I like many kinds of quilting, but the ones that bring me most satisfaction are the ones I create on my own. The trouble is, I still don’t have great confidence in the ‘creating’ part. All my life, having been labeled practical, responsible, mature, and reliable, I’ve found myself living into these qualities. I happen to like them, they’ve served me well, and no one I’ve worked with has ever complained about my lack of focus! At the same time, they don’t exactly pave the way for noticing my creativity, whimsy, artistry, imagination, and invention.
Needless to say, at this, the design stage of the quilting process, I have this internal struggle with allowing these other attributes of mine to rise to the surface. The problem is, while I want to be creative, I also love to finish things. I love being efficient. I love to get things done. This week, I finally put pencil to paper. I have an old photograph I want to use as the anchor for this piece. I’ll alter it a bit and then build the quilt around it. Since it’s a surprise for someone, I’ll save the reveal for later.
Did I mention I have no background in art or design? In my family, art was an excess. It was thought to be sort of frivolous. And yet, while it was never overtly praised or given great attention, thinking back we were exposed to many small snippets of beautiful art forms, and we were exposed to people, some close relatives, who made art a great part of their life. So, it’s not really a surprise that while I have this push pull effect, the older I get, the braver I become at accepting the pull.
One thing I notice as I design, is I might not know exactly why something doesn’t work, but my brain certainly recognizes when a thing is not right. It turns out, our brains are wired for efficiency, not quality. In other words, our brains want things to be easy. When our eye sees something, if our brain has to scramble around trying to make sense of it, we easily turn away or lose interest. This is why fashion models are chosen for their symmetry. Our eyes, and our brains, relax and feel pleasure when viewing them. If faces are complex, or asymmetrical, our brains are set in motion. This is far less relaxing and so we perceive them to be less appealing.
My creative process has always been to do a lot of thinking as I prepare. This is true whether I am creating a new workshop, or planning a special meal, or purchasing a gift, or designing a quilt. I always follow a similar pattern. I spend time researching. I think for a while, often days. Then I go back to the research and refine it. Then more thinking. Finally, I put pen to paper, followed by standing back to see my design, followed by editing until my mind feels relaxed. Once I have this feeling, I easily move forward toward the execution. Alas, this does not always fit comfortably with my value of efficiency.
I imagine the reason I’m being drawn to quilting right now is because I’m in the middle of creating a new workshop. When I step away from creating at my computer, I let the thoughts of the workshop pieces wiggle themselves into place as I put the energy of my mind into creating the design of the quilt. It may not be that efficient, but I hope to produce quality projects on both fronts.
While it’s good to recognize that quilts need to ‘look right’ for admirers to stop and really enjoy them, we should not use this as a template for all the bits of our lives. It is true that our brains prefer, and choose, efficiency over quality. In no way does this mean we should allow them to always choose efficiency. Efficiency often means familiar. It means we can get where we are going quickly. It means following a habitual path leading us absolutely, nowhere new.
Efficiency is great when we are making a bed. Or writing a weekly report. Or driving to our local grocery store. But it is dangerous when this is the tool we use for thinking. Efficient thinking means we choose not to challenge our thoughts, and beliefs. And being efficient is almost always the wrong tool to grab when we want to live an interesting life. My brother and I laugh at ourselves regularly when we head out on an adventure. We usually know our starting and finishing point, and we both feel wonderful about getting from A to B most efficiently. Over the years, we’ve learned to put a circuit breaker in our planning. We’ve even efficiently planned to be inefficient by choosing to stop ‘x’ times along the way for pictures. Or for saying, with big grins on our faces as we recognize our tendency for efficiency, ‘Let’s get this thing done!’
I want to be efficient as I create this quilt. I don’t want to waste fabric. If I happen to have some leftover fabric from another project that could fit, I’d like to use it. But what a shame it would be, if having sewn the last stitch, I looked down to see that in my efficiency, I had created the identical thing I have created before.
And what a shame it will be, if we let ten more days, or weeks, or months, or years, go by and we look back to see we have run the same circuit over and over again, seeing the same sights, and patting ourselves on our backs for our efficiency, for ‘Getting this thing done.’
May your upcoming week be filled with the joys of inefficiencies!
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘What inefficiency could improve this?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations and for conducting leadership reviews. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to embrace inefficiency.