Monday, November 28, 2022

Doing As Process

 A year ago for Christmas, Nighean Gheal bought me some 3-D printed fantasy figures (rabbits with weapons and their opponent, a skeleton) for painting.

Once upon a time I painted this figures for fun, back in the day when they were all cast of lead and the small flakes that floated around were just additional mineral supplements (before we found out that licking lead paint was bad).  But that was long ago and the figures are long gone.  

As turns out, I have some vacation time now - and approximately a month ago, on a whim I purchased a complete "Figure in a Box with Paint and Brushes and Instructions" - it was an Oni, or Japanese Ogre with a Naginata.  How could I say no to that?

So last week, as part of my "vacation", I started painting after a 35 year hiatus.

I started with rabbits' opponent, the skeleton, because after 35 years I thought I might need to "brush up" as it were, and as skeletons can be a mono color (white), that seemed easy enough.  The plastic paints as well as the lead ever did (although back in the day, we only had model paints, not paints specifically designed for these kinds of things) and using a brush was the same as it ever was.  I painted all but one leg (the one I was holding it with), allowed it to dry a bit, and then painted the other.  Then, I was "done"

Except that I was not.

There were still bits and pieces that needed painting, small cracks that had not been reached in my first pass or two.  I was going to press into them and "finish up" so I could move on and get something of my "relaxing list".  But then, I stopped myself.

This, I suddenly realized, was not an event.  This was an activity.

As I sat looking at the plastic figure that had pulled off its own arm and was using it as a weapon,  I suddenly became aware that I was treating this as I often treat many things:  a project or event that I needed to complete so I could move on to the next thing.   

But in point of fact, this was not meant to be an "event".  This was meant to be an activity. 

This has been a constant struggle in my life, if I think about it.  I am very "project" oriented at least in that sense, that things are there to be completed and the next thing moved on to.  It is what made me very good at education and reading books:  there was a set course, there was a timeline, there was a point of completion.

But an activity is far different.  

An activity is something that, while it may have milestones, is never really complete.  Iaijustsu is very much like this.  Weightlifting is like this.  Even things like gardening and cheese making are like this - yes, there are points where the kata  is complete or the session finished or the vegetables and cheese harvested made, but we are not "done". We move on the the same thing, done in a different way perhaps, or even the same way.  Because the goal is the process itself, not necessarily the outcome.

This, to my mind, suddenly explained a great deal of my own issues.  How I often try to rush through something to finish it (and do it poorly) - because I think I have to get on to the next thing.  Or perhaps why there is always this nagging sense of not doing enough - it is not that I am not doing enough, it is that I am thinking of things in discrete tasks instead of totality of the activity.

I put aside the skeleton that day with the promise I would get back to it later, take another single pass at it, and then (again) put it aside.  Because, as I sat and thought about it, one of the differences between activities and projects is that activities are meant, like journeys, to be savored.  Rushing to get it done more quickly does not make it any more pleasant, it just denies the joy of the activity and having something to look forward to.

Also, it mars the final paint of your figures.


  1. Anonymous2:38 AM

    Sounds quite a bit like what occurs to me. I am a knife collector - hoarder and when younger, spent much more time researching what I had just found and wanted to purchase. Far more exciting and I was trying to learn all about the object. But as time goes on, I find myself selecting a model that I either 1) simply like, or 2) just to fill in a hole in the collection. Not nearly as much research is done (maybe I already know it all?) and I don't spend as much time enjoying getting them in my possession. Its I think just becoming a compulsion and just going through the motions.

    Very similar to what happened when I collected fishing lures of my youth. Items I could not afford and spent an hour having to select and pick out. Time was when I bought quite a few of the modern versions (I swear the colors are designed to catch fisherman more than the fish, lol). Now I have several tackleboxes full of lures that go completely unappreciated.

    Its a behavior that has to be pondered more upon. When I pass on, my family is going to have to deal with getting rid of them or simply just tossing out.

    1. It is the same here. I am in a weird place - for me, anyway - of actually reaching the point where the books I buy have become less - not because I read any less, but because I do not seem to feel the need to have more. Other than that, I really have very "limited" collections - more often than not, I now just buy something because it pleases me.

      As to compulsion - I have to visibly fight myself now to not go to the book store because "I might be missing out" on one of the short list books I want. Turns out they are almost never there anyway.

