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In Praise of Dilly-Dallying

Here's to taking your sweet time, old Cockney tunes, growing old (and getting cooler), and other goodness.

Paige Bowers
Paige Bowers
7 min read
In Praise of Dilly-Dallying
Miss Marie Lloyd doesn't know what she's missing.

dilly-dally (verb): to waste time, especially by being slow, or by not being able to make a decision.

Last week I learned that my 18-year-old dedicates a daily chunk of time to dilly-dallying, which is something I probably never would have voluntarily admitted to my mother when I was a college freshman. All the same, it was entertaining to get an out-of-the-blue text with an old-fashioned word in the middle of the day.

Intrigued, I decided to do what Ted Lasso would do and be curious, not judgmental.

“You mean napping?” I texted back, which was a bit of a stumble, I’ll admit.

No. Napping, I’m told, is a “separate task” that happens before the daily dilly-dally and around the same time as “a little meal.”

Interesting. I pressed for examples of kiddo's favorite new pastime.

“Dilly-dallying can be whatever you want it to be,” my comic strip of a child replied. “It can be watching a little show, or preparing a little snack and taking a minute to pace around and figure out where I am going with my life. It can entail sitting in bed staring at the wall as I mentally prepare myself to go take a shower.” 

A lot to unpack there. Instead I replied: “When you think about where you’re going with your life, what comes up?”

Chainmail. That’s what comes up. The kid is creating an intricate piece of chainmail for a final project in a 3D class, and mandatory daily dilly-dallying is a necessary part of getting one’s butt in the chair to work on this complicated piece. When you give yourself a minute and let your mind wander, you feel better, I was told. You feel like you can do it. 

You didn’t think this was going to become an empowerment narrative, now did you, fair reader? You didn't think my kid was the next great creativity and wellness guru, I'll bet.

Yeah? Well, it's official: my kid has got your back.

I’ve reflected on a lot of conversations I’ve seen online lately about creative burnout, and about how after years and years of churning out x number of books, or what-have-you, some people are just feeling like there’s nothing left in their tank, especially with everything that’s going on in the world these days. Studies show that more than 40 percent of our creative ideas come during downtime, not when we're forcing it, or fighting through (the so many) other things we need to process. You need to be able to sit, enjoy the silence, and see what comes up. You have to, as my graduate school mentor recently told me, let certain ideas "wash" over you like a gentle wave in the Mediterranean Sea.

He would know. At last count, he's written about four million very good books of French history.

So, linger over a little show, or a little snack, or a little something without guilt before approaching that big project that is your own particular version of chainmail. Don’t just grind, grind, grind and expect the end result to be any good. Take a minute to rest, regroup, and refuel.

How will you do that today?


About the dilly-dally song mentioned above: Performed in 1919 by Miss Marie Lloyd, it's a jaunty little Cockney tune about working-class Londoners who couldn't pay rent, so they had to move out of their apartment under cover of darkness. After packing the moving van, the husband realized that there was no room for his wife or their pet bird. So Mr. Wonderful asked his missus to follow the van on foot (hmph) and not dilly-dally...which is exactly what she did. The wife wound up lost – in one version of the song she stopped at a pub – and didn't trust that the police would give her good directions. I wish I knew how this ended. Did she reunite with her husband? Did she run away with the bird and start a new life in a neighboring town? What do you think happened to her? Let me know in comments or via email. I may share some of these replies next week.


Ode to Iris

Last Friday, after I sent the newsletter, I read that the world’s oldest living teenager, Iris Apfel, died at the age of 102. A couple of years ago, I interviewed her for Palm Beach Illustrated about her grand, colorful life. These conversations took place over the course of a couple of weeks, and I learned so much from her about being true to yourself, living in the present, and remaining light-hearted, no matter what. What a national treasure she was. She will be missed.

Some of my all-time favorite Iris quotes:

  • "If your hair is done and you're wearing good shoes, you can get away with anything."
  • "If you don't learn constantly, you don't grow, and you will wither. Too many people wither on the vine. Sure, it gets a little harder as you get older, but new experiences and new challenges keep it fresh."
  • "I am inspired by everything around me. It's not like I stand out in the moors or any of that romantic crap they throw around. I'm just inspired by being alive and breathing and meeting people and talking to people and doing things and absorbing what's happening."
  • "I think being totally minimal shows a lack of history and soul, and I find it sort of pitiful. It's wonderful to have stuff and live with memories and things you enjoy."
  • "What's wrong with being 72 or 82 or 92? If God is good enough to give you those years, flaunt them."

