Of Procrastination and Plateaus


About 10 years ago (maybe more)  I happened to pick out Martha Beck’s Expecting Adam from the local library’s bookshelf, which led me to search out more of her writing. An especially novel and compelling view she wrote about was on procrastination. My interpretation of what she was saying is that procrastination is the way that the wiser part of ourselves tries to protect us from making commitments to directions that are not right for us. After reading Beck, I’ve embraced procrastination like a friend who helps me keep my actions aligned to my goals and values. When I can exercise even a modicum of self-awareness I let my procrastination help me fine tune the direction of my energies so that I am able to resist leading myself astray.

I’ve been procrastinating about posting for the last few week because there is something, other that what I had planned, that I want to write about.

It’s about when I’m plateauing with my work,. Since writing about this feels uncomfortable to me,  I’ve been trying to dismiss the idea of writing this post. After weeks of not writing, it occurs to me that avoidance is not an option.

I want to write about what I’ve come to believe about plateaus, as this belief largely defines the way that I move through my days.

First, a  bit of context.

I am just now finishing up something that I thought would take about 3 hours. Instead it has, so far, taken me 3 full days of steady work. I really am just about done. But as the hours started piling up, as I was feeling like I was making absolutely no progress, I started to think about how often I am in the position of feeling like I am working without any results whatsoever. I make mistakes. I try out ideas that don’t go anywhere. I’m indecisive. I get tired.  My work area gets chaotic and I can’t find anything. ARgh.

Then I clean up my work area. Depending how long I’ve been at it or if I have a deadline, I may then take a break, or may keep working. Maybe I feel frustrated, maybe I’m getting impatient, but what I do NOT do is retreat. This is not procrastination. It’s something completely different. I know this territory well. I am on a plateau.

Here’s what I know about plateaus. It may look like I’m not making any progress. In fact everything that I do when I’m plateauing might be discarded. Actually, that’s what usually happens. But something else is going on. I know that if I just keep working, something wonderful is going to happen. And it does. Every time. Even though it seems like the plateau is lasting forever, it doesn’t last forever.

It seems like everything that I do, everything I try to learn, everything that I create, takes me so much longer than seems reasonable. I stay with things because this is the only way to get where I want to be.  Plateaus are the gatekeepers to my next levels, so I just keep plodding plodding plodding along. Happily, I love where I end up each time.

There. I’ve written this. Now I can get back to work.







Hexagons and the Golden Ratio

This past Sunday I brought some hexagons to a nearby library, where a homeschooling group was meeting, hoping to do some math/art. My thinking was to bring something that was playful, hands-on, and that combined visuals and math in a way that would be both engaging and instructive.  The woman who asked me to do this project had seen my post on circles and the golden ratio   and was looking for me to do something that explored this golden ratio idea with kids.

The Golden Ratio is found in nature, and is a darling concept of artists, designers, and mathematicians. It’s also a tricky proportional relationship which is not easy grasp. I started out the session reading a definition of the golden ratio, and explained that, generally, the only people who understand its definition are people who understand it already. I let them know that my aim was to  convey the  message that if they are confronted with a difficult idea, a great way to move forward is to play with the idea. Just play.

Which is what we did.

The spectacular thing that happens to shapes that are scaled by the golden ratio is the way they fit together. This is hard to explain but a close examination of the proportions in picture above pretty much says it all.

Putting this into words sounds a bit incomprehensible, but I will try anyhow.: First, understand that scaling something means you are making something uniformly bigger or smaller by a chosen amount. If there are three shapes scaled consecutively larger by the golden ratio,then the two smaller shapes will fit exactly into the largest shape.

See, like this:

Golden Ratio Hexagons
Golden Ratio Hexagons

A few people who’ve seen these have commented on the beautiful papers that we used. I thought they meant the colors, which is bright copy paper. But now I’ve realized that people like the graphics on the shapes. These aren’t patterned paper, these are patterns made on my printer, printing with black ink. It was my way of easily distinguishing between the shapes, as all the same sizes have the same graphics on them.

