Author Archives: Jenny Sullivan

The Battle of Boredom

Is boredom necessarily a negative experience? Often we view boredom with a certain distaste or dread, which leads to the conclusion that it is not good to be bored. Yet, if probed more deeply, this distaste might reveal itself as fear, perhaps a fear of silence or the absence of entertainment.

Why do we fear silence and what about it do we fear? Since fears are often irrational, we must consider whether this is a sensible fear, and if so, whether it is worthwhile to act in obedience to this fear. I think the fear of silence is increasingly prevalent in a world dominated by noise. The more normal it becomes to live with this “noise” as our constant companion, the less likely we are to recognize the fear of silence as fear at all. It might instead be defined positively as a desire for stimulation or some more productive and efficient use of time.

Yet we are losing something inestimably important when we simply let silence slip out of the equation and repress the fear that forbids its existence. Silence can be connected to openness, to self, and to being. I want to discuss openness first. Silence necessarily involves space and time, space and time that are unfilled though they have the capacity to be filled. This can be looked at both negatively and positively, and for now, I am just going to speak about the former. Openness can be seen as negative because it is unpredictable. Something that is unfilled could become filled with anything, whether desired or undesired. Such a something also lacks a fixed structure or predetermined shape. This ties into our terror of the unknown. We constantly grasp after control- we want to be able to control and manage our lives and to do so with certainty. But silence necessarily requires that we relinquish some measure of control, that we are open to the moment that is itself open. Silence can surprise us; it can deviate from our desires.
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My Father, The Runner

My dad has always been a runner, and this is something I have always known, as far back as my memory stretches. In a sense, it was built into the routine of shared family life, woven through sunny Saturday afternoons and frost-tipped mornings that lingered in the wake of a snowfall. He would always tell me (and tells me still) that a real runner can run in all weathers. The specific circumstances were usually irrelevant: my dad is a runner, and so he ran.

I myself was not a runner, not really, until this past summer (shortly before I began this series about running). Yet the impact of my father’s running on my childhood was not restricted to the domain of running itself. It had broader implications; it stretched beyond its literal significance, unveiling truths about strength, perseverance and character. There is a steadiness involved in such dedication that sees the runner leave the house in good days and bad, setting off down the street alone, without celebration, without the mere goal of external achievement. For my dad, running has never been about checking off boxes but about living more fully, connecting on a deeper level with the self.
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Her

A little while after watching the movie “Her,” I still find myself pulled in by the images and ideas sown throughout the film, which haunt me as though they appear on a hologram like those in the movie’s slightly futuristic setting.

Perhaps all this (the word “haunt” in particular) sounds like a negative rather than positive description, but negativity is not at all what I mean to evoke. “Her” was utterly compelling, and I found it so from start to finish. I know this to be the case, because I actually had a snack sitting beside me for half of the movie that went completely untouched (this is unheard of!) Yet, as suggested by my opening statement, “Her” wasn’t always easy to watch. At some points, it was uncomfortable and even unpleasant. However, this sort of experience is not something that should be eradicated from art. Rather, it is and can be a meaningful aspect of art; one might go so far as to say that this can be necessary for art.

I could expand on this idea a lot more- of the difficulty of art (both in understanding and in the experience of receiving)- but there are so many things which I want to discuss from this film, so perhaps this “difficulty” should be the subject of a future post. Suffice it to say that a thing does not possess value based on its digestibility: that is, how easy or hard it is, or how pleasant it is. The latter would be the case if pleasure were synonymous with value, or if pleasure alone were capable of providing fulfillment; yet neither one of these aligns with reality. Art strives to capture something real and transcendent; it seeks a holistic vision of the universe, to unite different aspects of experience. If it remains merely at the level of pleasure, the result might be a final product designed only for entertainment or escapism. Good art- true art- might be uncomfortable simply because it is true. The experience might have uncomfortable moments, but these are necessary in order to lead to another subsequent moment, or to a profound insight which would not be possible without the “unpleasantness.”
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The Day the Shining Fell

He saw himself a certain way
As he had always done
He saw himself with certain flaws
From which he could not run.

These flaws were buried deep below
That smooth and shining face
And lies were laced with laughter as
He lived within that place.

The self he saw was not enough,
Had never been and could not be,
And if another saw the same,
They too, he thought, would choose to flee.
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Sacred Silence

In our current day and age, it is more important than ever that we allow ourselves to reclaim the sacred space of silence. We must rip this silence from the science of use. Unclench those tightened fingers and pour the silence into the well, of which we cannot see the bottom, but from which springs the unexplained life.

We treat silence too often like an object, something to be manipulated and molded, squeezed and compressed into the most useful shape. We ought to treat it more like a living, breathing thing, for in silence dwells the living presence of God (and His own beating heart). In silence is the infinite, for in silence there is the perpetual potential for the not-yet to become the now. Silence is a gift which promises the richness of life, a gift which is ever ours, should we choose to open it for what it is, rather than reshaping it into what we have decided it should be.

Experience and Observation

The sky’s blue is almost as rich as the river below it. Sheltered beneath the paternal curving branches and watching as the birds explore with song, I think, and the thoughts come with ease. I think that it is easy to see beauty on a day such as this. Spring has accelerated the water’s pace and filled it to bursting with joy. The new grass is animated by the breeze, which makes it dance. And warmth pulses with an agreeable freshness.
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Petty Plans

I like to plan, and have always considered planning to be a good and worthwhile (even necessary) activity. However, the more that I think about it, the more I begin to question the value of planning and to see the matter as up for debate.

Is it good to plan? First of all, I should say that such a question is unanswerable, or that it would yield an invalid answer. To talk about the value of planning, we need to make a distinction not only between different types of plans, but between different circumstances in which planning might arise. This suggests that planning does not have an intrinsic value so much as a contingent one. Whether or not planning is good depends on multiple factors surrounding the planning process, not on the joy of the planning itself (though planning can indeed be joyful at times).

We are often told (and probably tell ourselves) that we ought to “live in the moment.” I wholeheartedly agree with this advice and am all for advocating mindfulness in an age of distraction (though I do think this advice is frequently delivered in a superficial way). On the other hand, we, as human beings, are oriented toward the future. Our lives and our selves are not split apart into separate and unrelated pieces (or moments). Identity is continuous and stretches over the course of many, many moments (too many to count). As humans we are also beings endowed with the capacity for self-reflection. We are not mere machines acting according to instinct and doing the things that have been programmed within us to do. Rather, we have the ability both to act and to think critically about those same actions, to engage in self-evaluation and to develop hopes, dreams and ideas pertaining to self and reaching towards our future life.

Looked at in this way, is it any wonder we plan? Could it even be said that we are planning beings?
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He does not know

He does not know
He crouches by the flames with hope
That warmth might bar the way from fear
And yet the other people crowd
And far away the people jeer
He does not know
The man; now fear is pulsing
Like a drug within his veins
And the drive to live remains
(But what a life is left?)
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