Wednesday, February 22, 2012

'To putter is to discover'

It was the perfect setting for a bookstore.

When I stepped inside Bethany Books in Bridgewater, I entered a magical place like Mary Lennox in “The Secret Garden.”

The old Victorian clad with delightful architectural flourishes lured me through a maze of small rooms, each stuffed with all sorts of interesting books and bric-a-brac, resting on shelves and displayed in nooks and crannies.

A writer’s dream assignment, I remember counting my blessings as I wandered around the house on company time, enthralled by my surroundings.

When I reluctantly left a longtime later, I took with me the makings of a fine story, as well as a paper bag tucked under my arm, a souvenir of my visit.

The red and yellow cover had attracted me, and once I read the title, I knew that I wouldn’t be making much on this assignment. I bought the book.

Now 25 years old, “Living a Beautiful Life” by Alexandra Stoddard is still one of my favorite books.

The how-to book is chock-full of wonderful suggestions, but the most valuable piece of information is the pastime I adopted and incorporated into my own life, the author’s penchant for puttering.

Webster’s “New World Dictionary” defines “puttering” as “frittering and busying oneself in an ineffective way,” but Stoddard disagrees.  

“Puttering is really a time to be alone, to dream and to get in touch with yourself,” said Stoddard. “Plan for this kind of essential, unstructured time alone; give yourself time to become influenced by your private feelings.”
This winding road leads to our summer house by the sea.

 At our seaside place in Tiverton, we get the concept of puttering. One can saunter in the sand seeking sea glass, sit on a rock and gaze at the crest and fall of the waves for hours, or take a dip in the ocean and air dry slowly under the warm summer sun.

Leisure time lends itself to quiet contemplation and puttering.

But lessons learned at the beach are easily forgotten at home.

“I’ve noticed that many people have a tendency to save up 95 percent of their money and effort to spend on 5 percent of their lives,” said Stoddard. “Instead, the way to live a beautiful life is to make the daily 95 percent of your life wonderful.”

While I write this in my home office, I look out the window and see bands of blue sky, squirrels running along the branches of the oak, and tranquil pond waters across the street. These little breaks spark the creative process.

Folding a load of laundry, washing a sink full of dishes, making beds, stirring cake batter, taking out the trash – all these routine tasks offer unhurried time to ponder.

Puttering around the house, “you’re free to let your mind travel to new distances,” said Stoddard. “The smallest gem of an idea can turn into a real jewel, and puttering allows you time and space to develop your concept. To putter is to discover.”

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