And flaunt them, she did. RIP, beautiful Iris.


Speaking of flaunting it...

Photo: NYT

When Isabella Rossellini turned 45, she began wondering what the next half of her life would bring. She had just been let go by Lancome, had two children to support, and didn't have a master plan. What she did have was curiosity, however, and in following it, she found serenity and creative fulfillment on her own terms. This past weekend she spoke with Lulu Garcia-Navarro about this journey, and about how she has become more playful with age. It's an inspirational, vulnerable, and occasionally feisty interview and I hope you'll give it a read!


What I'm reading:

Fiction: Though it was Press Shop's February Book Club pick, I just finished The Rachel Incident by Caroline O' Donoghue. The Rachel Incident is a clever love letter to young adulthood and all of its bad decisions, ant-infested apartments, low-paying jobs, and complicated relationships. It made me think of my days as a cub reporter in Washington, where I crashed embassy parties with my French roommate (free booze and food!) and generally made some questionable choices (because...free booze and food!). I look back on those days fondly, but I also want to give that Paige a big hug and let her know not to fret, because she's gonna come a long way, baby.

By the way, big props to Jillian Le, who not only makes these wonderful picks for Press Shop every month, but has singlehandedly turned this HUGE welcoming book club into something that has fostered friendships outside of the monthly meetings. What she has done in Summerhill is truly impressive, and I'm hoping to get it together to finish Piglet by Lottie Hazell so I can finally show up for the next meeting.

Nonfiction: Get the Picture, by Bianca Bosker, New York Times-bestselling author of Cork Dork. Bosker is great at taking these immersive journeys into seemingly inaccessible worlds, and her foray into the contemporary art world with all of its quirks, snobbery, obsessions, and paranoia is a wonderful, funny, and illuminating romp.

What I'm surprised about: Last week I casually admitted that I was learning about book-binding (it's fun, but painful). Not one of you said a thing about me being a dork, or a monk, or weird, or anything. Either you are a. quietly respectful of my new hobby, b. frightened, c. not giving a damn, or d. not sure what to make of it yet. I want to know what it is. Anyone brave enough to admit it will receive one of my handmade notebooks.

Yep. In my quiet moments I am making 96-page notebooks with groovy endpapers.

What I'm looking forward to: Atlanta United's home opener on Saturday night. The Five Stripes take on the New England Revolution (in what better not be a disappointing match)! Paige is reunited with stadium nachos! Fun, fun, fun!

And now for the new, use-your-powers-for-good segment...

Where I hope you'll consider making a donation this week: komen.org. An estimated 310,720 women and 2,790 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year. Screening and early detection are crucial. By donating to Komen, you'll help fund important research, education, equity, and support programs for patients and their caregivers. On top of this particular call-out for goodness and compassion, I will be doing a Komen walk this coming October in honor of loved ones who have fought – and continue to fight – this. If you're in the Atlanta area and would like to join me, please let me know. I'd love to see you!


Thank you for allowing me to visit your inbox each Friday with these tidbits. If you know someone who might enjoy this newsletter, please share it with them and encourage them to subscribe for free. Each week(ish), I'll be sharing an eclectic range of stories and so forth. Sometimes I'll throw in a little bit of writing advice, and answer whatever questions you may have. It's a work in progress, rooted in my passion for writing about history, people from all walks of life, and the various things that interest me. Having said that, please don't hesitate to reach out with any feedback or suggestions for other things you'd like to see here. I want this to be a little weekly treat full of things you might find interesting, entertaining, inspiring and maybe even helpful, too!

dilly-dallycreativityIris ApfelIsabella Rosselliniagingsecond actspress shopbook clubthe rachel incidentget the picturebookbindingatlanta unitedKomenbreast cancer awareness

Paige Bowers

Paige Bowers is a journalist and the author of two biographies about bold, barrier-breaking women in history.

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