• Mark J. Keenan

Unfinished Business


You know what I'm talking about. Those projects you start, but never finish.

  • The book on "How to Draw Dragons" you were gifted and you said you were going to do one every week until you'd finished the book. But now, after completing six of the twenty or so sketches, it's collecting dust on the shelf.

  • The garden bed you cleared with a plan to plant a range of flowers and bring some colour to the backyard. Instead, there are now six feet tall weeds growing in it, threatening you everytime you walk past in a "Day of the Triffids" way .

  • The budget spreadsheet you created to track your spending. Every week, it will be updated. That's what you said a year ago, but the date modified signature on the file is unequivocal evidence that you never opened the file again.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I would beat myself up over things I'd started and not completed.


I'm a finisher, I would say to myself, so just do it.


And sometimes I would. I'd focus hard, I'd apply myself, I'd get it done. I wouldn't enjoy it necessarily but I was seeking completion, and I knew that part would make me feel good. And it did, for a bit at least.


Now, I'm wise to this completion mind-trap, this perfection focus. I have a different way of looking at these things. Now, I see unfinished projects as a sign of a curious mind and a creative spirit. And I appreciate them for what they are.


The Japanese call it wabi-sabi, a way of accepting transience and imperfection. A view where you appreciate the beauty of impermanence and incompleteness.



I immediately connected with this idea when it arrived in my email last year as the above drawing. I get weekly "sketchplanations" from Jono Hey, a London artist whose goal is to distil complex ideas into simple imagery (he is quite remarkable).


Of course, I still try to complete things. A manuscript which is only three-quarters done is never going to be of interest to anyone, and you can't drive a car with one wheel missing. But I remind myself there is a point when you might feel it's time to let go, when you've done what you need to but it may not be quite finished, or perfect, and it's okay to stop right where you are.


Gallery of recently unfinished business (left to right, top to bottom):

  1. Assignment for my Diploma of Family History - I could have spent at least two more hours working on this, for limited improvement, and maximum frustration.

  2. Mr Allsorts had a bit of a fall, wiping out Neo Cortex on his way down - a bit of neon blue glue to roughly patch him up and he's back on my shelf, still smiling.

  3. A portrait of my much-loved Labrador, Ozzie, painted over several weeks and yet still unrecognisable to anyone but me.

  4. The cable drawer I started cleaning up prior to the end of last year. Looks good doesn't it?