The Completionist

I had a realization last week: I am a completionist.

What I mean by that is that its not in my nature to get much satisfaction by leaving things half done. Sometimes its unavoidable, but when I have a choice and all other things being equal, I often find the incentive to carry through what I’m doing rather than switching things up and/or toggling between a variety of things.

Knowing this about myself its now interesting to observe my behavior. When I eat a meal I finish each foodstuff individually before moving on to the next. I don’t mix my peas with the potatoes, the gravy with the salad, the dessert with the main course. And so on. Funny habit, when you see it for what it is….

I also try to stick to viewing separate TV shows from start to finish. That’s why I always preferred DVD boxed sets over live weekly episodes on television, and Netfilx to both. If I can binge straight through an entire show, season 1 to the end, that makes me happiest.

Same for when I read a great author or a good series. My favorite authors are an ultimate incentive for completion. I will read everything they have done. I want to have a complete handle on their works. And when the latest installment of a series gets published I am as inclined to start back from the beginning as I am to just plunge in. I’d sometimes even rather reread a whole series I love than start something new.

Maybe that has some similarity to eating all of one food at a time too. Keep the taste of one thing separate and pure, not mixed up and commingled with other flavors. Dive in head first as if there were nothing else. Commit. That is what I prefer, if given the chance.

And so pottery. I’ve known it for years, but I haven’t thought too deeply about it. I like making one form and getting it worked through entirely before I move on to the next. I have two making cycles for my two big sale seasons in June and December. I start with mugs, make anywhere from 100-200, and then make bowls. I like the rhythm that approach lets me have. I can test subtle variations, try new things, change it up, without feeling like I’m starting over from scratch. I get to feel I am building on the lessons learned. Working on one type of form at a time I get to see that there is direction. A more scattered approach might hide the direction from me, not that it isn’t there for many artists, but for me a lack of mental clutter is my clarity.

Each day I start the same, with my coffee and the internet. I go through my various inboxes and check them off the list. I read all the new interesting articles, and then I respond to authors who have inspired me. I save the best for last, and communicate with friends and write the really important emails, and only then am I ready for the studio. Each day the same. Brush up on the mental and social life first, then hide out in the studio with a mess of clay and some evanescent mojo. My real purpose. Get rid of the clutter in ascending order and then devote to the thing that holds the most intrinsic value for me.

I guess if I had to sum it up I’d say that everything has to fit, everything in its own place. The better fit the better. The order is part of the fit. Complexity, skipping steps, things in the wrong order end up distracting and diluting if not in fact paralyzing.

I remember back when I was an undergrad and the courses I was taking coalesced so perfectly that at one point I thought I could write variations of the same term paper for each class. That is the sort of ideal I envision for my life, that it all makes sense in some unified way. The sense is in the coalescing, the coming together in order to create a picture. Until its time to switch gears, of course. Complete one picture and move on. Next semester will be a different topic, next phase in the studio some other form, but each in its own place, as much as can be managed. The key is in knowing when you are done, when its complete, when you are permitted to move on without penalty.

Isn’t that interesting? It surprised me!

So, how do you work? How does your life pan out? A little bit of this, a little bit of that? All jumbled together? Separate but equal? Multitasking of necessity or by choice? Hop scotching through a variety of different things? Holding the course? Competing the mission?

Its just fascinating that we all do it just a bit different, but that it is we who choose the course. It could be different, but we may have aligned other factors to make one version both more accessible and more rewarding. And its a good question whether we do things a certain way because that’s what works best, or they work best because we do them a certain way.

And perhaps knowing it is even a question allows us to have a certain freedom we might otherwise not know. Do I do things because this is who I am? Or am I this person because this is what I do? Its not an easy thing to answer, but as long as we are asking the right questions we are not as much simply the victim of our habits and our ignorance…..

Stuff to consider!

As an aside, as I was editing this I remembered the Barry Schwartz TED talk (and writings) on the paradox of choice, and how diverse options can reach a tipping point of effectiveness. Check out what he has to say 🙂

Peace all!

Happy potting!

Make beauty real!


About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Ceramics, Creativity, Imagination, metacognition, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

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