The road ends, but the journey continues...

Reaching the Finish Line and Zeno’s Paradox

I have always been intrigued with Zeno’s paradoxes. Specifically, his Dichotomy paradox. As a mathematical concept it offers a glimpse into the world of infinity – an abstract concept of boundlessness – and by way of my own extrapolation: eternity – a reality outside of time, with no beginning and no end.

Yep, math is very cool*. People just don’t give it a chance.
We (I) tend to think of infinity as uncontained largeness, which it is, but Zeno’s paradox reveals another slice of that same infinity. Infinity as uncontained minuteness.
Mr. Zeno’s Dichotomy paradox simply stated says, Before an object can travel a given distance, it must travel half that distance then in order to travel that half distance, it must travel a quarter of that distance, etc. Since this sequence goes on forever, it therefore appears that the given distance cannot be traveled.
The way it was demonstrated to me back in the day was to stand a set distance from a wall, then take a step halfway towards that wall, then from that halfway point take another step halfway, and again until your nose is against that wall, but still some half of a half of an infinite half distance from that wall!
In this 21st century, I am a living example of Zeno’s paradox.
It seems I’m in a constant state of being ‘almost finished’ with various projects.
To be clear, I am not talking about confusing perfectionism with professionalism in the (he)artistic creation process. There is a time when something is truly done and learning to know when to stop ‘futzing’ with a project is part of that process.
What I am talking about is how my projects get ‘done, except for…’. Which then get ‘done except for’ something else then on and on until my nose is up against that wall and I’m staring down an infinite number of ‘except fors’.
Oh, I know that’s not truly a real-life application of Zeno’s paradox, but it sure feels like it. The infinity aspect of it certainly, but the frustration of projects never getting to the finish line – achingly acute.
Most of the time the ‘except fors’ are dependent upon some other factors that I cannot control which only adds discouragement to frustration.
Case in point, Mr. Zeno came to remembrance a couple months ago while I was ‘futzing’ with the liner notes for my upcoming Swimming with Swans: Goat Suite (Saga) cd (who knows anymore when it will be released :-().
I had all my ducks in a row – the artwork, layout, format chosen, and wav. files ready for replication, but there were just too many other obstacles asserting themselves, blocking the finish line. All ‘done, except for’ factors beyond my control – thus, hindering completion of the actual cd packaging and its release anytime soon.
But those liner notes, hey man, let me nit-pick/futz with those because I can control all of that.
In general, once I realize I’m in a Zeno’s infinite loop of frustration, I search for some other unfinished bits that can be readily completed if I take the time to focus on them. In my small multipurpose studio, such projects are easily seen and found.

Three different blocks

l-r: experiment in color & design limited to neutrals found in on-sale jellyroll pack; my take using the tiny flying geese border on ‘Red Rocks’ block; study in yellows using scraps in my usual free form piecing style

In this instance, my eyes strayed away from the practice stool and computer screen to the three quilt blocks laid out on my flannel design wall. They are each from three different projects and have been on the periphery of my quilting focus. I decided long ago to sew them the way they were arranged, but just wasn’t motivated to finish them.
In the name of surviving yet another cycle of Zeno’s dichotomy, I took to completing them and packing them away for later use in their respective projects.
That felt good.
And then that positive completion experience refueled my determination to work on a different slice of the overall SwS project while the aforementioned slice(s) are on hold. I opened my NOTION score files of related Swimming with Swans music and resumed editing several of those music scores in preparation for future inclusion in the project’s accompanying Music Folio.
That feels even better! 🙂


*Just for fun:

The dichotomy paradox leads to the following mathematical joke. A mathematician, a physicist and an engineer were asked to answer the following question. A group of boys are lined up on one wall of a dance hall, and an equal number of girls are lined up on the opposite wall. Both groups are then instructed to advance toward each other by one quarter the distance separating them every ten seconds. When do they meet at the center of the dance hall? The mathematician said they would never actually meet because the series is infinite. The physicist said they would meet when time equals infinity. The engineer said that within one minute they would be close enough for all practical purposes.


  1. Annika Perry

    Laura, congratulations on completing the loop with some of these unfinished tasks – and it’s a great name to put to this phenomena! I’m making sure to drop this into conversation where applicable!

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh you ‘name dropper’ you! HA! Mr. Zeno is still relevant in this 21st century, eh?
      All the best to you in your creative endeavors this week.

  2. Andy

    My brain hurts too! The right hemisphere of my brain is definitely more dominant than the left!
    Speaking of eternity, I recall a conversation with my daughter Millie a few years ago. Can’t remember exactly how old she was, but she was only young (think that sounds like a paradox!)
    She asked me if space went on forever. When I replied that it did, she asked “Is that because God is still drawing it?” Deep and simplistic at the same time.
    Look forward to hearing your new music.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Some day Millie and I will twirl about the NOMA stacks and sing of the eternal creative works of our Creator!!!

