Saturday, November 29, 2014

See what's become of me

"Time, time - see what's become of me,
While I looked around for my possibilities..." -Paul Simon

These days I like to work at a fairly steady, methodical pace for ten hours or so a day (I charge for eight, I just like to take a couple of long breaks during the day to rest and recharge). If I'm rushed, I have to be very careful about where we put anything down, or we end up re-sorting it and wasting time. The nature of my business is to untangle Gordian knots (and yeah, sometimes the sword
is the answer). It's what I do as I work on a house; at first I'm just lugging things out of one room into the rooms they ought to go in, sometimes making it look even worse for a while. You have to *see* what you have, out of context, in its entirety. The whole of your possessions is hard to process, but selecting one kind of possession at a time to look at helps some people let go (or rethink what's truly important). This is me at work; I'm untangling, rewinding the ball of yarn that fell and got batted about the house by your emotional kittens, getting a feel for how much of what we have to work with.

Then as one room comes together, I start with the next and do the same thing. A little more than midway through a project, things start to quickly come together; you see how it's going to look, you make allowances for more toys in this room or fewer shoes than you expected, adjust the amount of space you allotted for groups of objects. This is a time-consuming process, and can be very frustrating for the home owner. The fiction may have been on this shelf yesterday, but today it takes up two shelves since I opened this new box, so it's been shifted to another bookcase. It doesn't bother *me* of course, because I don't live here and I am not the one trying to get used to an orderly version of my life. I just think of it as a red herring, a false clue in a puzzle that led me down the wrong path temporarily - you know, you put the wrong word in the crossword and you get jammed. I haven't found a way yet to ease the bewilderment of the process, except maybe hugs. I also try to minimize the embarrassment people feel when they realize they have multiple copies of things. It happens.

The really sticky issue for me is what to do with unfinished projects. There are dead-end projects that will never get finished, and they are pretty easy to make go away; you start something and the process is dull or the project turns out to be not that great, it's not hard to give it up. It's actually a relief. But then there are those things you started that ate up way too much of your free time and never got finished because other short-term ones came up, or the person you were sewing for gained or lost three sizes, or you couldn't find a match for those beads you ran out of, or the paint for the miniatures has started to give you an allergic reaction. Now what?

There are moments when you have to admit failure, a thing few of us are good at. How can you be good at failure? Well, for one you can acknowledge that all our effort occasionally ends in a bust. We are tired of sewing, although we have a closetful of fabric; the bandsaw is too complicated a tool for what we are capable of doing as a hobbyist; we bought the snowboard/rollerblades/touring bike and used it a few times and just didn't enjoy it that much. But we invested our hard-earned money in it, our time, our hopes. Shouldn't we keep it? Can't we get more worth out of it? In another post I'll talk about worth, how I develop my prices for Etsy and eBay, how hard it is to convince someone what they paid for something is most likely depreciated (especially in the condition it frequently ends up in after having been improperly stored).

But aside from trying to get your investment back, what about stuff you won't finish? Have you ever watched someone invest more money in a hobby they don't really pursue to completion? I can't tell you the number of times I've gone in hardware stores with people who had craft rooms filled to the ceiling with unfinished projects and they were not going to get the missing parts to finish anything; they were going for new project materials. Those new projects were likely not to be finished, either. If you press for details, they look puzzled. Why didn't you finish "x"? Well, they didn't like how it was coming out, or they were bored with it. But why do you still have it? Um, it's not finished...

And so you end up storing a whole lot of stuff you probably don't realize is weighing you down emotionally. It's a logjam. It's not possibility anymore - it's denial of probable failure. If you don't finish it, you don't have to admit you don't really like it, or it didn't come out the way you wanted, or whatever. If you say "oh, I'll get to it one day" you don't have a day in mind. It's just that thing you say when you don't know how else to deal with a potential "failure" or maybe you think you'll want to work on it because you'd like the end product but you don't like the process (brownies will come along and do it for you). We all say it. I say it. I'm trying to make myself stop. Will you?

I love possibilities. When I go to the fabric and crafts store, the thrift store, the Home Depot, I feel that wonderful rush of all the things I could do. I have always wanted a sewing/crafts room neatly organized, where I could work on projects and close the door at night, leaving the creative mess in one manageable place and knowing I had a plan for where to put everything. At different times of my life, that ended up being my whole house. Yup. My whole house was the crafts room. Dining room table one or two things, kitchen table another, bedroom floor, stuff in the bathroom...yeah. Breaking myself of that habit has not really worked out well for me; all I can do is just be vigilant and not let it go for more than a day or two. If it stays there more than a week, holey moley. I have let the chaos in. And I feel terrible about myself - I can laugh and say "oh, the company doesn't mind." But the company does mind. The company would never in a million years tell you that they mind, because they are polite, or they love you, or both.

It broke my heart when I saw a friend quietly dumping a whole plate of still-warm cookies in the garbage and covering it with some napkins after a mutual young friend brought them over for a movie night. I knew why she was doing it; our eyes met briefly, and we didn't smile conspiratorially. Our friend's kitchen is a stinky, sticky mess of half-finished cooking projects, unwashed dishes, science projects in the fridge. She had probably cleared a small space on the counter, made the cookies, and come over. She didn't find the sanitary conditions of her kitchen were an issue, after all, she ate there every day and she'd been bringing around food gifts for years. She thought she was messy. We thought otherwise. But we would never, ever say so. If we did, we would have to admit we had rejected her gifts for years. We were buried in our lie. She was buried in hers. How incredibly sad for all of us. (This story has a sad ending. Someone wrote her a note and told her anonymously; she rejected everyone in anger and humiliation. I don't know what ever happened to her.)

Time. Time to work on a project AND clean up after it, AND manage it to completion. If I sternly make myself think about how much time I REALLY have to work on projects, I just avoid unpacking. That solves half the problem; anything that is "stored" is unused - potential - no, let's be honest, probable clutter. The other, harder, task is to let go of the materials altogether. I'm "losing the possibility" of finishing something. I am letting go of a little dream, and if I've had a streak of down days, that is next to impossible. I need all my dreams around me, or I feel like I'm dying. So now, in this time of strength and energy, I am going through those stored possibilities and giving whole half-finished projects away. A lot of the time I've already done the hard part, someone just needs to hem the dress, or varnish the wood. And in return, sometimes they offer me their half-finished projects, and if I know I have the energy and will to make something mine that they began, I accept. If I don't, I pass. So try this with me.

 Make yourself a deal: instead of rewarding yourself with a new toy, a new ingredient, a new book, a new sewing gadget - go back and reassess what you already have. If nothing there excites you, if nothing seems like you want to use it or finish it, trade it with a friend, or give it away. And THEN go look for something new. Please, for your own sanity, stop burying yourself in possibility, weirdly stuck in the past and the future but not in the present - and start enjoying your life here and now, in the process, in the satisfaction of completion. That's where I am, during this hazy shade of winter. What's become of you?

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