The finish line

I am not by nature a finisher.

This is a trait of mine that has always annoyed me.  I’m not really troubled by my procrastination, because I’m always able to get my work done, even if it means an all nighter on occasion, and my grades or job has never suffered for it.  On reflection though, it’s probably part of the same thing.

There’s something in me that hates finishing a project.  I’ll start almost anything with gusto, but those last little bits of a project irritate me, and I leave them unfinished.  I have a thousand examples of this, most notably my undergraduate English thesis.  It was a 75 page opus comparing depictions of childhood in the writings of Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.  My thesis advisor kept suggesting ideas to add, and I dutifully added all of them.  I read critical article after critical article, and read through Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Huck Finn, and Tom Sawyer.  I structured a thoughtful comparative analysis and drew conclusions about the American spirit of adventure and stuff.  And then I never proofread the essay.  It’s sitting there in the library of Hartwick College with (citation needed) in some places, instead of the actual article I was talking about, and probably more than a few typos.

This is me all over.  I’ll undertake these huge, complicated projects, and never complete them.  I really enjoy handicrafts, including counted cross stitch.  In my lifetime I’ve undertaken several tapestry-like cross stitch projects only to abandon them, uncompleted.

I recently experienced something of a victory though.  I decided I was going to make Christmas presents this year for my sister and sister-in-law.  For my sister I did a table runner in lace crochet and edged napkins to match, and for my sister-in-law I embroidered a cushion.  I was frantically sewing the cushion on Christmas eve, but all were completed and well received.

This has left me with a flush of pride.  I finished something, and it went over really well.  My sister is emphatic that I need to start an Etsy store, and I started daydreaming about it.  It makes perfect sense–I do this stuff anyway, and MR is not one for superfluous decoration, so the stuff I make wouldn’t find a home in our house.  (Sidenote: I realize I could battle him on this one and force him to have some doilies, but we’ve been doing pretty well making our decorative tastes meet when it comes to our new house, so I see no need to rock the boat.  Besides, there are really only so many doilies a person can have lying around.)  I could do something I do for fun and get paid for it.  Boxing Day morning I lay in bed daydreaming of taking orders and finishing them off, and charging tidy sums for said projects because so much work goes into them, which would be very nice as we could certainly use the money.

When MR woke up, I told him of my plan, he frowned and grew thoughtful.  Then he told me I shouldn’t do it.  I was surprised, because a common theme among us lately is how without me working, we could really use a little more money.  Not a lot, just  a bit more to make us more comfortable.  He said he worried how I would handle multiple orders–which is a good point.  But more than that, he said he noticed that working on those Christmas presents had really taken me away from my writing, and that he doesn’t want to see that become a pipe dream.

There is a lot of truth to this.  I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I certainly have a lot of projects begun, but I have very few finished ones. Very few indeed–I have one complete novel draft, a handful of short stories (all written for assignments), and a few fan fictions.  There’s a novel I had an idea for when I was 15 that is as yet incomplete.  I did National Novel Writing Month one year and got the aforementioned novel draft, which is frankly terrible and needs a major overhaul.  I did it again and wrote 50,000 words, but didn’t come close to finishing the story.  I did it this year and I didn’t finish.

But I finished those napkins, and that table runner, and that pillow.  And the fact remains that while crocheting and embroidery take some skill and time, they don’t require a lot of brain power.  I can sit there stitching and watching endless hours of junk tv.  Writing is a much, much harder creative task, and maybe there’s some truth in the fact that I’m avoiding it.  Because I think I won’t finish.  Because I’m scared that if I do finish, I’ll fail.  So it’s easier to imagine myself an Etsy queen than to face the beast of fear and wrestle with my creativity.  The fact remains, however, that for years I have called myself a writer.  I have shaped my schooling around being a writer.  As a kid I never said I wanted to crochet for a living.  I wanted to write.

I’m lucky that my husband takes me seriously when I say I want to write.  I used to think that a lot of people didn’t believe how serious I was about writing.  I don’t really blame them–there are a lot of people out there who say they’re writers, but never seem to produce any writing.  I could all too easily be classed as one of them.  But at a critical moment when I’m thinking of hiding he says no, I need to go for my dream.  He helps me make plans for how to market myself when my book is done.  Part of his Christmas present to me is a website for my writing, in all its forms.

It’s easy to get sidetracked from your dreams, and I think that’s really what leads to them never happening.  Fear that it’s too hard or that we’re not good enough plague us at every turn, and it’s all too easy to find an excuse to turn away, say we’re too busy, say that something else came up, misquote John Lennon and say “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  That’s true–life surprises us.  But it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make plans.  Dreams take more than ideas.  Just because you envision yourself as something doesn’t mean you are that–it takes work to get there.  Lots of hard work, and lots of little details to see to before crossing the finish line.  That’s what makes any creative endeavor a marathon.  If I get my act in gear, then maybe I can be as prolific as the writers I analyzed.

