When To Stop

Friday, 21 May 2010

[Picture of trophy wave]WE are led to believe that we can finish things.  Indeed we are brought up with the clear understanding that things can only be “done” when they are “finished”.  It might therefore come as something of a shock to discover that this is a silly notion; almost everything we do — and therefore everything that has been “done”, is actually unfinished if you stop and think about it for a moment.

[Picture of a To Do List]The reason you get out of bed in the morning is most likely because you have things you have to do, things need to be done, and you have a “to-do” list that needs you to cross-out, score-through or tick-off all the items.  This implies that each item is finished — but it really just means that each item is declared “done”.  It’s enough, sufficient, close, but not actually finished (as in forever).

For example, you have to get groceries, and you get them, so the item is ticked as done.  The task is finished.  However, you will have to do the grocery shop again pretty soon, so it’s not really something you can get out of the way forever.

It goes even further than that; some people declare the task done when the on-line shop is approved by e-mail (even though the groceries have not been delivered yet).  Other people cross-off the shopping task when the stuff is in the car, so exactly when is the thing finished?

The house always needs cleaning, clothes need laundered, things keep cropping up again and again, despite being scored-off the lists.

[Picture of a Finish Line]I know people who enjoy reading novels.  They start reading one — which means that they are “in the middle of a book” (so it is not yet finished), eventually they get to the end and state that it is finished.  They immediately start another, so reading is never-ending.  They may even read the same novel again.

I once saw a movie in the cinema — then I spotted that it was being re-released as a director’s cut.  This indicates that the film was released (ie finished), then taken back and released with changes, so it wasn’t properly finished the first time.

On a more mundane topic, I know that when a room is decorated, while it may be declared “finished”, the house is never like that; every room at the same standard at the same time.  Doing one room makes the other rooms look in need of doing up.  DIY and décor are fluid, fluxy concepts, not absolutes.

  • The unfinished condition is something we have to understand, something we have to accept — and indeed welcome.

I always have on-going things.  My education is not finished; I’m always learning and developing.  I have a backlog of films to see, books to read, things to do.  Half complete novels, blog posts, poems, songs, paintings, portfolios, rooms to decorate, gardens to tend, things to maintain.

Achievement is not about finishing, it is about getting things done — which is doing enough to move on, knowing that something has been created, something has begun.

The God-like part of all mankind is creation.  Starting is what we are about. World without end amen!

[Picture of wee baby]Relationships are no different — they change all the time, and are all the better for that.  Watching children grow up, seeing a spouse change and a partnership and bond strengthen is wonderful.  Even romantic pairings that didn’t bear fruit, cannot be scored-off completely for nothing can be finished.

The concept can be expanded yet further — consider a chap who plays the trumpet (for example).  If he puts it down for 10 minutes, it makes no difference; people will still say — he will still say that he is a trumpeter, that he plays the trumpet.  If asked, he will say “Yes, I am still playing the trumpet”. Now consider, the gap not to be 10 minutes, but 10 months.  Is he still a trumpeter?  If the gap is 10 years — what then?  Exactly when is he finished with the trumpet?

[Picture of a trumpet]I think the answer is that he really never finishes, but that he might cross trumpet-playing from his to-do list for decades, that he may say to people that he “used to” play the trumpet, but that’s up to him to call — and he can always change his mind (like the film director who recalled his movie to re-make it as a director’s cut). This is only possible when you realise that nothing is ever finished per se.

Many an artist has to develop a stopping point — or risk overworking and spoiling a painting, sculpture, tune or book.  Knowing when something is done is a key skill; a parent has to know when to let go and allow a child to develop alone.

It is the ultimate vanity to even think that anything can be finished completely, to try to get your affairs in order before you die, to be prepared and sorted out, everything neat and tidy all at the same time! That, dear reader, is simply impossible.

And so they lived happily ever after.

The End.

(or is it)?

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