Sample of hexagon file
Sample of hexagon file on regular copy paper.

Since I have printer that makes 11″ x 17″ inch copies I printed from a file that has lots of hexagons in an 11″ x 17″ file. This gave me room to print a really big hexagon that I’ve been showing in the photos above.

I know that many people don’t have access to this larger size, so I made a pdf for regular size copy paper. To get the largest size, I suggest cutting out the big half-hexagon, and tracing it twice on larger paper so you end up with a big, whole hexagon.

And since Simon and Vince use A4 I made an A4 file.

Here they are:  use the files for the size paper you are putting in your printer.

hexagpn golden ratio 11 x17

hexagpn golden ratio 11 x17 (2)

8.5 x 11 hexagons golden ratio 



There is so much to notice in these pieces! First, people seemed to have a hard time feeling finished: the more they did, the more possibilities they saw. There are all sorts of opportunities to talk about equalities. Also, I noticed that equilateral triangles kept showing up. This isn’t something that we talked about, but it could have been. Oh, and see in the photo above how that green hexagon fits perfectly into the triangle?

Doing her own thing
I tried to explain the golden ratio and its specific measurement and relationships to this little girl, but no matter how much I told her about the ratio which we call phi, and how the exponents -1, 0, 1 ,2, 3, 4, and 5 were sequentially applied to the base of 1.618 to achieve our shapes, and that she should be putting phi^1 and phi^2 into phi ^3 she chose to respond to every one of my helpful hints with the words “MY PROJECT!” Although there was ample opportunity for us to chat up the associative property, seeing that if a +b = c, and b+c=d. then a + b +b =d, she still hung on to her insistence of “MY PROJECT!” Obviously she is a renegade.

Not everyone stayed with the program. The young lady above (3 years old) had her mother get her started in the right direction, but then she took off on her own, plotting her own course.

No background!
No background!

I like how this young person (she is 8 years old) decided to cut off the background hexagon.

There are much more I could write about this project, but it’s really about discovery. So I will leave it at this.


Just one last note: for gluing, we used glue sticks.

Zhen Xian Bao

Chinese Thread Book Workshop, so how did it go?


Running workshops is absolutely one of my favorite things, And this workshop was a good as it gets.

Two 6 hour days worked out well.

My own big takeaways:

Group folding
Group folding

Although people had their own desk area to work at, I began the day with all of us at a group table, without much personal workspace. We did most of our paper folding in these close quarters, as I think we all enjoyed the close proximity of each other. This made it easier for everyone to help each other, and for me to keep an eye on everyone. We’d spread out at different times, and people would go back to their more spacious desk area now and then for various reasons. I really liked how this worked out.

variation of the twist top box
Alan’s variations of the twist top box


Only two of the eight participants wanted to do learn the flower top box, and I wasn’t entirely surprised by this. What did surprise me is that, after showing one person a variation on the design  for twist-top box, numerous people got excited about these variations and tried them out. I’ve played around with these variations (which includes making folds and cuts and the upper edge of the box so that, when the sides rotate down, a surprising patterned is revealed) but I hadn’t tried out these variations using my patterned papers. I was outrageous pleased with how these turned out.

mix and match
mix and match

People seemed to love the patterns on the papers, which were designed specifically to work with the paperfolding that we were doing. The great things about these papers, for me, was that to make the patterns line up just right the paper folding had to be precise. If alignment was off, it was easy to see and easy to fix. It was like the designs were a sentient helper.

Pam's choices
Pam’s choices

People mixed and matched the papers in all sorts of surprising ways that wouldn’t have occured to me. This was so much fun to see. Makes me want to design more papers.

Glue with squeeze bottles, Pat's boxes
Glue with squeeze bottles, Pat’s boxes

I felt like I was making a radical decision in deciding not to use brushes for glueing. Most of the gluing was done with plastic squeeze bottles filled with Jade/PVA. People usef glue sticks just a bit to just secure down a tab here and there. We used double sided tape to attach the covers. All of this worked out really well. Was happy not to have brushes and bowls of glue around.

