We’re taught from an early age to finish what we started, and for a kid, it’s pretty good advice. Our memberships in the “Clean Your Plate” club might not have been the healthiest idea ever, but our parents and guardians meant well. They were trying to teach us that persistence is rewarded—and that we have to eat our veggies. Or they were trying to get a little value out of the ten-pack of dance/pottery/ukulele lessons you begged for. The library was an hour away, so we really needed to finish that huge, thick book we chose (with no pictures, because we wanted to read something “grown-up”) before we could go back. Anything worth doing is worth doing properly, and we had to finish what we started.
Now that I’m over fifty, I’m on a mission to quit stuff. “Life’s too short to read a bad book,” I’ll say, flinging a hapless paperback aside, or touching the back button on my Kindle. I often still feel guilty, though. Anything unfinished will niggle at me. Netflix hates it when I don’t finish a show and will insist I continue watching, months after I quit. My Steam library is full of unfinished games. I have a box of books I’ve “tossed,” but haven’t quite moved out of the house.
But, outside of certain tasks like the seventeenth read-through of a book I have a contract for and really need to submit soon, or making sure my child has clean underwear for school tomorrow, and paying things like the mortgage, I don’t really have to finish anything. I mean… would the world end if I had to wear my underwear twice?
If the world did end, I’d probably be wearing it for a week at a time, and washing out that one pair for months. My focus would be on something other than clean undies and finishing a book I wasn’t really enjoying.
What have I quit recently? It’s actually a lot. Over the past couple of years, my life has become more complicated, which ticks me off a little as it’s supposed to get easier when you get older, right? But with free time suddenly more precious than ever, I’ve had to reevaluate much of what I do and ask myself: “Do I really enjoy this?” Sometimes, it’s a simpler question, like, “How will I feel tomorrow?” (That one’s usually related to alcohol consumption.)
I’ve also developed a way to stick to the things I either can’t quit, or don’t want to. If I really want to read a book, for example, and know I’ll have a hard time staying focused, I’ll get the book on audio. Audiobooks have turned me into a non-fiction reader. I’ve always wanted to read non-fiction, like memoirs and history and science books, but haven’t been able to get through the sometimes dry prose. I also sometimes have difficulty with an author’s style. I adore Charles Stross’ books, but his writing is, like, higher plane stuff. I only grasp about half of it. But when I listen, I absorb more. I now prefer to “read” epic fantasy with my ears. A 1000 page book will defeat me before I even pick it up, but a 40-hour audio? Bring it on. I can live in that book for weeks. I’ve listened to lectures on everything from mythology to astronomy. I am fully convinced that if I could get a degree just by listening to all of the course material, I could actually go back to school.
I also break things I really want to do, like attend webinars, into small chunks. I’m usually not around when the webinar is live, but and honestly? I would have a hard time sitting there for an hour, watching my computer screen while people talk. I have to move when I’m listening to stuff. So I wait for the recordings and I listen to them ten minutes at a time, taking notes. The big tasks that have to get done, like spreading the mulch? I can’t quit, I need the driveway back. I set aside an hour a day. I paint rooms one wall at a time. I write my books scene by scene.
But, before this post soars into an uplifting essay on how to finish stuff, let me return to the things I haven’t finished—and plan never to return to.
Warning: there will be spoilers ahead.
Every time I tell someone I quit watching Breaking Bad at the end of the second season, they spend about half an hour telling me why I need to go back and keep watching. I tune them out. And if you leave a comment telling me why I need to go back and keep watching, or email me, I’ll ignore you. I didn’t like it, okay? I found the premise intriguing and actually enjoyed the first season in a “this is hilariously dark” kind of way. The second season disturbed me greatly and at the end, I decided I was done. Even if a redemption arc was in the works for Walter White, to my mind, nothing could bring him back from what he’d already done, which was allow that girl to die. When I explain this to the folks who are trying to convince me to keep watching, they tell me that’s not the point. That it’s not about his redemption. And this is why I just can’t anymore. We all like what we like and I agree that dark, heartless characters can be compelling, that their spiral into the depths can be fascinating. But following those particular journeys just isn’t my thing. I don’t watch documentaries about serial killers and I like my heroes and heroines to win at the end of the day. Call me simple; I am who I am.
