Fatigue is one of the side effects of chemotherapy, and it has really hit me hard this week. I'm ambitious to plan menus and shop and cook and keep a household running, but I often get into the middle of a task and suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. Then I have to call for rescue. I want to be productive, but sometimes the best I can do is read or converse. Consequently, on some days I simply putter. It reminded me of an essay I wrote some time ago that explores my inclination to fool around and waste time doing things others might find unproductive. For your blog enjoyment, here's a reprint:
A Fine Pestilence
By Pam Williams (2005; revised 2009)
Winter is the best time to be a putterbutt.
This is a word I learned from my friend Elaine, and as a serious lover of useful made-up words, I installed it in my vocabulary immediately. It means to just fool around and sort of flirt insincerely with your To Do list, that primary source of proof that you are an adult and can be trusted with Serious Responsibilities. Putterbutting is my form of Attention Deficit Disorder, a diversionary tactic to avoid tackling a task I don’t really want to do. Somehow, when I’m trapped by winter’s tricks, there’s more opportunity, knowing the task has to be done eventually, to put my trust in eventuality and allow my attention to wander shamelessly, aimlessly, toward anything, everything else. That’s putterbutting.
Being a putterbutt helps me keep a positive attitude under gray skies and in white storms. Having been born in Oregon, and raised on nuts and berries like a bear, I have an inclination to hibernate in the winter. Sleep is a putterbutt’s hobby. For that reason, I have never found winter depressing and endless--boring maybe with its frigid sameness--but I believe spring will ultimately win. The tutoring message of winter is introspection, reflective pondering, putterbutting, while the triumphant message of spring is progress, action, resurrection.
A practiced putterbutt knows the unbridled, guilt-free joy of saying No. With experience, a savvy putterbutt knows not to wear a watch or make appointments that will certainly be sabotaged by motivated forgetting.
A putterbutt has an intimate knowledge of procrastination, which can be justified and rationalized despite an inbred work ethic and overgrown sense of duty. Slow-paced low-metabolism winter days with short daylight hours are perfect for putterbutting. Stuck with mostly indoor activities chokingly dull in any season--things like cleaning out drawers and closets, updating the address book, making an inventory of the food storage--I am desperate for interesting alternatives. Being a putterbutt helps me deny the existence of those chores, firm in my conviction that if ignored long enough, they’ll either disappear or become irrelevant. There are plenty of other days when I can prove I’m worthy of my over-21 privileges.
Putterbutting is a proud occupation for one or two, but it’s too personal to be a group activity. It is conducted by the rules of Whatever, guided only by whim and whimsy, curiosity and quizzical wonder. A dedicated putterbutt can spend hours reading greeting cards in the Hallmark store and never buy one, search through bottomless bins of Kmart clearance items she doesn’t need and won’t buy anyway, wander pointlessly the aisles of thrift stores, all motivated only by Because It’s There.
For a putterbutt all the world’s a museum, opening life to the wonders of serendipity, the unexpected discovery of delightful surprises, sweet moments that make me smile or possibly even giggle, moments that will contribute to sparkling conversation later in the telling. Things discovered serendipitously are like lovely, intriguing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that may fit together sometime in the distant future, but until they do, can be appreciated now for their individuality.
But I digress, and that’s what makes me a champion putterbutt. Wandering from place to place around the house, or the town, noticing details, nuances, subtleties, shades of differences, I ponder, dissect, deconstruct and reconfigure. I take the leash off my imagination. I ramble over unnumbered unscheduled detours to What If and Hmm. I take pleasure in the vistas on the hill above Maybe Some Day, and make mental reservations to return when I can stay longer.
An occasional day spent in putterbutt limbo can be most satisfying. It is “wasted” only if I allow guilt to intrude with its shameful Should Haves and imperative Oughts who come shaking their scolding fingers dangerously near my sense of responsibility. There will always be other days ripe for taking charge like an adult and rampaging headlong through the To Do list, masterfully checking off jobs as if they won’t have to be done over again in another week or two.
Putterbutting has a cleansing effect, decontaminating the soul from the anxiety that keeps it earthbound on tooth-gritting deadline days. At the end of a long delicious putterbutt day, not much has been checked off the To Do list, but I’ve been everywhere and thought everything and put all the problems in perspective.
If there were some magic elixir that would cure my seasonal bouts of putterbutting, I would tear up the prescription. I look forward to the appearance of this welcome coping mechanism every winter, my capitulation to the animal hibernation instinct. It’s a disorder that doesn’t strike very often, but when it does, I plan to indulge completely. I refuse to be cured of this fine pestilence.