Column: Thinking about the act of putting

We all know this term, right? It means moving aimlessly, ideally while working on something, but in a random fashion. Empty the dishwasher, but do not fill it as you have noticed that the plants above the kitchen sink need to be watered. Watering plants is pretty crazy work, so by doing it, you remembered the book you wanted to find and… oh! Now would be a good time to rearrange that shelf in the den.

Puttering. DIY, some call it. When I use either word, my mind naturally turns to the image of an older man, bald and belted pants high on his waist, in a carpentry shop. I have no idea where this image came from, but it is firmly established and always made me associate the word putter with an old man.

I am a middle aged woman. Yet… the putter is my favorite thing to do. I live for those long stretches of time in my week, those rare five hours (or – gasp! – a whole day?) In a row where I have nothing else to do. It must be a long period of time, of course. The act of putting is not conducive to short bursts. I need some time to familiarize myself with the putter, which is weird to say now that I’ve written it down and looking at my words, but it’s true. Grab a cup of coffee, read a book, catch up on the news, then get on with DIY at home.

I think it’s because a successful putter is really a matter of mindset rather than action. You want to get things done, but have no preference as to what those things are. You feel productive, but aimless. Energized, but slow. The putter can only be found in this sweet spot of conflicting emotions. When you find the right place, it’s a balm for the soul.

What if you were in that perfect place, but had to get out of the house? It can happen. No one said emotions need to be tidy and organized, after all. I like to putter on walks, although it feels more like a slow walk and careful consideration of my surroundings than a putter. And honestly, there is something about walking and being active that counteracts the feeling that I manage to putter.

Who leaves Sunday Drive.

It’s capitalized, because it’s a real thing. Event. A Sunday Drive, for those of you too young to have heard of this phenomenon, simply involved the whole family piling into the car, driving aimlessly for a few hours, and then heading home. It was considered a relaxing family activity.

As anyone with restless children knows, it was rarely relaxing. While I enjoyed these Sunday Drives and have fond memories of them, I’m sure my parents have other memories of Sunday Drive. Memories that cause them to nag us to stop biting and no, for the last time, we’re not going to stop at A&W for ice cream. Because we’re just here to enjoy a leisurely stroll with the family, which is why.

However, we usually ended up stopping for an ice cream. We were driving around town after all. We didn’t have a formal agenda, but rather loosely formed ideas of where to go, if the hood of our 79 Impala points in that direction. We would just look around the neighborhoods, check out that distant tree-lined street that a neighbor once told us to be beautiful, or hope to take the Oliver Bridge along with a train. Puttering. We have goals, do and see things we want to see, but also find new things. It didn’t matter where we ended up or what we did. So why not stop for an ice cream?

I don’t hear people talking about Sunday Drives anymore. They were a popular form of entertainment in the 1950s and 1960s, when the family car was a newer idea and there were fewer screens to distract children. My husband and I did a lot of Sunday walks when the kids were younger, which makes me wonder if this has evolved into a form of putter that is done primarily for the purpose of containing children while hanging out. together. Or maybe for the youngest to finally come down for that nap.

No matter where you are, try to find time over the next few weeks to familiarize yourself with the act of putting. Be aimless. Switch from one thing to another as your mood takes you. Remember that you are indeed productive. Enjoy.

Kathleen Murphy is a freelance writer who lives and works in Duluth. Write to him at [email protected]


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