After a long period of international travel and intense activity, perhaps it is only natural to have a period of retreat and reflection. Work of all kinds beckons, in the office, the kitchen, the yard, but day after day I stay put and just putter (or potter, in British English). One day, reading Hesse’s Siddhartha, for possible inclusion in my World Literature course; another, sorting through a closetful of clothes to take to the thrift store; yet another, weeding, pruning, raking leaves and pine cones; today, taking a disk of digital photos to be made into prints. Day after day slips away as I read, write emails, run errands, rendezvous with friends, watch each new episode of EastEnders on BBC iPlayer; all these exertions accompanied by copious cups of tea. Meanwhile the big tasks loom all around me; I nibble at their edges.
If I have learned anything these past few years, though, it is that excoriating myself on this account is worse than useless. It only lowers the morale and raises a wall of resistance. Instead, I try to find pleasure in the tasks I must perform, and accept my need for periods of relative inactivity. After all, it won’t be long before I must perforce galvanize into action once again. Now, as mid-summer stretches inexorably towards late summer, now is that golden moment when the simple task of raking pine cones slows treacherous time to a standstill, and shores up treasures against the bitter winds of winter.
It occurs to me that, in fact, everything I have been doing these past three weeks, since returning from my travels, has been a kind of raking: raking up, raking over, raking in, simply raking. Raking over takes oneself or someone else to task for things done and un-done; raking up exposes the buried past to view and enables one to confront it; raking in harvests the fruit of one’s labors in the past; and raking clears the ground to permit new growth. In this light, puttering is not occupying oneself “in a leisurely, casual, or ineffective manner,” with “little energy or purpose” (though the British definition is kinder to potterers): puttering is—or can be—an essential activity, akin to what Doris Lessing used to call woolgathering, “indulging in aimless thought and dreamy imagining,” which was the daily pre-requisite to her tireless and prolific writing.
Soon enough I will re-enter the fray and tackle the big items on the To Do list, trusting that I will be rested and ready for them. But for now I am content to keep on raking: a little bit of this, a little bit of that, punctuated by tea breaks. Here’s to puttering, aimless thought, and dreamy imagining!