At 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day I finished my first project of 2020.
That’s a lie, actually. I’d started embroidering a tea towel for my mother sometime in 2018, and I found it while cleaning out a knitting basket full of half completed or barely cast on projects. I finished it in the wee hours of New Year’s Day morning, drinking tea and sitting across from my husband who was weaving a belt he was making me for a costume I needed a month earlier. He too was finishing a project — a little after the fact.
We felt really good about these simple accomplishments. The news, being what it often is these days, was depressing on many fronts, and we’d been feeling that despair one feels as one watches Rome burn itself to the ground. The fires in Australia and the killing off of species so wantonly didn’t help either. We needed small things, perhaps big things too — things we could control in a time when we have so very little control.
We’d dropped off four Plumas County teens to ice skate the New Year’s Eve away at Irvine Spectrum Center (southern California is abundant in ice skating rinks during the holidays). We had three hours and we ploughed through and finished two things we’d been delinquent on for too long. We went to bed happy, and in the morning we talked over breakfast about all the projects we’d started and hadn’t finished in the last few years, wondering why we hadn’t, since it felt so good to finish something. We each made a list of possible things to attempt to finish.
I mentioned my quest to figure out why we don’t finish things we clearly wanted to do over lunch at Pangaea with my friend Linda Cayot last week. The two of us have books that need final edits. We have interest in our books and yet —
“That’s 90 percent Syndrome,” said Cayot. “The tasks themselves aren’t the problem; it’s the weight of the task being incomplete that’s overwhelming.”
The ex-Catholic that I am, I think of it in terms of shame. As in I’m ashamed of myself for that basket next to my chair of crafty (expensive) hobbies I was going to make that are not complete.
I didn’t want to make New Year’s resolutions this year, but two weeks in I’m thinking, what if my only resolve were not to do some weird thing I said I always wanted to do (lose weight, go skiing, have lunch and sing with the ghosts of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen), but instead just finish all the things I’ve started but not completed (a novel and non-fiction book, quilt, a knitted hat that has maybe three inches left to complete). Moving into a tiny house on a little piece of property outside of Greenville (may the plans move through planning quickly and may we be moved in by summer).
The typical answer of why we procrastinate or do not complete things is that we are afraid of both success and failure, and possibly what we’ll do next after our life is not defined by that one thing we haven’t completed.
Cayot thinks perhaps the 10 percent to the finish line procrastination is because it’s always the beginning and the middle that excites us. Endings are often anti-climatic. If you’ve written 300 pages and you’ve already killed off the antagonist — why write the last 10 pages and epilogue wrapping it up? If the goal was to learn new stitches and those stitches were 10 rows back, are we interested in garter stitching to the end? Those are the boring parts of the projects. The fun and excitement are in the beginning. The material I bought for my first quilt is beautiful and matches the Japanese material I was given in Japan 20 years ago. I’ve designed the pattern. So now I have to sew straight lines for how long? Far less interesting. But I am interested in hanging it on my wall. I am interested in having the book published. I am interested in wearing that poncho I paid $20 a skein for.
Why do we do this to ourselves? Why are we OK with being incomplete on things we spend time, energy, and money on? This is something in me that I think is worth fixing. This is something I think I could control in a time where I can’t control what’s happening around me on the large national scale (which leads me to no end of anxiety and headaches).
Cayot suggests setting a timer for those last parts of projects. While the kitchen timer is running, finish that one thing. I finished cleaning the closet in my office that way with time to spare!
Around my office I have Japanese daruma dolls. They are hollow paper mache figures of Bodhidharma (founder of Zen) and depict a bearded man with empty white spaces where the eyes should be.
When you start a project, you typically darken in one eye, and when you finish, the other eye is blackened to complete it.
I have six daruma with full eyesight in my office and just as many with one eye. Oh. I’ve gathered the one-eyed daruma on my desk — both a menacing and calming presence. Should I put one out for you?
I’m scaling back to the microcosm in 2020 and vowing to finish one little thing a week and one big thing a month. Cayot and the husband are with me on this. Want to join in finishing what we already started no matter whether the end is boring and exciting or not? Email me about your project. Let’s check in with each other.
May 2020 be the year of completing what we have in our power to complete.