2: Down with Dullness
Buffalo Commercial, December 15, 1924.
Your mileage may vary on the last sentence of this nearly century-old column I recently stumbled upon, but Mr. Adams makes an important point: if you take even a few seconds to look around and soak up the details, life is not dull. It’s a way of being that has shaped my life and work.
In my final “Historicist” column for Torontoist, I discussed those who declared that Toronto’s history was boring. From trolls who popped out of their basement hideouts to provide their expert opinion that nothing interesting ever happened in this city to professional blowhards like Conrad Black who believe Toronto “lacks history, drama, and flair,” they echoed a belief that grand, earth-shaking events have to occur before a place is worthy of anyone’s interest.
This view of history, especially local history, ignores the fascinating stories that make up our day-to-day lives. Gaining perspectives on how people lived, how their environment shaped their actions, the societal forces which motivated their thoughts, the little things that linger into the present or leave mysteries waiting to be solved and people to be rediscovered. Discovering how issues that currently affect us evolved, and how often we settle into smugness or resign ourselves to accept a particular situation. Rekindling memories of places and people you’d forgotten about, or have long missed.
Scratch the surface, and that sense of boredom fades away. There will always be exceptions, such as my recent experiences browsing longwinded 19th century speeches and sermons, where the fascination lies in what motivated the speaker to drone on for so long.
“The typical product of strolling is knowledge that merely cannot be acquired merely by studying maps, guidebooks and statistics. Rather, it is a matter of the body, knowing the city by pacing off its streets and neighbourhoods, recovering the deep, enduring traces of our inhabitation by encountering directly the fabric of buildings and the legends we have built here during our last two centuries.”—John Bentley Mays, foreword to Stroll by Shawn Micallef (Toronto: Coach House Books, 2010)
Walking in cities, whether familiar or new, is good for appreciating the world around us past and present. Joining a group of psychogeographical strollers opened my eyes to facets of Toronto I had never known or appreciated. These experiences, and knowing how to appreciate them, has helped while pitching stories or working on assignments.
As for dullness existing, in Adams’s words, as “an agency of destruction and death,” we see evidence of that all around us, culminating in the ultimate expression of not appreciating differences, the systemic prejudice and racism provoking the current wave of global protests.
When you take your next walk, take a good look around. Make mental notes about what you see. Note how others view you, for better or worse. Take home ideas that inspire your next project, or allow you to make a difference in your community. Start digging into the stories behind what you spotted.
I guarantee you won’t be bored.