For every person who wishes they had more time, there’s another person who spends all the time they have learning yo-yo tricks, whittling, or trying to clear all the pigs on level 7 of Angry Birds so they can get another shot at the Angry Eagle.

The universe expands with a sort of smooth, unsegmented, laminar flow and we define how meaningful our personal pie-slice of that universal time is by how we chop it up with our behavior. Some people are driven to create meaning wherever they go. Others just want to get through the day. In the long run it’s all dust to dust, ashes to ashes, regardless of whether we collected two Nobel Peace Prizes, or barely made it off the deep fry station at the local White Castle. So, does it really matter how meaningful our actions are?

The last few days I’ve learned a new song on guitar, cooked a soufflĂ©, learned a fancy new tie knot and knitted what now appears to be a thong. All very useful, but there are plenty of ways to mark time without contributing to the over-productivity of the nation. One of those ways is pen-spinning.

Slow motion, the right way

I once spent a couple weeks working in an office building in Tokyo with a bunch of young men who all spun pens as an avocation (and some who appeared to regard pen spinning as their primary vocation). They informed me that 1) all Japanese schoolboys learn to spin pens and 2) you must be a Japanese schoolboy to be good at spinning pens. Never one to rise to a challenge to quickly, 10 years later I’ve taken on learning.

The above video shows someone helpfully demonstrating a few of the general techniques. I took on two simple spins and the following video shows my progress —

— which, with one day’s practice, got me to about a 2% success rate.

This is one of those wildly addictive time-wasting behaviors. Good pen spinners make it look so easy, then you try it and flip your pen into the bushes a few hundred times before you strike a balance between the amount of spin and the amount of throw so it at least stays on your hand. The trigger-spin I’ve been practicing puts a lot of spin on so you have to be quick at catching it. I’m shifting now to the slower roll move where the pen doesn’t helicopter over your thumb knuckle (this has proven to be not a good first spin to pick up) but the one where the pen simply spins around your thumb and into your waiting index finger. Baby steps, but I’ll be ready when next I go to Tokyo.

Beats whittling anyway.

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