In Defense of Being Dull

Earlier today, as I was having the get-to-know-you conversation with Group Tour Media’s newest editorial intern, Carly, I informed her that, in my exact words, “I’m actually pretty dull.”

She tried to tell me (though she knew me not at all), that surely I must be mistaken. Dullness, she seemed to think, is a bad thing. Many people believe this.

I’m not one of these people.

To begin with, I’m not mistaken. If I genuinely, sincerely, honestly consider myself a rather dull person (and I do), then it’s because I am. I’m duller than most, in any case.  By this I don’t mean that I have no sense of humor — and I flatter myself that I can occasionally be interesting or even entertaining — but let’s be honest here: I’m pretty dull.

I prefer vanilla anything over flavored everything. I changed my gmail inbox from the default shades of blue (too exciting) to dull shades of gray (far more pleasing to the eyes of this beholder). I’m a fierce introvert, and would often rather spend my hours looking at a nondescript stone than talking to most anyone I know. I prefer plain brown shoes, solid-print oxfords with buttons on the collar, and old-fashioned bicycles with a wide seat, a basket and a lamp.

If I had to name the most entertaining book I’ve ever read, I’d be tempted to name Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, which (if you’ve read it) was surprisingly engaging but (on the face of it) is a thick tome about the development of scientific thought since the dawn of time. Sounds like a snoozer, right? And it’s a good thing, too, because I’d resist that temptation and instead name any volume ever written by P.G. Wodehouse.

Wodehouse actually writes brilliant and hilarious novels, the most well-known of which are the Jeeves series. They’re great. But try to explain their greatness to someone who’s never read them, and you come out sounding like a humorless loser:

“They’re these British novels from the 1930s or so about Bertie Wooster, a hapless member of the idle rich upper crust, and his capable valet, Jeeves.”

“What’s a valet?”

“Sort of like a butler, only not.”

“Oh, okay. So, what do Jeeves and Wooster do?”

“Well, this is where things get interesting. Wooster is always getting into trouble, and Jeeves arrives at the last minute and saves the day.”

“Goodness, that does sound interesting. Maybe you’re not as dull as I thought. What sort of trouble does this Wooster fellow get into?”

“Well, there was one hilarious bit where Jeeves unsuccessfully tries to convince Wooster to stop wearing his purple cummerbund, or another one where Jeeves resigns because Wooster tries to learn the banjolele. And that’s not to mention the times Wooster gets engaged to girls he doesn’t love, or the family problems he runs into with his aunts.”

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“I know, right? I was actually reading the other day that linguists study his novels because they’re considered one of the most reliable sources for pre-World War II British slang. It’s fascinating, really.”

See what I mean?

But that isn’t all. No, the coup de dull came when, inspired by the Dull Men’s Club, I modified my keyboard mapping. I can no longer type an exclamation point on my laptop. Exclamation points are far too exciting. And no, I’m not joking.

Look, I’ll try to type a few here: … See, they look like an elipsis. You can’t even tell which ones I typed as e. points and which one I typed as a period. In my happily dull world, Shift + 1 = .

Of course, this irritates my wife to no end. Becca uses exclamation points like I use antiperspirant: with a obsessive regularity that often fails to achieve the desired effect, though not for lack of want.

My wife is easily the most exciting part of my life — and it’s wonderful. She has an utterly transparent joy that runs over with even the slightest provocation: a friend’s baby (or a stranger’s baby, for that matter) is, in Becca’s eyes, the single greatest miracle since the Resurrection; the smallest achievements are celebrated with the emotional equivalent of billboards and sky-writing airplanes above the beach; her spontaneous expressions of love toward me and Jack sometimes threaten to suffocate us in her compulsive hugs and kisses. It’s the most beautiful thing. As far as I’m concerned, it’s quite possibly the closest I could get to redemption on this side of the Cross.

You might suspect that, as a dull man, I don’t appreciate that aspect of Becca (or in others of the more excitable kind), but you’d be wrong. I love the excitement I find in her as much as I love the slate gray heart that beats inside my own ribs.

Most people think of dullness as the result of fear or discomfort around excitement, but that isn’t the case at all. I wouldn’t trade Becca’s excitement for all the corduroy in the world. The reason I’m dull — the reason I go out of my way to make myself just a little more dull at any given opportunity — is because, ironically, I find it horribly exciting.

And don’t call me Shirley. Zing.

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2 Comments on “In Defense of Being Dull

  1. Josh: You’re not dull. You like to debate and can argue either side of a position. Even the word “defense” in the title is inviting combat. Actually, you are the opposite of dull, you are inviting and engaging. Saying you are “dull” is, for you, an indirect invitation to debate values, and I’m sure more than a few unwittingly find themselves on the short end of your enormous intellect. I hope to be reading some of your dull novels soon. You have an old-soul, and I love you. Mike

  2. From one introvert to another, I found this article more than dull. Actually, the thing about using exclamation points like antiperspirant was pretty brilliant.

    But I won’t tell… (yes that’s a real ellipsis – I kept my !.

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