I did learn something from quitting this series, though, and from continuing to stay “quit” in the face of vociferous persuasion: Live and let live. I mean, yeah, I always knew this was a thing, but it doesn’t need to be about the important stuff. It can be about books and TV. If someone said they didn’t like it, and respond to your first entreaty with, no, that still sounds like it’s not for me, step back. Let them go. Not everyone has to love Breaking Bad. Not everyone has to agree that the book with a thousand five star ratings is a literary masterpiece.
So I’m trying to take a step back, too. When I think about how many hours of my own life I might have wasted trying to convince someone to do something they really didn’t want to do, I cringe. Over-fifty-Kel isn’t going to do that—is going to try not to do that. At the risk of sounding utterly millennial, you do you, okay?
The Handmaid’s Tale
We started watching this just recently and buzzed fairly quickly through the first season, pausing only to binge The Umbrella Academy (which you should totally watch, you know, if you want to). I liked the first season a lot, especially as I gained the sense toward the end that the story was going to continue past the book and into the epilogue.
It might? But in episode three of season two, Offred is recaptured at end of a thrilling chase, and the minute it happened, my husband and I turned to each other and said, “I’m done.” We haven’t continued with the series.
Why? It’s entirely possible, and probable, that the resistance will gain ground and that Gilead will be challenged and eventually overturned. I hope that happens. But in the meantime, I’ll have to watch more rape and torture and I just don’t want to. One of the reasons I often lose interest in a series (TV or book) is because of recurring villains. The ones who are supposed to be dead, or who show no remorse. The ones who make me, as the audience, feel hopeless. I don’t want to feel hopeless. I just don’t.
You know those lists that circulate social media every so often, full of books people either lie about reading, or are supposed to have read? Moby Dick is on ALL of them, and I was suckered. About ten years ago, I decided I was going to read the damn thing. I’d seen the movie, sort of. It had Sir Patrick Stewart in it and he was brilliant and I wanted to appreciate all of his brilliance, but I really only remember a lot of grey water, his voice, and the fact I was probably surfing the ‘net on my phone for over half the movie. Then I tried the book and got to the end of the first chapter and decided. Nah, nope, life is too short. So, this is a double fail.
I know it’s on all those lists for a reason and I do actually remember what I learned from reading other classics in high school and beyond, but, ugh, shouldn’t there be an alternate? I mean laying out the themes of a particular classic and assigning your students to find and experience (watch, read, listen to) a book that either compliments or dissects. Wouldn’t that be more fun?
It’s possible I could do Moby Dick on audio and if I needed it for a class, I guess I’d try that. But maybe my above suggestion would be worth a try also. Let’s start thinking outside the lines!
Full Metal Jacket
I have walked out of two movies in my life: Full Metal Jacket and A Clockwork Orange. In Full Metal Jacket, it was right after he got shot in the ankle (I don’t remember who or where or why). That was my tipping point. I was in my early twenties and a somewhat delicate little flower and I just couldn’t with the blood and blood and blood. Now I recommend Cormac McCarthy novels to everyone I meet (mostly for the dialogue, but also for the stories and the writing and the should be expected by now blood), so it’s odd that this movie got the best of me. I made it through Apocalypse Now. The difference is probably the context.
I just didn’t like A Clockwork Orange. It was weird and disturbing. My daughter thinks it’s amazing. It’s okay for me to think otherwise and she respects that. We’ve talked a lot about letting people have their own opinion. 😉
House of Cards
Everyone was so awful! Like, no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Watching this show made us feel dirty.
Mass Effect: Andromeda
Holy disappointment, Batman. Also, boring. And… boring. Mostly, though, it was a case of expectations not being met. The Mass Effect trilogy is my holy grail of gaming. Andromeda just didn’t measure up.
We all know what the definition of insanity is, right? I killed my way down to the basement level of that building in order to activate my shiny new power armor FOUR times, and four times, the machine bugged out and wouldn’t do the thing.
Done. So done.
Horizon Zero Dawn
I nearly finished. But that final boss fight! After dying about fifty times, I realized I needed better gear, more ammo, more potions, and just more everything, and that in order to do that, I’d have to go back several hours—probably more than ten—and play through to the end again. I’d seen my husband defeat the boss and I’d seen what came after. I called it a day.
True story, though, when I quit a game before it’s done, 80% of the time, it’s because I can’t get through a fight. I hate this. It kills my love for a game like nothing else. So, I really appreciate when a game either helps you along by advancing you to the next stage of the fight after a certain point, or allows you to adjust the difficulty. I’m all for a challenge, but sometimes I just want to see the end, you know?
