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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Stop. The word is stop. As in, how do we know when to?

For my birthday my mother sent, among other things, a jar of sunflower butter, which I love, and a jar of some other mixed nut butter that I had never had. I thought it was peanut butter but it didn’t taste like any peanut butter I’d ever eaten. It was different. And delicious. And addictive.

I ate the whole jar and never once spread it on a cracker or a slice of bread. I ate it right out of the jar with a spoon.

I love nut butters. I also rarely use them in a way that they are likely meant to be used, namely spread on or mixed into or eaten with something. I almost exclusively eat them out of the jar.

More importantly, I sprinkle a few chocolate chips into the jar then scoop them out and into my face repeatedly. This is how a whole jar of mixed nut butter and half a jar of sunflower butter vanished from my pantry.

It’s a whole ritual. First I wipe down all the counters as if I’m just cleaning up for the night. Then I take out the nut butter and the chocolate chips, drop three or four in, spoon them out, screw the lid back on the jar, cover up the chocolate chips, and wash the spoon, as if that’s all I’m going to eat. Then in about point-two minutes I unscrew the jar and sprinkle three or four more chips in and do it all over again. At some point I stop trying to pretend that I’m not going to eat anymore and ten minutes later I’m promising myself that I’ll only have two more spoonfuls and that’s it.

It was during this ritual that I wondered how a person is to know when it’s time to stop.

“When the jar is empty” is probably not the best answer.

Growing up you have parents to tell you those things. Mom only lets you eat four cookies (not three as we well know and would never insult her by implicating her in allowing such a paltry number) so you know you have to stop at four.

As a grown up you have a whole box of cookies and no stop sign.

For a while maybe the limits are ingrained in your head so you only eat four. But eventually you realize you can eat the entire row of Oreos and nobody will say a word.

Being a grown up is hard.

Not knowing when to stop applies to more than nut butter and cookies. It really applies to everything in life. As a kid you had a teacher who told you when it was time to stop playing and get back to math. Or time to stop doing math and go get some exercise.

But then you grow up and there is nobody telling you when to stop. Stop working and go out to play. Stop sitting on the couch and go sweep up the cheese you dropped on the floor making the tacos. Stop doing the housekeeping and go do a puzzle. Stop obsessing about the puzzle and go to sleep.

You have to figure this all out on your own. There are so MANY decisions to make.

Stop whining and go do something.

Stop talking. Stop arguing. Stop making that face or it will freeze that way.

Sometimes you just don’t know when.

Sometimes it’s more existential than that. Sometimes you start a project, say a barrel sanding project, and you keep trying to do this thing that is really not going anywhere and no longer entertaining you but you keep going because you haven’t figured out that it’s time to stop.

Stopping can feel like giving up.

I think we as humans are genetically programmed to be fixers and solvers, so we work at problems and challenges until our knuckles are bleeding, convinced we’ll figure it out, we’ll succeed, we’ll get to the end, when in fact we would probably serve ourselves better if we just stopped.

How do you know when to do that if nobody tells you it’s time?

“When my knuckles are bleeding” is probably not the best answer.

There is a fine line between stop and quit.

I can’t just quit on a jar of sunflower butter, can I? Not when there is half left.

This is not the Come Up With An Answer blog, so I hope you’re not expecting some profound conclusion. We’re grown ups now, and you have to figure out when to stop just as I do.

You do have one advantage though. I have to decide when to stop writing and you just have to sit there and wait for me to be done. You’re welcome.

Photo: an actual street sign in Snoqualmie, Washington. Sometimes the universe provides.