to start kicking out and bellowing and generally going crazy. The herd parts around them and leaves them to their destiny.
Boredom is tiring, and so is fear. Put them together with vigilance, and a short trip can seem to take days. When I finally got home yesterday evening I could not find the scotch bottle fast enough.
I have been thinking of other fear-boredom combos, without a lot of success. Imagine editing a legal manuscript for typos, knowing that if you missed one you would be set on fire. Something like that.
I have another trip to make today. I do hope the plows have been busy. I'm not looking forward to a repeat of yesterday. I think I'd almost (almost) prefer to go to join the army.

5 comments:

SplitRail said...

I may very well be mistaken, but I believe it may have been George W who turned the phrase "lengthy periods of boredom punctuated by moments of indescribable terror". I think he was talking about his presidency.

Richard Scrimger said...

Ha ha. That may have been his view of his presidency -- ours would have reversed the two emotions. RS

Letitia said...

Boredom and terror cannot exist at the same time because boredom is a neurological state of too little transmission via neurotransmitters such as dopamine to the reward centers of the brain. Terror is the total overwhelm of the system with stress hormones and signals. Terror is too much stimulation, with higher bp, heart rate etc. Boredom is too little stimulation.

So your traffic situation is totally understandable. More about boredom is at my blog ThePowerOfBoredom.com

Letitia

Richard Scrimger said...

Thanks for the expert commentary. I'm sure you are right about how I felt, Letitia. You know, that's a beautiful name (sorry, channelling Sgt Bilko there). I wonder what my real feelings were, if not fear/boredom? Any ideas? RS

Anonymous said...

I totally see your point. Even the greatest adventure story, presenting the same plot point over and over, like a skipping dvd, would be boring. Glad to hear you made it (and got the Scotch bottle open). Always good to celebrate home.

Sand