  2. A seemingly simple yet profound conclusion, TB. Dan tells me men are very much project oriented. I don't know if that's true, but he always has a project and project list, and when it's done his first question to me is "what am I going to do next?"

    I can only take his word on this, because my days are filled with other kinds of things: cooking, dishes, laundry, garden weeding and mulching, canning, milking, cheese making, etc., etc., etc. Ongoing activities that are never truly projects. Maybe this generalized trend is why we have the old saying "a man works from sun to sun but a woman's work is never done."

    The challenge is to find that joy you mention in the activity. It's harder with everyday tasks, but I think it sparks an opportunity to be creative. Cooking for example. Or hanging out the laundry in color patterns. Or my winter chore of mending. Tedious on the one hand, but I discovered an interesting series of videos on boro and sashiko, and that has really gotten me excited about an otherwise mundane task.

    Great post TB. I always appreciate your thoughtful and often philosophical view of things.

    1. Thanks Leigh. It comforts me that Dan's feedback is much the same (thus, it is not just a "me" problem).

      Finding the joy is indeed the difficulty. And perhaps that is why I find myself more and more not wanting to "do" the things I normally do, because the joy of the activity is not there like it once was. Sometimes it is just a matter of having to look to find it, or at least remember why I started it in the first place.

  3. I think it's wonderful that you realized it was an activity! I had that mindset for a long time when I was in the work force. Activities that should result in fun and relaxation and living in the moment, became part of a "to do" list. Have fun painting TB!! ☺

    1. Rain, I am slow, but eventually even I get there.

      Painting is one of those things that, like stitching, I can do while I am listening to something. That is a help.

  4. Nylon125:02 AM

    Perhaps doing something because you LIKE doing it? After all, who can say "No" to an Ogre?

    1. I know - right Nylon12? I do not know how anyone can avoid wanting to paint an ogre, once presented.

  5. I had seen that in the bansai tree. The owner would tenderly shape and train the tree to be what he saw in his mind it should be. But those things last a long time. It wasn't a one and done. I had a difficult time wrapping my mind around that.

    Now, some things are projects. Probably most. I have gotten to the activities only rarely. Those are the craftsman jobs. The ones where the finished product is part art, part love interest. I find when I slow down and think about it. Stop and smell the Sulf-Kut so to speak, that the finished product looks as good as it possibly can.

    I used to do that in my network wiring rehab jobs. Take my time and relish the beauty of wiring that is neat and tidy. Interior decorating for a nerdling. Happy Monday!

    1. STxAR, I do not think I have the patience for a bonsai - or the ability to keep it alive. I admire those that can.

      "Part art, part love interest". That is a grand description of it.

      I love organized wiring but do not have the patience to do it - I just like the results.

  6. Show us the pics of your work, you coward! :) It can't be any worse than my handiwork, HAR HAR HAR!

    Congrats on the much needed mental re-set TB. You need to jump on that for when retirement comes or you will have a very tough time of it.

    I am the same though. Unpleasant tasks are one that I will put my head down on - and barrel through them just to get them over with. Knowing when to take a break is a critical skill.

    But you MUST finish it and poast the pics. If I had your wealth and money, I'd buy an air brush and compressor and lend it to my creepy friends on the internet.

    Just a suggestion...

    1. No cowardice Glen - it is not done yet! I promise, I will post them when it is done.

      I am definitely giving reconsideration to post-work activities. While some things can be found after the fact, one has to go into such a thing with some idea of what is to be done...

  7. My eldest's boyfriend evidently is into painting figurines. She came home with a painted dragon and I was fascinated (privately of course) of the time and effort that must have gone into it.

    I like projects like those that take time to complete. I am reminded of my model building days of my youth and would probably do those again if I could. I did buy an adult lego set of a car that took me six weekends of working on it occasionally by our fireplace. I really enjoyed it but it was way more expensive than building a plastic model.

    1. Ed, there are some highly artistic people painting now and the hobby has grown in leaps and bounds in the 30 plus years since I did it.

      And yes, Lego does have some extremely intricate and interesting items - that are priced as such (I look at some of those kits in shock).

    2. Yeah they are a sticker shock. But after years of not really getting any Christmas presents, I splurged on one for myself. It has been three or four years since I done that again though. Darn fiscally conservative side of me!


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