When I moved into my first apartment and put that one key on my empty key ring, I remember thinking, “Oh man, I’m an adult now. Pretty soon, I’ll have lots of keys to lots of doors.” For some reason, having keys meant being grown and important and responsible and in charge.
Yeah, I know…humans are incredible meaning making machines.
Anyway, later, I leapt from keys to piling on lots of work and commitments so that I felt busy and important and in charge. To some degree, it worked. With each commitment fulfilled, people counted on me more. Asked me to do more. It felt good: being in demand. Plus I was growing and learning. It was symbiotic.
Then came motherhood. There is nothing like a 24/7 job that demands ALL your attention. I realized that I couldn’t do that job without taking care of me. I had to get sleep. I had to curb work. I had to replenish myself every day so that I could be a better human for my daughter. Gradually, that self care became the center piece of my life. It still is. Twenty two years later.
Yes, I’m still busy. Sometimes over committed. This week, I taught three entirely separate classes. I kept drafting my novel. I put food in my fridge, worked out and went to a doctor’s appointment. And I went to my day job. It was a lot. I feel tired. Maybe a bit too much. But here’s the deal: whenever I say: ‘I have so much to do’ or ‘I have too much to do.’ I always ask myself: Are you doing everything you want to do? Are you fulfilled? Happy? As long as I say yes, I’m good.
But I keep an eye on the key chain. I don’t need to fill it to feel important anymore.
To my left, on a table are two books. Two really good books. I am reading them at the same time. Two chapters a day each. They are beautiful stories. Not complicated. Somehow, their simplicity stirs images and memories in me. A new story pops into my head. Hmmm, that might be fun to write and see what turns up. Then, conversations from the longer manuscript drift into my ears. Yes, write those down too, I think. The sun is brightly spilling into the room. The cat is sleeping on the unmade bed. My brain is awake and alive. I can feel this small communion between my heart and my brain. I wonder if that is where joy lives: my brain with its little ideas tickling my will and my desire. The two of them waking me up, making me feel alive and excited.
More about the bane of perfection:
Waiting to speak up
waiting to be completely “right”
waiting to have all the t’s crossed. i’s dotted
waiting to stun everyone into silence
with your unassailable brilliance.
Oh my god…how effed up is that?
I can see myself: two or three years old, in my high chair at the end of the table, listening, listening, listening, waiting to talk, not finding an opening because there was so much talk amongst the already walking, talking tribe called my bio-family. Don’t get me wrong. It was a nice family. I was loved and safe and warm. But somewhere in all that swirl of conversation or babble, I made up the belief that I had better get all my words and thoughts in order before I opened my mouth.
It took me a long, long time to fling myself in a conversation, to try out my thinking. It was so much easier to be a listener, to ask questions, to invisible myself. But what a disservice to me, to my voice and ultimately to the people at the proverbial table because I wasn’t letting anyone get to know me.
I still have to push myself. Drafting can be a trial. Speaking on panels makes me sweat. But I keep doing it. I keep speaking up, shaping my thoughts as I speak, figuring things out. What did teachers used to tell us? “Show your work. You may not get the right answer but if I see you how you worked at the problem, I can mark the effort.”
So speak up. Fling off the yoke of perfection. Join the conversation. People really do want to hear what you are thinking. As long as you’re not a know-it-all or an attention hog or an overbearing blowhard.
Hah! Shall I aspire to blowhard? And fail miserably and perfectly along the way?
I took part in a Writers League of Texas panel this week. The topic was restarting projects: How to begin or re-begin something.
Yes, getting yourself to sit down can be hard. Or sometimes sitting down AND believing yourself can be hard. For those problems, I suggest therapy or a time management seminar. But what about the actual writing? What are you going to put on the page? Do you know the story? Do you hear the first line? Is there a scene that keeps pulling at you?
If you know the story, sit down and tell it to yourself. All the way through. Don’t stop. That’s first draft. You don’t have to have the whole thing worked out. It won’t be pretty. It’s a first draft. Just get it down so you can look at it and read it.
If you know the first line, write it down. Then write a second and a third. Keep going. Something will spin itself on to the page. Keep trusting the voice and words inside you. Again, it won’t be a masterwork but you will have something on the page that you see and edit.
If there is a scene that keeps pulling at you, write it down for god sakes. It doesn’t matter if it comes at the end or the middle or the climax. WRITE. IT. DOWN. There’s a reason it’s pulling at you. There’s something in it. If you write it down, there will be clues in that scene for another scene. And another. And another. I promise.
But here’s the deal, start with what’s calling to you. Don’t tell yourself, “Oh I have to begin at the beginning. I have to go in order.” That’s bollux.
Write the juicy scene. Write the ending. Write the scene you know you need. Write the scene that makes you feel joyful, that makes you feel excited about writing. There are enough hard parts in writing and being a writer. Don’t starve yourself from the joy of writing the scene that’s calling to you.
I’m starting to feel precious about each word I’m writing in this space. I’m judging each one. The joy is leaking out. I’m going for perfection which sucks (Danger: Swearing ahead.) because perfection doesn’t exist. Well, maybe it does for a half a second. Like when a rose is perfectly opened but then it drops a peel or turns brown or wilts just a tad and poof, perfection is gone. Or maybe, we move too fast to notice perfection. Like all we’re doing is going toward precious perfection and when we get there, we’re going so fast that we miss it. Zip. Gone. Missed it. And we still have that hollow feeling in our hearts: where is perfection? Why can’t I get there?
Because you’re going too fucking fast.
And of course, there’s this bit: you want someone else to tell you when something (story, painting, poem) is perfect. Or good. Or excellent. Or fill in the blank. So not only are you striving, striving, striving for precious perfection at warp speed, you are relying on someone outside of you to tell you when you get there.
Do you see how fucked up that is? So. Fucked. Up.