What happens to us when work that belligerently remains in the primordial chaos of “in progress” needs to be finished before, as Douglas Adams might have put it, the deadlines “whoosh by?”
We might kick into high gear, armed with that special adrenaline that supports the finishing of all too many projects. We might ask for more time then, as we breathe into the slight sense of relief, we procrastinate over the new deadline with such luxuries as catching up on sleep. Either way, the short answer to my question is that we experience some kind of stress we wish we didn’t.
It’s a lesson I’ve “learned” more times than I’ve slept all the way through a night…except, of course, that I obviously haven’t learned it at all.
If I had, I probably wouldn’t be contemplating this question.
Reflecting on this issue lately, I’ve been wondering what the payoff is to staying in the chaotic headspace, when I know all too well what the outcome will entail. First of all, the interesting part of any project for me is the start. Going from vague idea to figuring out how to go about it then delving into the delicious materials and processes is at the heart of why I do what I do. Like so many creatives, once I’ve gotten through most of that fun, I’m ready for a new challenge, NOT the grunt work required to follow the project through to completion.
Perhaps this is a neuro-atypical trait. Perhaps it’s just being human.
There is another possible reason that I’ve been entertaining, and it has to do with a cat.
In Schrödinger‘s famous thought experiment, a cat in a box* is simultaneously alive and dead in said box until one opens the lid. The possibilities coexist, albeit impossibly, until one can verify the outcome.
Ok, technically, both possibilities coexist for the human. For the cat, the single outcome is instantly clear; but the cat isn’t worrying about making deadlines.
In-progress and unfinished artwork is in an endless state of all possibilities and as exhausting as that sounds—and believe me it’s exhausting!—as long as everything is possible nothing has been rejected. It lives in a strangely safe limbo, buzzing with excitement at how it might engage with people, yet equally within a threatening tsunami of things left undone, a wave of overwhelm that looms just off the shore. Unfinished artwork and projects have simultaneously both won first place in an exhibit and also not been accepted in said exhibit. Unfinished artwork has both sold quickly to someone who wanted it enough to buy it and also still lives locked in my safe, waiting like a foster child for a permanent home.
Ok, technically, all the unfinished work lives in various areas of my studio, waiting on me to follow my own to-do list and complete it.
If/when I do complete it, its fate unfolds in reality. It doesn’t both win an award and get rejected. It doesn’t continue to live with me and move on to another home. It exists, for real in liminal space, not in my imagination, and all its possible outcomes can send its maker into a potential emotional roller coaster when they happen.
Who wouldn’t want to stay in the safer zone of imagined possibility?
Ok, so hanging out in the zone of imagined possibility is not a recipe for keeping a roof over one’s head.
It is, however, a great recipe for stirring up just enough chaos infused energy to create hope.
I once asked my friend Lee where the British expression “mad as a box of frogs” came from. I’m always curious how words and expressions evolve, because I’m a linguistic nerd.
After staring intently at me as if I were a deranged amphibian, he replied, “You get a box. You put a frog in it. What happens?”
Sometimes the answers to life are just too obvious to believe.