  3. Jennie Fitzkee

    Great post, Laura. Good for you to finish that work, too! And I learned about Zeno’s Paradox. Thank you!

    • laura bruno lilly

      You’re welcome – glad to hear you learned something new, too!

  4. Mary J Puckett

    I like that joke! Must repeat it to my neighbor, who is an engineer 🙂

    • laura bruno lilly

      Yep, please pass it on –

  5. Marty

    I love what you did here, comparing an actual paradox of infinite completion with your own life. I’m also grateful for your wall analogy because I’m one of those people who never gave math a chance!
    I like the joke. 🙂 – Marty

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thanks Marty for diving in as best you could with the Math!

  6. Anne

    My issue with finishing things is not the futzing (great word!) but being distracted by the bright and shiny new project that has just come into my brain. However, I love the Zeno Paradox, and the joke is just wonderful. I hope your swans are able to take flight very soon.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Futzing is a word my Ma used alot…!

  7. Catherine de Seton

    I was a bit lost until you got your quilt parts … and whilst my “pink” is now back on the front burner, I did find a few things in the big fabric revamp that have been on the “back burner, nearly done dept”. I like the idea of maths, but it always seems to evade me …

    • laura bruno lilly

      Front burner/back burner is a familiar technique to me also!

  8. Janis

    What an interesting post! I also have a whole slew of “almost but not quite finished” projects. Fortunately, I can now blame their status on Zeno. Btw, I think the mathematician, the physicist and the engineer all have it wrong. I say, “who cares about the distance between, just get out on the floor and dance!”

    • laura bruno lilly

      Oh yeahhhhhh. And especially to The Buena Vista Culture Club…IN Cuba!

  9. Bob Cloud

    Those ‘except for’ factors can make you want to kick that wall occasionally. Been there,done that.

    • laura bruno lilly

      So great that your computer allowed my computer to get your comment, Bob.
      I like the idea of kicking that wall…good advice, pal.

  10. Mariss Stevens

    Ah, quilting as a panacea for Zeno’s Paradox. Or what I would unmathematically call life’s chaos. Glad you finished those blocks and then got back to working with Swimming with Swans. What an enticing title. Strength with the project.
    Look forward to seeing bigger photos of the finished quilt project

    • laura bruno lilly

      I’ll take that strength, Mariss. And thank you kindly.
      Just to be clear, each of those blocks belong to different projects.The one on the left (the study in neutrals and restricted to the single jelly roll fabric) will no doubt be around that size and used as a miniature (to me!) study in machine quilting proficiency!
      As for Mr. Zeno: Glad to give you a name to define our often chaotic lives as creative (he)artists.
      As always, I appreciate your comments.

  11. Jane Chesebrough

    My brain hurts, but thanks for making me think. I would wait for winter for the quilts. Oh, when I am working on something I get so distracted, even to the point of discovering some house work that needs doing. Really now! Knowing when to finish a project, especially a painting, can be most difficult for me and I find it best to go for a walk in nature and come back with a clear head. I like the joke, by the way, seeing how different people approach things. That is why I never go hiking with hikers. They walk too fast and I want to stop and look, and then take photos.

    • laura bruno lilly

      I love your discernment regarding hikers and your own trail goals.
      Yeah, there really is a time when it is DONE. Ma and I used to talk about that alot (she was a graphic/commercial and fine (he)artist).

  12. Roseanne

    Hi Laura! Math does rock, although it certainly does challenge me upon occasion. I feel like I am sitting on the set of the recently-ended Big Bang series. Not only on the set, but on the couch while Leonard, Sheldon, et. al. are discussing a mathematical equation or paradox. I love it!! I am sorry that you are at the frustration level with your CD. Futzing with the liner notes is rather productive to a point, and then you have to leave well enough alone. I recall these quilt blocks, especially the boat that has hit a sand-bar of sorts. Rather fitting, no?! {{Hugs}} ~smile~ Roseanne

  13. Ally Bean

    I am unfamiliar with Zeno’s Paradox, but in general I’m all about paradoxes. I, too, have projects that never quite get done. This drives me bonkers, but I do take comfort in knowing that I do my best and I can’t control it all. I often here Paul Simon’s words in my mind… “the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.”

    • laura bruno lilly

      Must be a year for Paul Simon wisdom…

  14. L. Marie

    This is a thought-provoking post, Laura! I’m hoping that the factors that are beyond your control will be dealt with and your project successfully completed.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Thank you, L.Marie!
      I’m sure you could relate to the Zeno factor on some of your own projects, too.

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