Because of my history of epic fails in gaming, I have been known to say, “If I could beat that game, you can.” 😀
This book might get moved to the list of exceptions one day. I’ve heard such good things. My mistake in this instance was opting for audio. I just couldn’t get along with the narrator. I’d just finished listening to the same narrator read Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear which I wanted to love and just didn’t. My jaw ached from gritting my teeth at the end, mostly because of the narrator’s style of, gather ‘round, children, and let me tell you a story. It thrust me out of immersion, and combined with Bear’s penchant for including all of her research (which is pretty amazing), I was tired of feeling schooled. So, when I started a new book and heard the same voice, I was predisposed toward quitting early, and quit early I did.
I’ll try reading this one for myself one day.
I have 90 other books on my not-for-me Goodreads list. Some of them I tossed at 90%, when I just couldn’t anymore. But there are exceptions…
The Witch of Cologne
Tobsha Learner killed my favourite character (perhaps ever) in this book. I read the scene three times to make sure she’d actually done it before putting the book aside. Then I grieved. It’s a testament to the power of her writing that I felt the loss so keenly. I ached and wept. I decided not to finish the book because without him, how could I go on? What was the point?
About two weeks later, I picked it back up again and read to the end and I’m glad I did. The book ended well, in some respects, and I was satisfied. But I also felt the author was able to transmit both her own distress over the loss of that one character, as well as the sadness of those left behind. The ending was uplifting, in a way, but also melancholy. And also very much suited to the subject matter and time period. It’s now one of my favourite books and one I recommend often.
Have you ever seen one of my best of lists? Dune is at the top. I own six print copies and one audio edition. I’d collect more if they happened my way. I think it’s one of the most brilliant books ever written. I cannot wait for Denis Villeneuve’s new movie adaptation. But the first time I read this book, at the encouragement of my father, I didn’t get past the hand in the box scene. I was bored and not interested and bored and it just wasn’t my thing. I couldn’t feel the promise. Also, it was a thick book and I was a teenager afraid of thick books. I liked my thin and pulpy sci-fi paperbacks.
But I LOVED the movie and the mini-series, so when I started getting seriously back into audiobooks, I decided to try again. I’m so glad I did. I lived and breathed this book and the sequel, Dune Messiah, for the couple of weeks it took me to listen.
I think a part of it was that I was older and more able to understand and appreciate the intricacies of the plot. And maybe having seen the movie, I was better able to picture what was happening. But listening to the book was a completely separate experience. I enjoyed it for its own merits and got so much more out of the story than I had before. I felt more and got more involved in the world. It’s an audiobook I’ve listened to more than once, which is rare, and one I might even listen to again sometime.
The Walking Dead
I actually came back to The Walking Dead after quitting around the third episode of the second season. My reason for quitting was twofold. I was bored. The first season had been nonstop action and now they were sitting around a farmhouse being all reflective. I also didn’t like Shane. He was the nasty character I wanted someone to deal with. An almost recurring villain.
But I kept hearing how good the series was and I loved the premise, so I decided to try again, picking up where I left off, and burned through six seasons over a period of weeks. I’m glad I went back, because season five in particular was amazing, and overall, this has been some of the best TV and the best writing I’ve encountered. I could write a whole post about why I love The Walking Dead and I might get a little carried away if you tell me you don’t want to watch it. I’ll try not to. Remind me who over-fifty-Kel is.
I could easily list another ten disappointments and another ten moments of enlightenment, but I’ve rambled on long enough for one post. If there is a point (and there often isn’t), it’s this: life is too short to suffer through something that, at the end of the day, has little consequence. Stop reading the books you think you should be reading, or the books everyone else is reading. Especially stop reading the books you know you’re going to dislike, but everyone else thought it was great, so…
Yeah, don’t do that. Read something you really want to instead.
Mostly, though, stop telling other people what they should be reading. Keep the recommendations coming. We all love to hear about new books. But if someone says, no, I don’t think that’s for me, respect that. They could be wrong. They could be missing out on the experience of a lifetime. But you know what? Maybe they’ll use the time to experience something that changes them in other ways. Their very own form of enlightenment.
So, what do you think I should be reading or watching? (If you recommend Breaking Bad, so help me…) Or what have you quit in the middle because you realized life was just too short? (Hey, it’s okay if it was one of my books. I nearly quit most of them in the middle as well!)
(Featured image created using Canva. Yes, I have boxes of unfinished puzzles.)