I have noticed that the least studied in Anthropology are the abstract feelings of humans that can be observed through their culture-specific actions and behaviors. Feelings such as hate, fear, regret, boredom are interesting and important to study as they are the basics or cores of bigger problems such as violence, rape, addiction, divorce, suicide, mental illness, etc. It is boredom that has tickled my brain lately. Three incidences have made me think that there is a need to study human feelings and how culture controls them.
A cousin of mine just woke up one day weeks ago feeling unhappy with his marriage and asking for a divorce from his wife. She said it was a midlife crisis, and he said, "to find real happiness." His wife is an American Caucasian from Kentucky, and he is of Chinese and Spanish ancestry brought up in an Asian culture. Traditionally, we do not have a concept of midlife crisis in the Philippines. What we have is boredom we call "bagot" or "inip". We also use "inis" (annoyance) or "pagod" (exhaustion) to mean something that is worse than boredom. Boredom in our culture has different levels of magnitude and effect.
A husband for instance can be annoyed by his wife's constant nagging, and that makes him tired of his marriage life. When my cousin's wife asked me for an advice after telling me that she might be boring to him now and that she should lose weight or have beautifying surgeries or spice their sexual activities, I could only tell her that she should speak to her husband about the real reasons behind his sudden feeling of estrangement. Midlife crisis or boredom in their case is just too deep to be simplified. In my culture and his husband's, what is boring can be what is tiring or what one hates. Even food, such as microwavable meals served daily that are becoming boring, can be an object of hate or annoyance that can affect a marital relationship.
I also have a neighbor who is a recluse single man in his fifties. I know because he is talked about in the neighborhood. He likes rummaging our huge garbage bins every Tuesday when they are full before the next day pick up. Everyone thinks he is a hoarder, but nobody dares to report him for fire or health hazards. His patio looks clean and uncluttered, and he is not an obnoxious neighbor. The only noise we hear coming out from his house is the endless series of television infomercials at night. I always hear a big-voiced man yelling and pitching different products until about past midnight.
My neighbor's life, I think, revolves around multiple forms of boredom that are complex and intertwined. Maybe he was bored with his life but not watching infomercials or checking garbage bins. Maybe Hollywood movies bore him to death or maybe he does not find real shopping interesting. His being alone can bore him too. Obtaining stuff by simply buying from stores can be boring to some people who hoard. There is no perceivable challenge compared to looking for free stuff and dump-diving. What has made me wonder is the eventuality after he gets bored with watching infomercials and taking stuff from the garbage bins. I hope it will not be severe mental illness or worse, suicide.
The last one is the case of my last boss, the former pastry chef of the hotel resort where I work. He just quit his job last week. Again, boredom was the culprit according to him. He wanted to write songs after ten years of tinkering and mastering ovens and mixers. Why some people change careers while others just extend or diversify theirs is interesting to me. When I got bored and tired of cooking last month, I did not quit. I requested that I be allowed to work two days a week baking and doing pastry even though my previous experience in the flour and sugar department was limited. I decided to give myself a big headache in measurement and calculation of ingredients alone than quit. I fight boredom by making and facing new challenges not quitting.
Is my coping mechanism cultural? Is the act of quitting as in the case of my old boss also falls within the ambit of culture? I know there is something economic involved. He could afford to quit because he must have saved enough. I have been in my current job not even a year. I cannot do what he did--sudden career change out of boredom. I have not encountered someone who is a relative or a fellow countryman who becomes something out of boredom. It is mostly due to economic needs and benefits. My sister started as a geologist back home but ended up a pediatric neurologist here, but she still finds tectonic plates and lahar flows interesting topics to talk about during dinner.
Career can be a thing of culture. In some societies or communities, even without labor-related castes, a doctor's son is a doctor, and so is his grandson. Being a doctor becomes a family "trademark". Like in my country, a doctor can be a businessman or a politician in a small community not out of boredom but due to monopoly of power and financial resources. A farmer does not quit farming just to become a fisherman. He can both fish and farm. He widens his resources that way. I learned early on that to look for an alternative to something boring, one must make and face challenges for new experience. We make "challenging" the opposite also of "boring".
I grew up in a culture where people do not just quit because something is boring or tiring. We try to make something boring or tiring interesting. That is how we challenge ourselves. Besides low suicide rate, our material culture can attest to that. Our famous mode of transportation we call "dyip' (jeepney) is anything but boring. It comes with its own colors, graphics, styles, statements, etc. It has been said that no two jeepneys are alike. There are jeepneys that become moving spaces for religion, pornography, literature, politics, business, and yes, visual arts. The most basic coping mechanism I learned is to fight boredom by making it interesting not quitting or changing path altogether. That, I think, is because of my culture that sees quitters as losers who should lose respect.
A poem about boredom:
My last ones,
What shall I do?
Should I trace the veins of the roses
Or connect the blinking stars?
Should I look for the lost penny
Or watch the cleaning infomercials?
Should I count the even backwards
Or recite the long prayer with no end?
Should I touch the stucco walls
Or run my fingers on the wood grains?
Should I smell the old gas oven
Or pick the drying leaves of cilantro?
Should I google my complete name
Or just read the thick yellow pages?
Should I eat the rice krispies one by one
Or search the whole pepper in my pasta?
Should I read the book about extinct birds
Or imagine the azure or emerald ocean?
What Shall I do
After popping these?
Pfft! Pfft! Pfft!