The Art of Piddling

Yes, my friends, today we talk about piddling. First, though, we must settle a couple of issues.

Namely, Webster has it all wrong in saying to piddle is to “waste time and dawdle” and that piddling is “trifling and negligible.” To the contrary, piddling is a valuable component in today’s living mix. That brings up the second issue.

We are on a treadmill and the techies keep increasing the speed — go fast, set alarms, cut corners, expedite, increase efficiency, accelerate, streamline, cram it in, toss it out, make a new to-do list, do it faster, run, shove, push, do it now, rush, hurry to bed so you can get up earlier. A newsletter even warns you on how long it’s going to take you to read each item. And we wonder why so many people are desperate and depressed.

Five thousand years ago, the cave dwellers had it made. When it got dark, they went to sleep. When it got light, they woke up, went on the hunt, found food, sat around and ate it, maybe had a little fun, until it got dark.

Okay, back to piddling. There are two kinds, productive and non-productive. Believe it or not, but if you sit on a stool in your yard and dig out crabgrass or other kind of weed for an hour, you won’t remember much if anything about what you thought while you were doing it. That’s because during repetitive piddling the brain relaxes and you don’t think about much of anything. If you don’t believe that, try it sometime. You were productive because the crabgrass is gone. It was piddling because instead of all that digging and pulling, you could’ve killed it in a fraction of the time with chemical weedkiller.

Or consider this. Last year, you bought a broom to keep in the garage. It sweeps well but the handle is purple. You hate purple. So you fumble around on the shelf where you keep cans of leftover paint, and find some red. You repaint the broom handle. Now, you’re happy. Did the handle need painting? No. But you did it anyway. That’s the reason it’s a good example of non-productive piddling.

Warning! Don’t even think about fussing with your smartphone and messing with your computer and calling it piddling. It isn’t. It’s too cerebral, too aggravating, too frustrating. Waggle just one finger the wrong way on a touch screen and you lose what you’ll never be able to find again.

Piddling is relaxing, reassuring, even comforting. Let’s look at another painting example — the dog house in the back yard. It’s green. Good color. But, you think, why not get creative with polka dots or white front with blue sides or some lettering that tells your dog it’s his or her house. So you do the artist bit then you stand back and admire your work. Will it make any difference to your dog? Nope. To the neighbors? Nope. To society in general? Nope. But you piddled and you’re proud. That’s all that counts.

Okay, you don’t have a house or yard or other great place always ripe for piddling. You live in an apartment or condo. That means you must look outward and look harder. For openers, find a store you’ve always wanted to go into but never had the time. You feel like piddling and now’s your chance. You walk in with hands in pockets or arms folded, look around, have a short chat with somebody you might or might not ever see again. It makes no difference. You’re not on a mission. You’re there only because you’ve always wanted to do that but never did. You’re piddling.

A car is a piddler’s paradise. You use toothpaste and a microfiber cloth to remove the yellow from headlights. You clean around all the sheet metal folds and joints and hinges on the doors or glue a tear in a floor mat. True, that’s called “detailing.” But in the grand scheme of things, they’re really not necessary or vital or compelling. At best, they’re only remotely optional. That’s the reason that paying attention to them is piddling. Okay, we could go on, but surely you get the drift of all this. Or more important, the serious side. Piddling is the counterpoint, the weight on the other end of the scale, the soother and smoother to make up for all things sharp and abrasive. Take a load off the brain. Test your ingenuity or ability to think simply, or better yet, not at all.

You need that. We all do.