I can run pretty far.
Not fast. But far. And for long periods of time. A few hours, if I want to. Clearly, I enjoy talking about it. When the Japanese craze of mundane Halloween costumes made it to Australia last year, my wife dryly suggested that I could wear my running gear and call myself Guy Who Tells You How Far He Jogged This Morning.
When I find a fellow running enthusiast, a topic that usually comes up is, “what do you listen to?”
“Nothing,” I reply. No podcasts. No music. Nothing. Just me and my head.
“Doesn’t that get boring?”
“So, what do you do?”
We’re taught that boredom is this horrible affliction and to be avoided at all costs. Boredom means you’re not getting the most out of life. It means you’re missing out. You’re not at the centre of the action. And the reason we’re taught this is simple:
It makes it easier to sell us stuff.
People who are content to be alone with their thoughts don’t make very effective consumers. It’s much easier to convince someone that they need a particular product if they’re in a constant state of anxiety – dreading the moment when the noise around them fades and they’re left with nothing but their own brain to keep them company.
Living this way has turned us into stimulation junkies – constantly craving another hit of that sweet dopamine that comes with buying a new pair of jeans. Or watching the latest episode. Or scoring likes on Instagram.
I am just as guilty of all of these as the next person. And over time we’ve developed ultra-convenient ways to deliver products to each other the second we think of them. If we don’t feel like cooking, we can have someone bring us food. If we don’t want to go out, we can socialise online. There are even apps that offer to alleviate the boredom of meditation, which I can’t help but wonder might undercut some of the key benefits of meditating in the first place.
In You’re Not Special, I wanted to explore the long-term effects of a hyper-stimulated, consumer-based world on the aspects of our lives that require effort. If we constantly expect to get what we want the moment we think of it, what impact does that have on our ability to navigate the inevitable peaks and troughs of complex adult relationships?
“Some things,” one character says, “probably the best things, take work.” Like a muscle that needs resistance in order to grow, the human spirit begins to atrophy if it has nothing to push against. We need to be challenged in order to develop resilience because without resilience, who are we but passive, entitled consumers, incapable of the compromises and sacrifices that real love will ultimately ask of us?
My play has absolutely nothing to do with running.
I’m also not the first person to point out the parallels between life’s challenges and the challenges of endurance sports. Haruki Murakami, to name one example, did it in his beautiful memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running and, for the record, he does listen to music while he runs a lot further than me.
But as I grow older, I try to apply the lessons I learn about myself in one scenario to other aspects of my life. Working in theatre has been great for that. And so has running.
I don’t listen to music while I run because I don’t want technology to try to convince me that I’m not running – that I’m not working hard. I want my legs to hurt and for sweat to sting my eyes and most importantly, for my brain to be comfortably uncomfortable while I work towards a singular goal because I think that’s the best way for us to get where we want to go in life.
But pretty far.
You’re Not Special plays at Kings Cross Theatre, March 5-20.