Finishing things

Last week my friend Sara, an experienced weaver and teacher as well as a beautiful, smart lady, wrote an essay on her blog about the dangers of chasing perfection and the value of finishing things. The entire post is well worth reading, but I will quote her briefly:

When we finish things, we learn things. We might learn what we never want to do again, but every time we make something, we are teaching our hands and bodies subtle movements that help us master the craft. Sometimes a project is just Proof of Concept, but finishing things is part of mastering the craft.

I agree with Sara wholeheartedly, and today I’m thinking hard about her words, but not in connection to weaving. I’ll readily admit that right now I am a sometime-weaver and a casual knitter and spinner; those things are a refuge for me, while my primary challenges are elsewhere. I’d like in a very general way to get better at them, but pursuing mastery in them is not an ambition I can honestly claim, not right now. The lessons still apply, though, to so many things.

I’ve written before about the state of my house and my disheartened reaction to the constant nature of cleaning and clutter. At this very moment, the counter beside my sink is piled up with mugs and glasses, and I’ve got a couple of pans that still need to be washed and put away. Why do they land there, though? Because this is an area in which I’m bad at finishing things. The process of cooking starts with clean pots and pans and a pile of food, and ends with cleaned pots and pans and a full belly, with maybe a pile of leftover cooked food transferred to the refrigerator or freezer. That’s what finished looks like, and I’m bad at getting the whole way to the end. I get as far as cooked and eaten food, but the pans don’t get cleaned and put away. I don’t finish the process, and the lingering, unfinished bits get in my way when I need to do other things in my kitchen. Eventually I don’t want to do anything in my kitchen, including stamping THE END on all of my dangling unfinished jobs, so I have space to work again.

A number of cleaning and household tasks are like this. I don’t mind pushing the vacuum cleaner around too badly, but I dislike cleaning the dust out of the filter when I’m done, so I avoid that part, so I often have a dirty filter, so I avoid running the vacuum, so my floors are dusty and terrible. I fetch the mail, and put the pile of it down unsorted because I think it’s a pain to deal with junk mail, so the pile grows, and I never get it all sorted and either trashed or read or filed. I bring things in and put them on my dining room table instead of in their proper homes, especially when they don’t have proper homes yet, and the table piles up. The root of all clutter is unfinished work. If I would practice this skill of just finishing things as I take them on, I think I’d be happier with my house and it would be easier to keep up.

This pattern shows up over and over in my life. I start projects, I start programs, I start ideas, and then leave them by the wayside. The work gets hard, or boring, or … something, and I stop. I get distracted, I get scared, I get tired, I get frustrated, I get excited about something totally different, and the things-in-progress don’t progress. I don’t get the whole way to finished. And there are serious ramifications of not finishing, ramifications I can see and feel in myself. I don’t get to pat myself on the back for a job well done. I live amid clutter and mess and distraction. I’m too easily put off by challenges, too easily stopped before I even begin sometimes, because I have this lurking sense that I may not finish this thing either and I don’t want to do that to myself, don’t want to take on the emotional burden. Too many unfinished things start to feel like failure. Too many unfinished things, and you start to believe you can’t really accomplish anything.

I’m trying to solidify an identity for myself as a writer, and it means engaging the work of writing and publishing — starting projects, planning projects, and finishing them. I have inklings of ideas for series I want to write and ideas I want to pursue, and as yet I’m hesitating; some of those ideas have even been started, and I’m hesitating. If I want to pursue this work, I need to learn how to finish things. I need to have the encouragement of finishing things. I need the confidence born of taking on challenges and polishing them off. As Sara says, I need to experience the work and let it change me, let it teach my mind and body how to do it, and part of that learning is how to finish something and let it go, and how to start something new, and how to finish that as well.

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