• Fearsome Critters

Boredom is a Luxury — Alyssa Oursler

I’m in Tahoe, in a room of wallpaper, wondering how people can feel so certain about patterns. Later, I’m pretending to be in Paris and in love. In between, I’m lying next to him, making plans. “Let’s move to Noe Valley!” I say. “I wish we could take downtown Berkeley and put it by the beach,” I say. “Let’s move to Berkeley Beach!” He laughs. Pats my head. Tells me I’m cute. Agrees to the one that doesn’t exist. I try to explain to him how things get stuck in my head, the way the word stuck is lodged there now. “It’s like when I finished The Martian and asked if you liked the ending,” I say. He looks at me, blankly, again. I say: “You were talking about the plot. I was talking about that one paragraph.” I don’t say: “Fundamentally human” are the words I remember most. I remember the first time I told him I was writing a book. It was Wing Wednesday, long before the weekend with the wallpaper. “They’re personal essays,” I explained. “Just about my life.” “So the book would be like: I’m having wings with this guy Don,” he offered. I laughed. Shook my head. Told him I already had the essays for the book outlined. Told him the book was full. “What if something new happens?” he asked. I told him that story sometime after the weekend with the wallpaper. It almost feels like I made it up. He seems surprised by the things I’ve memorized. Tells me I’m cute. Pats my head. Forgets them all over again. Like, one time early on we were going to see a movie and I suggested he was just hanging out with me because he was bored. His face was serious; I remember because we as a couple were not. He shook his head. “That’s not true.” An essay by Gay Talese advises me to not worry about the precise things people say, but to focus on understanding how it is they think. “Let’s move to Noe Valley!” I say. I don’t say: “I just wish something life-changing would happen,” because I said that to my mom once and she replied: “Be careful what you wish for. You might wake up one day without an arm.” I don’t say, “I’m bored,” because I say it to my mom all the time and she says: “Boredom is a luxury.” Once, my mom said we could do something in a few minutes. I was four. I impatiently asked how many a few was; she said “three to fifteen.” It stuck. She tells the story still, just as I still use that time frame for a few. “You never know what people are going to remember,” she says. I remember. I remember phrases and paragraphs: Lena Dunham writing about girls whose passions do not stir her, Roxane Gay writing about the man she left behind, Chloe Caldwell remembering the word unmoored, the Wolf of Wall Street saying he had to keep moving or he would die. I remember book titles that read like song lyrics: What’s yours is not yours. All stories are love stories. I remember “that’s not true” and “what if something new happens?” I remember. I remember that weekend in Tahoe; I was with Don in the room with the wallpaper and I felt stuck. All I could think about was how all his friends seem to want the same thing season after season after season and how those things don’t stir me. I’m in Tahoe, in a room of wallpaper, wondering how people can feel so certain about patterns. I wrote it down, I remember. I tried to get it out of me. But it was already on repeat.