Mary Anne's pieces
Mary Anne’s pieces

One regret: I didn’t take enough photos. Also, I wish there had been enough time for us to stop and look at what each other did, as a group. I think two of the participants didn’t finish 100% with putting on their covers, though I know that they can do it on their own. I just like to be there when it all comes together just right at the end.

Yeah, I think I need to do some more paper designs. Really love these, but want something new to look at.

Related Posts:

This link will take you to four different posts, each of which have a video tutorial near the end of each post, which shows how to make the various parts of the Zhen Xian Bao

Addendum 9/29/2018: Nancy Akerlyi recently taught a Chinese Thread Book.  Take a look at the gorgeous work done by her and by her students at




Zhen Xian Bao

Zhen Xian Bao Workshop Prep

Assembling and Weighting pieces for a Chinese Thread Book
Assembling and Weighting pieces for a Chinese Thread Book, or Ironing out the Details

Here’s a look at my prep for a two-day workshop teaching the construction of the Chinese Thread Book.

The last time I taught this workshop, in the bindery at the Met, the participants brought in papers from their own collection (many of which they had decorated themselves) or used pieces from the bindery’s ample collection of decorative papers. This time around I am bringing papers to supplement what people might bring. What I’ve done is created designs for papers that fit the boxes that we’ll be making. What this means is the design on the papers will actually guide many of the folds.

Papers for Zhen Xian Bao, Chinese Thread book
Papers for Zhen Xian Bao, Chinese Thread book

I’m also printing the designs on to the paper in such a way that they can be cut out without doing any measuring.

Pieces for the Chinese Thread book, Designed, folded, and fitting together together
Pieces for the Chinese Thread book, Designed, folded, and fitting together

There are too many variations of the Chinese Thread Book that can be readily consumed in two days of teaching, but I want to be able to offer more to the people who may want more. I know that there will be at least one person in the class who has already been folding this structure, so I want to be able to teach, as an extra, the flower top box to anyone who want to learn it.

Flower top origami box for Chinese Thread Book
Flower top origami box for Chinese Thread Book

This flower top box is extraordinarily lovely.  I could write a whole post about it, but that would be silly because Cathryn Miller has already written the most wonderful post I can imagine about it. She provides links, her own set of hand drawn instructions, and lots of photos: Cathryn Millers post on Flower Top Box. 

Since Cathryn wrote the post, what I can add to the conversation is the video:


Through a stroke of great luck, I had a having the perfect visitor this past weekend who was able to test drive this video tutorial for me.

Whose hands are these? To be revealed...
Whose hands are these? To be revealed…

For my own future reference, here’s the list that I sent for the participants:

bone folder
Cutting tools:
     large scissors
     small scissors
     cutting blade, such as utility knife or exacto
     personal cutting mat (this is totally optional!!!)
Weight (about 5 lbs, can be a heavy book)
Glue stick (totally optional…we may not even use these, but they can be nice to have around)
Double sided tape (but only if you have some, as, again,  we may not use it)
IF people have papers they want to use, bring them, but I will have enough paper for people to use,
Now, here’s the paper I’m bringing with me, fresh off the press, printed on Strathmore 25% cotton writing paper,
Papers for Chines Thread Book
Papers for Chines Thread Book

My own list of what to bring:

PVA in squeeze bottles, double sided tape, papers, scissors, rotary trimmers, cutting mats, wax paper, weights, measurement paper for marking thirds, pencil, pamphlet making supplies, bone folder,velcro, utility knife, rulers, Ruth Smith’s books, and Zhen Xian Bao models.

Sampler for Chinese Thread book
Sampler for Chinese Thread book

That’s about it.

Many thanks to my helper this weekend: The marvelous Susan Joy Share!

Paula Beardell Krieg and Susan Joy Share, at play
Paula Beardell Krieg and Susan Joy Share, at play

The lovely flowers here came along with Ed Hutchins and Steve Warren, but the fellows left before we thought of taking a photo, so the flowers are their stand in.

Now, time to finish packing.