Thursday, August 02, 2007

In Progress...

One of my favorite comic strips (thanks, Kelly, for the recommendation!) is Pearls Before Swine, written by Stephan Pastis. His characters exhibit a variety of traits; they are intelligent or endearing or gullible or stupid....and then there’s Rat. He is just plain evil. Stephan Pastis once said that he had given Rat his (Stephan’s) own worst characteristics. He took his personal faults and combined them to create the character of Rat, who is obnoxious, selfish, rude, arrogant, and greedy - and a liar and cheater to boot. As soon as I read that, I wondered, if I created a character with my worst faults, what would she/he be like? It wasn’t pleasant to think about.

Every time you get advice on how to prepare yourself for a job interview, it’s always the same suggestion, which goes something like this: “Your potential employers will usually ask you to describe your worst fault. The key is to use this to your advantage. Tell them something that could be categorized as a weakness, but in your description, make it sound like it’s really a strength.” Uh huh. The oldest trick in the book. Then they’ll offer an example, like “I’m a workaholic. That’s my weakness. I just work, work, work.” We all understandably want to play up our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. But gee, isn’t there room for a little honesty?

Some of my bad traits probably don’t bother me as much as they bother others. It’s all in the perspective. A habit that others might find highly annoying I might label as “eccentric.”

But other bad traits I know I possess are so glaring to me that they blind me, sometimes enough that I can’t even acknowledge my good qualities, which I know are in there somewhere. One of these such traits is my apparent inability to finish anything.

Now, anyone who knows me will nod and laugh at this analysis. Most of my family and friends would say that Carol is a great planner, Carol is a great starter, Carol is an idea machine. Sometimes I take months, even years, to plan a project or formalize a goal. Then when the race starts, I’m the first horse out of the gate. I’m excited, I have the adrenaline flowing, and I’m unstoppable.

But somewhere along the way, I get bored, or tired, or - as is usually the case - distracted by the next great idea that pops into my head. Quilters call this UFO syndrome (unfinished objects). Hence the quilt I started for Rachel’s marriage gift, which I am still trying to finish, and the poor girl just celebrated her 5th anniversary. How sad is that?

I was reading in my pregnancy diary (Matt) last night where I had written about a cross-stitched birth announcement I had started with plans to hang it in his nursery. It had little pastel ducks, rabbits, and blocks, with his name, birth date, weight, and height. I knew the date ahead of time (scheduled C-section) but I left the weight and height information for later stitching. I believe it was just a few years ago that I finally stitched that information in. The thing is still not framed. Matt is 24 years old. I’m sure it would be a wonderful whimsical addition to his bedroom now.

Other projects I have stored away in boxes, carefully labeled with their identification, maybe with drawings or patterns tucked inside. I’ve read about old ladies who die, and their survivors open these boxes and poignantly sigh, “Aw, Grandma never got to finish this...I think I can piece this quilt together/sew this placemat/cross-stitch this ornament (fill in the blank).” Then said relative lovingly finishes said project, and feels the bond of connection so strongly with their loved one, even through the veil of death.

Yeah, right. I see my kids and grandkids going through all this stuff and saying, “Oh crap! Here’s another half-finished project Grammy never did get done. What the heck are we supposed to do with it?! Hey, there, hand me that Goodwill bag, will ya?”

Of course, I have been known to finish a few projects. When that miraculous event occurs, I make sure I take a photograph, just as a souvenir to look back on one day and reflect on the fact that I actually completed something. But those moments are rare.

I don’t relegate this unfortunate trait of mine to my craft projects, no siree. I dropped out of piano lessons before my teacher and parents wanted me to. I went to college one year, then quit. It’s insidious. In any given moment, I am feeling guilty about innumerable things in my life so freely abandoned. Then I hear quite clearly the convicting phrase from the Book of Common Prayer, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done...” and I weep.

Then I dry my tears and start planning my next project.

Oh to be a Completer! Oh to be a Fulfiller! A Doer! A Concluder! A Terminator! (Ooh, I don’t like the sound of that last one.) Alas, my name is Carol Tiffin James, and I’m an Unfinisher. There’s got to be a good comic strip in there somewhere.


Cuidado said...

You could write that comic strip and of course there will never be an ending because.....

Bob Andelman said...

You might enjoy this audio interview with “Pearls Before Swine” cartoonist Stephan Pastis.