 

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I meant to get this post out before Christmas, but then Christmas happened quite suddenly.  Nevertheless…

I’m pretty proud of myself this year.  I not only managed to make a few presents, which I’m happy to see were well received, but I also sent out Christmas cards and mailed Christmas boxes home and to friends.

This may not seem like a feat worth being proud of.  After all, people send Christmas cards all the time.  It’s the done thing.  But this has always been my trouble–I’m often one for thoughtful ideas, but I never carry them out.  I do think of all those little social niceties, but I rarely go so far as to carry them out.  I have a friend, who I greatly admire for being a pro at this.  She is the queen of finding inexpensive but awesome presents, of getting you something just because she thought of you.  When I dog sat for her once, as a thank you she included a gift certificate for a manicure and pedicure at a place we liked to go to together.

I love little gestures like this–they go a long way to making people feel special.  That’s the thing about Christmas cards too–it shows you were thinking of this person enough to hand write a message, however brief, and what’s really special in this day and age, pay for a stamp.  My husband’s family is very big on cards.  They are extremely important parts of birthdays and Christmas, and at Christmas the standard boxed cards won’t do.  They get each other the personalized ones that say “To my brother and his wife” or “To my son and daughter-in-law.”  My family is not so big on cards–in fact, I don’t think my parents have ever gotten me one and it’s never so much as crossed my mind, let alone bothered me.  On reflection, though, I think it’s part of the same thing–people like that little effort because it makes them feel special.  And that’s what makes the little gestures so important.

I’ve always recognized this, and I’ve always wanted to be the person who does those little gestures.  I get little brainstorms all the time for things I could do, but then I always fail in the execution.  My thoughtful friend has produced fantastic Christmas and birthday gifts (the coolest post it note set ever inside a box inlaid with mother-of-pearl from her trip to Syria, for example, or a handmade star from a German market are examples that leap to mine).  I know her taste exactly, partly because our tastes can be very similar, but somehow I never remember to get things in time for birthdays or Christmas.  And I always *want* to.  It just never happens.  The same is true with my husband.  I’ll be thinking I’m thirsty and yet am too lazy to get up and get something to drink and then all at once he brings me a glass of water.  I make him plenty of tea, but I never think to do it randomly, and I never do it without asking if he wants it.

I’m not entirely sure why this is.  Sometimes I know it’s a confidence thing.  I don’t want to be pushy, or ‘creepy’ as my mother-in-law uses it, meaning someone who seems to be currying favor instead of making an honest gesture.  I also hate the thought of doing something nice and having the gesture received with bemusement or contempt.  Which is crazy of course, because I well know how lovely those little gestures are.

Another part, it has to be said, is that impulse which prevents me from finishing things.  It’s laziness, but also something else, something that keeps me from going all the way through with a project.  And then there’s the fact that I tend to have very grand ideas which can’t be accomplished in time.  I used to think that each Christmas card had to have a long and thoughtful note with it.  That means each card can take as much as 15 minutes, and who has the willpower to sit there and write cards for over 8 hours?

This year, something changed.  When I was in Edinburgh, I saw something that was perfect for my friend.  Instead of looking at it and thinking how I should get it and subsequently walking away, I bought it.  I did miss sending it for her November birthday, but I got myself together enough to buy presents for her and her husband and their two small kids.  Not only did I buy them, I went to the post office and *sent* them.  I cannot stress the fact that somewhere along the way in previous years, something would have collapsed with this plan.  I would have been missing one present, or never made it to the post office.  The same is true for the Christmas cards I sent out.  I ordered little business cards with our new address for next year, and sat one afternoon and wrote out a stack of cards and then made my husband sign them.  And then they went to the post office.  Again–a Christmas miracle.  I can’t help but wonder how this happened so suddenly.

I think it’s the being away from home.  When I first got here, people would often ask me if I was homesick yet.  At the time I was gearing up for my wedding, and full of the knowledge that a good group of people who were very dear to me were on their way shortly.  I was also dazzled by the idea that I didn’t have to say goodbye to MR.  We had been so used to counting down and saying goodbye, and back in July, I was stunned that that period was over forever.

But the wedding passed, everyone came and went.  I still love seeing MR every day, but it’s not brand new and shiny–he’s becoming part of my every day life.  That’s very good, but it means I’m starting to think more about all that I left behind.  The first day of school where I taught caused me a pang.  I would kill to go out for dinner and drinks with my high school friends.  And this is only the second Christmas in my entire life that I’ve spent away from home.

So the Christmas cards went out, the presents got made, the boxes packed and sent because I needed to feel connected with the life I left behind.  I know I made the right decision, but after the first flush I’m realizing that moving across an ocean is no easy thing.  And that I don’t want to say goodbye forever to the people I left behind.  They still mean something to me, and I can’t show them by simple conversation or everyday activities anymore.  All I can do is send a card and write on facebook.  But it’s getting me over my laziness and shyness, because I want all those people to know I’m thinking of them.   I would quote the song in the title of this post, but that may be just a bit too cheesy and sentimental, and I don’t want to hear about it from MR, as he inevitably will read this and tease me for being a sentimental American.