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Crystal Salt

Boredom as Resilience?

Is there a case to be made for sticking with what appears boring, or tedious, or repetitive as an act of resilience? Consider this passage from The Maltese Falcon, the original masterpiece of noir detective fiction written in 1929 by Dashiel Hammett. In this short paragraph we watch over the shoulder of Sam Spade as he sneaks away from his sleeping client into her apartment. I have numbered all the different things Spade did in his thorough investigation in search of clues about the mysterious Black Bird. The author emphasizes not only his actions, but the focus and thoroughness of his actions (bolded).

He went to the Coronet, letting himself into the building and into her apartment with the key. To the eye there was nothing furtive about his going in: he entered boldly and directly. To the ear his going in was almost unnoticeable: he made as little sound as might be. In the girl's apartment

  1. he switched on all the lights.

  2. He searched the place from wall to wall.

  3. His eyes and thick fingers moved without apparent haste, and without ever lingering or fumbling or going back, from one inch of their fields to the next,

  4. probing,

  5. scrutinizing,

  6. testing with expert certainty.

  7. Every drawer, cupboard, cubbyhole, box, bag, trunk--locked or unlocked--was opened and its contents subjected to examination by eyes and fingers.

  8. Every piece of clothing was tested by hands that felt for telltale bulges and ears that listened for the crinkle of paper between pressing fingers.

  9. He stripped the bed of bedclothes.

  10. He looked under rugs and at the under side of each piece of furniture.

  11. He pulled down blinds to see that nothing had been rolled up in them for concealment.

  12. He leaned through windows to see that nothing hung below them on the outside.

  13. He poked with a fork into powder and cream-jars on the dressing-table.

  14. He held atomizers and bottles up against the light.

  15. He examined dishes and pans and food and food-containers.

  16. He emptied the garbage-can on spread sheets of newspaper.

  17. He opened the top of the flush-box in the bathroom, drained the box, and peered down into it.

  18. He examined and tested the metal screens over the drains of bathtub, wash-bowl, sink, and laundry tub.

He did not find the black bird.

He found nothing that seemed to have any connection with a black bird.

We all know and look forward to the slam-bang tough talking actions of the detective. Yet Hammett found it important to share not only this scene that seemingly yielded nothing he included another similar search where, after recovering from being drugged, Spade found a key clue.

Is Spade “just doing his job” in the surgical precision of the search detailed above? Is he a super sleuth that goes over and above any normal gumshoe? What motivates him to get up in the middle of the night, sneak away from his sleeping client and conduct this inch-by-inch search? Whatever motivates him, the fact is that he did it. He took the action and he could return back to his shady client confident she was not hiding anything at her apartment. Goal met!

I read nothing exciting in that passage. No noise in the hallway or knock at the door causing him to jerk his head in a panic, no thugs hidden in the closet waiting to mix it up. Just a lone detective following a set of tedious mind-numbing tasks probably performed hundreds of times before. Actions that some would resist, or never think were needed. Actions labeled unnecessary when in fact the labeler actually decided they were boring, or beneath their station.

Has this ever come up with a client? Followed by the client asking why they are not advancing or being noticed for their accomplishments? I wonder if we can introduce this type of client to boredom as another form of resilience?

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