The more I think about why I can’t seem to get anything finished, the more I see unfinished things all around me. Things that seemed like a great idea at the time, but then there was no follow-through. Ideas that went nowhere.
In primary school, maybe year 2 or 3, we watched a film about what was then called global warming. The film seemed to say that it was all really pretty irreversibly bad, but if everyone stopped using the clothes dryer, it would basically be fine. So it was time to start thinking about not using the dryer. The time to start had come. This was about two decades ago.
To put things in perspective, last year everyone including me bought Keep Cups because of a similar documentary. The time, finally, had come, to start taking the environment seriously. This year, plastic straws are in the firing line. I suppose you can look at all of this as progress. Or you could see at it as different types of procrastination. When do things stop starting, and actually get finished? When do we celebrate the closure of the last coal-fired power station? When do we stop trying to start again?
Climate change is just one example, but this is really about the problem of beginnings. When I look back on the global warming video, I realise that all beginnings really offer is a kind of nostalgia – they let us believe that a blank page is possible. It’s intoxicating – to simply say you need to start, to believe that starting might be enough. Who doesn't want a fresh start, in one way or another? When was the last time someone said 'what you really need is to stick with this stale, unacceptable situation and muddle your way through somehow'? Never. What they said was: 'you need a fresh start'.
Declaring that you will do something entirely new is much easier than changing your existing course, than improvising and shifting gears where you are. It's easier than incorporating new information into a plan, or rediscovering older, still useful, information. There are manufactured beginnings everywhere. Think about how many articles include the words ‘we need to start talking about X’. When will the start of that conversation be? Sometimes it never comes.
Starting is easy. Continuing is hard. But continuing is all there is. Nothing has ever once truly begun. Even our cells have memories that precede our birth.
I have been thinking a lot about my own procrastination patterns, and I think that Doing Things in general gets much harder as you get older. You realise increasingly that no one actually cares what you do, or whether you do anything at all. I’m not trying to be nihilistic or down on myself – it’s just the truth. No one will force you to live your own life. No one else even knows what living looks like from your perspective. Maybe it means writing a novel that weighs the same as a watermelon. Maybe it means looking after a dog. Maybe it means both.
The point is that you don’t know what's right at the beginning, you know it at the end. You don't know until you weigh the book. You don’t really know until the dog dies. Catherine Deveny says in her excellent, bum-kicking book about writing that you can’t know how you will feel about something until you’ve done it. And that’s why we don’t do things – at least that’s why I don’t do things – because I know there’s a chance that it will be a massive letdown.
Which is to say, I know there’s a chance that I will be a letdown. But I guess sometimes you do get to the end and it is a letdown. And actually, it's fine. You survive. But you just don't know till you get there.
Which is where I have arrived, because I don’t really know how to end this post. I really thought it would be a lot more profound that this. Except to say – I’m still glad I did it. This is a perfect example of how things get harder the further away you are from the start.