Out of Sight, Out of Mind

"Out of Darkness" by Becca J. Campbell

You know that project hanging over your head? The one that’s been sitting half-finished for months, gathering dust, just waiting for you to bring it to completion? I have several. They make my skin itch when I walk past them, covering me with the debris of guilt every time I remember them.

And once a project has been sitting there for a certain length of time (I haven’t figured out what that mysterious length is yet…a week? A month?), I subconsciously accept its incomplete state as a permanent reality. It enters the “unfinished project” zone, and its chances in ever escaping alive have dwindled to near nothing. At some point in time, I consciously accept the defeat, putting said project away in the closet (read: mausoleum).

Doomed to the Grave

It all begins with procrastination, of course. Innocent infatuation with the other projects in my life. A lack of enough time to do everything. But soon I can’t use that excuse anymore. I know that by setting the work aside for too long, I’ve doomed it to rot forever.

I may surprise you when I say that this post is not about the ills of procrastination or leaving projects unfinished. (Although a worthy topic and one I’m always working on.) Instead, I want to break all the rules by telling you to grab that recently deserted project and preemptively throw it into the crypt…er, I mean closet.

I know what you’re thinking. “Abandon the project? Quit? Accept failure?” And my responses are, “Yes,” “Not exactly” and “Never.” My reason for telling you to let your W.I.P. “R.I.P.” will make sense after you hear about my serendipitous discovery of how to trick my subconscious mind. (Muhahaha….)

Hibernation is Healthy

I really enjoy painting, but it’s been months…maybe even a year since I’ve picked up a brush (Side note: I’m not counting the Super Mario piñata I created for my son’s birthday). But I was feeling the urge to paimt this week, so I decided to pull one of my unfinished projects from the closet and tackle it anew. The idea of seeing my paints and brushes again thrilled me. Even my abandoned partial works sent tingles of hope through my veins as I remembered with fondness the original inspiration for each. So I picked a canvas, squirted some acrylic on my palette and dove back in.

And somehow an hour and a half later, I had a complete project I absolutely loved. I’m certain I never would have ended up with this painting had I kept trying to finish it a year ago.

The moral of the story? Your project may not need to be permanently buried, but it may need to hibernate. Give it (and yourself) a break.

Pond Scum and Processed Cheese

Like the icky green skim that appears over a stagnant body of water (or the congealed rubbery skin over a bowl of partially cooled Velveeta cheese dip), a motionless project takes on a similar stigma from disuse. But if you are able to trick your mind into forgetting about it, that very same smelly halfling of a work might very well be transformed into a project whose appeal rivals that of a wrapped Christmas present. So hide it in the closet, banish it from the to-do list and cut the shackles that mentally tie you to that ball-and-chain.

Sometimes it’s difficult to solve a problem simply because of the length of time you’ve been staring at it. I think the same can apply even when you haven’t been directly working on a project—even if it’s just been sitting there, hanging over your head.

Of course you have to know when to hold on and when to let go. I’m not saying to give in to resistance or just let any project fall to the wayside. And I’m definitely not giving artists an excuse to hibernate from their craft. But hopefully the reminder that it’s okay (even healthy) to put the project on hold for a while will release a burden from some overloaded shoulders. You know the project. And you know what to do.

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  1. #1 by Courtney Cantrell on January 18, 2011 - 2:25 pm

    Becca, this might be my favorite post of yours so far. For one thing, that painting is fantastic. I love being able to see only the figure’s upper body — as though the rest isn’t just buried in darkness but actually part of the darkness. The whole thing speaks of hope and triumph, and I feel better about life just looking at it. Thank you. 🙂

    I’m also loving all your written imagery. Itchy skin and debris of guilt, processed cheese scum and Christmas presents, W.I.P. “R.I.P.” — I can connect with everything you’re saying. I have so many unfinished projects hanging over my head…I really do need to let go of my emotional belief that they must remain perpetually in-progress! I’d be more likely to do something with them in the future if I’d just let them fade into the past.

    • #2 by Becca J. Campbell on January 19, 2011 - 3:27 pm

      Sorry, your comment got caught in spam! And I missed it until just now.

      Thanks for your kind words. 🙂

      My intention for the painting was just as you say. I see the figure as escaping the darkness it was once a part of. It may not be quite apparent from the photo, but there is some residue on the form. After all, we don’t just have to escape darkness once, we have to daily cleanse ourselves from the residual gunk.

      • #3 by Courtney Cantrell on January 19, 2011 - 10:47 pm

        I love the idea (and practice!) of cleansing the soul daily. It makes every day a new, fresh adventure.

        I can’t wait to see the painting in person!

  2. #4 by Courtney Cantrell on January 18, 2011 - 2:40 pm

    Hmmm….I posted a comment here, but it’s not showing up. Don’t know what happened. I can’t remember everything I said, but… Becca, I think this might be my favorite post of yours so far! The painting is wonderful — I really like how I can see only the figure’s upper body, as though the lower half isn’t just buried in darkness but is part of the darkness. The hope and triumph of this piece really speak to me — just looking at it makes me feel better about life.

    And I can relate to all your written imagery as well. I have so much unfinished cheese scum projects! Maybe if I’d just let them fade into the past, I’d actually end up doing something with them in the future!

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