Knowing when to Finish

I was thinking back over some of the posts I’d written in the fall and I remembered that I had mentioned my plan to make one thousand origami cranes over the course of the year.  Well, I haven’t made five origami cranes in one day since last year.  It all stopped.  It all just ground to a halt.  I made a couple last week when my son asked me if I could make some out of his TTC transfers but that’s all the origami crane production I’ve had.

My kids always like to get the transfers even though we never need them on any of our journeys.  Transfers are proof that you’ve paid your fare so you can continue your journey on another line – from subway to bus or streetcar.

So they have these machines in the subway stations where you push a button and it spits out a small piece of paper with the name of the station and the time.  So without fail, whenever we go through the subway station my kids run up to the machine and push the button as many times as they can to get their transfers before we drag them on to the train or out of the station.

So this time, after getting two of them, my son asked me if I could make him a crane.  So I did.  I may have stopped making them but I don’t think I’ll ever forget now how to make them.  I’ve made enough that fingers know the way now.  So I was able to make him two cranes as we rode the train home.  He seemed happy enough with that.  My kids make me things all the time, so it’s nice when I can return the favour.  I certainly do other things for them, but I do like being able to make them things in addition to all the other things that I do.

So when my son asked me to make him the crane, he mentioned the cranes in my office.  I had told them my plan, and he obviously remembered it.  I think he wonders what I will do with all those cranes.  But at this point in time, I haven’t got all those cranes and I haven’t made any progress since the holidays.

The crane, the paper and the half-finished crane.

The crane, the paper and the half-finished crane.

Of all the plans that I’ve made in my life that have remained incomplete, there are many that have been more disappointing than this scheme to fold 1000 origami cranes.  The ones that have bothered me most generally get picked up again.  I’m pretty sure I will get my basement done in one way or another some day.  I have no doubt that my book will be completed unless I die suddenly in the meantime.  But there was another book I started in my last year of high school as an independent study.  I finished a number chapters and always planned to write the whole thing.  I had plans for getting it published and using the funds to buy my grandparents cottage to keep it in the family, but that never happened.

I made some very slight progress on it after the project finished, but I was in college and there was a lot of other work that I was doing, and before long I got interested in other kinds of fiction and the plans for my book were dropped.  It was a fantasy novel.  Those were the kinds of books that I liked best in high school.  But then in college as I started taking more English literature classes, I began to look down my nose at those kinds of books and got interested in other things.

That’s one that I regret.  I regret that I came to a place where I looked down on my fantasy novel as unworthy.  It may not have had a bright future ahead of it, but I think my decision was based more on some idea that fantasy wasn’t real literature and I wanted to be a writer of serious literature, which makes me sad.  It makes me feel sad for my high school self.  In a lot of ways I’m much more drawn towards that version of myself who just wrote what he liked rather than the version who wrote what he thought he needed to write in order to become who he thought he should be.

There’s a story from his youth that Ray Bradbury shares in his book Zen and the Art of Writing where he threw out his Flash Gordon comics because a teacher had told him they weren’t serious – and he LOVED his Flash Gordon comics.  Well, as the story goes, the next day he pulled all those Flash Gordon comics out of the garbage and decided to ignore what he’d been told, and he said that it was probably the single greatest turning point in his life.  He went on to become a very successful science fiction writer, but also a very successful writer of “serious” work.  I think most people would probably suggest that his science fiction is “serious” as well, but either way he wrote what he loved and he wrote well and people loved what he wrote.  It’s hard to find fault with that.

So in the grand scheme of things my plan to fold a thousand origami cranes is not going to cause me to lose sleep, but there’s also a part of me that hopes that I will pick it up again.  I say “hopes” because it’s busy at work right now.  I know that I probably won’t make any cranes today and I probably won’t make any on Monday, but I hope that maybe I’ll come to a day before too long where I’ll decide to make some cranes.  This probably means I won’t make any cranes, but that’s okay.

I think the one thing that makes me want to continue is the fact that my son remembers that I told him my plan.  I told him my plan – he remembers it, but he also doesn’t question that I will complete it.  When he heard that I was going to make 1000 cranes, his assumption was that I would make 1000 cranes, and for that reason alone, I think that I might push forward to fine the time to make those cranes.

If I finish those 1000 cranes, then I can show them to my kids and they will probably ask me what I am going to do with them, and they will hope that I will give some of them to them.  When they see what 1000 cranes looks like they will probably be impressed that I folded them all.

On the other hand, if I never finish them, they will never see my big pile of 1000 cranes and if they ever ask about them, they will hear that I stopped and didn’t complete my plan and I’m not sure that I want to tell them that.  The very fact that my son remembers my plan makes me want to finish it, just so that he will also remember that I made a plan and brought it to a close, even if it wasn’t a very useful plan.

Not everything is worth finishing.  There is value in setting things aside.  There are times when the cost of something is too high.  But some things are worth finishing just for the sake of having started them.  Sometimes it’s worthwhile to complete useless tasks just to know that they are done.  Not always but sometimes, and the more I write about these 1000 cranes, the more I feel certain that I need to finish them.

So ask me next week how many cranes I made today.


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