It is never done.

I worked backstage on Jolson! in the West End of London for over a year. For stage crew it was a tough, busy show with a big hydraulic operated set and little wing space in the Victorian theatre to store things. Before each show there was a half hour process of dragging everything out from the positions it was packed in at the end of a previous show and putting it back in the order that would enable us to run the show. Then the three hours of running around in the dark, heaving heavy stuff about began.

I loved the organised chaos of the final set of cues. The last half hour of the show was essentially a concert onstage. At 10pm our final job was to strip the set bare to allow the set of bridges to descend from the fly space, musicians in place on the bridges. Then Brian Conley as Al Jolson would appear in the centre of the top bridge, walking down the steps created by the descending bridges to start the concert. This all happened in full view of the audience and was an impressive sight. As the band started playing, we ran around with marble tables and other room set stuff. As the bridges started to descend I ran on with a ladder to get Brian into position on that top bridge once it had descended and then stood and watched, listening to the drone of the hydraulics lowering the bridges into place and peeking at the faces of the audience watching this magic take place.

Then I was done. The show was over for me. I’d head over to the pub to laugh with the guys about whatever stupid stuff had happened that evening. It didn’t matter now. The show was over. Tomorrow would bring a new day.

Working as a web developer I rarely get that “it is done” moment. There is always a new skill to learn, a new feature to plan, new code to ship, new bugs to track down. Even when we launch something we are right back into planning the next thing. I am never done. I don’t get to look back on that thing, completed, frozen in time and over. I’m constantly picking over my work, refactoring, rewriting, can I make it better? Can I make myself better?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I think perhaps it is important for us as humans to be able to stand back, to look at a thing, to see that it is good and an achievement and that the mistakes and rough edges don’t matter. Perhaps this drives the interest in creating physical items that seems to be a common theme for people who work on the web, to create something that has an end point, is finished, shipped and done. Perhaps it underpins our long hours culture, we are people who feel they should fill every waking moment with learning, testing, improving. Perhaps it also drives much of the obsession with productivity tools, list making, Getting Things Done. Getting things that are never truly done, done.

Next year I’m going to try to build in those moments. I want to remember to stop before racing onto the next thing, remember to note that this feature, this book, this blog post … however imperfect and incomplete I might feel it is, is good. I want to take a moment to connect with the people using the things I produce, just as 20 year old me used to love to see the faces of the audience watching that magic I had a part in creating, and be happy that I can create something of worth for someone else.

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Comments

Jonny N: 23 Dec 2013 at 09:31:48

I find I need both of these plates spinning to keep me sane! Build a web app, build a show.. Refactor API code, run a gig..

Agree that one’s all about completion (show done, truck loaded, venue clear), and the other is never ending .. typos to fix, refactoring to do, new features needed, new use cases to encompass. Not to mention bit-rot ;)

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