Hans Wilhelm is a best-selling author of children’s book and illustrator, and artist. He has written and/or illustrated over 200 books – mostly for children. Here is the full transcript of his TEDx Talk titled: “Boredom – A Source of Inspiration” at TEDxWestportLibrary.
TEDx Talk Transcript:
I’d like to share with you today how boredom has been a major inspiration in my life and in my work.
If we go by Merriam-Webster, “Boredom” means “The state of being weary and restless through lack of interest.”
I think this is an outdated kind of quote on the internet. It should be updated, and I think it’s also a “lack of distractions” today.
When we are bored today, what do we do first? Get out our little iPhone and check our emails or whatever it is.
So the lack of distraction, I think, is equally the reason why people are bored.
Now, I was an expert of lack of distraction and boredom when I grew up in Germany long, long time ago.
The city I grew up on is Bremen. Here is Bremen and as you can see, there is not much distraction up there.
The other day, I was lucky or we were lucky that our house wasn’t destroyed. It stood in a huge park, but I couldn’t really play much in this park, because when I grew up, it was always raining, raining, raining in Bremen, six weeks rain non-stop.
So, I was really, really bored. I was actually double bored because my parents also didn’t want to have a television. They didn’t think that was cool.
So, I really was clearly having it up to here with everything, but, thank God, I had my wonderful fairy godmother, my aunt Hetwig. She had a printing shop and supplied me with unlimited amount of paper.
So, I started to draw and create all these little stories, and I loved it. I discovered my passion and what I’d really love to do in my life.
I decided when I grew up, I wanted to become a God because Gods are creating whole new worlds and universes, new characters and plots, and this is what I’m going to be.
But when the time for me came to make my choices in career, I went to business school. I became a business person.
I moved to Africa and there, I worked in an office for many, many years. Eventually I came to America, and I liked this place so much that I decided I would stay here.
I got myself a green card; I rented a beach cottage; and I remembered my childhood dream to become a god.
So, I tried to start writing and illustrating children’s books. I was very lucky, the first two books sold immediately with the publisher.
But then came the periods of waiting, the periods of utter, utter boredom. You see, when you are a writer, you are submitting a new book proposal to your publishers, and they sit on it for weeks and weeks or months and months, and there isn’t much else you can do than wait.
So, I was really, really bored. Again, I was doubly bored because I also didn’t have a television. I saw some television here in America, and all I remembered were commercials for Preparation H and laxatives.
I thought I’m too young for this!
So suddenly, I heard the story about Yuri Gagarin. You remember him, the guy who traveled around the world in outer space?
The story goes that when he was in this little capsule, he suddenly heard this tapping on the outside of the capsule: “Tap, tap, tap, tap.” He was getting nervous.
He looked at his instrument to find the source, and he couldn’t. And it continued “Tap, tap, tap,” and he realized that if this continues on this whole journey, he is going mad, he’s going crazy.
Then, he remembered the famous saying: “What we resist persists.” I think he remembered that in Russian; so he decided to make friends with this tapping.
He closed his eyes and really embraced the tapping: “Tap, tap, tap.” As he was doing it, he had the inspiration that this tapping was the rhythm of a well-known Russian tune, and he started to hum it.
Then he started to sing it and then to whistle it, and he says this was his best companion on the entire trip.
So I thought, “If big Yuri Gagarin can do it in outer space, I can do it here on earth.”
So I took my boredom and I felt it in my body. I sat down and I really showered it with love. And you know what happened?
The charge, the intensity of boredom vanished, and it became merely a memory. And the moment it became a memory, it was no longer an active part in me, whoosh! it opened up into the world for me, the world of Boris, the little bear.
The bear was very, very bored, and he lived with his little sister, and his sister was a busybody. I could play with this whole subject. And out came the story of “Totally bored Boris.”
Now, the next time, a week later, I was bored again. But this time, it was different, I realized something very important.
Boredom, as we heard earlier, is the state of being weary and restless, but it’s just a state. Underneath the state are all the emotions we do not wish to deal with: all the negative things, the subtle things, the things which we rather don’t face.