Print Edition: April 9, 2014
Are you at home with your idea of perfect? Is perfection a good roommate? Is it a lover you are trying to please? Or is it that grumpy editorial voice constantly editing away your unique thoughts into the not-good-enough category? Is perfection the imposter that seduces you into feeling unqualified and no good? Or is it that attention that unfurls our awareness into seeing perfection in an imperfect world?
I am through with being perfect. Sounds like a line from a song? Almost. It is a line from a poem, in which I say just that: I am through with being perfect. A woman is too many examples.
Sometimes people say: you are brave. In my head that can translate as: I am just willing to be imperfect. Sometimes they say: you are authentic, or genuine. In my head it sounds like: I am tired of trying to live up to some notion of perfect. Sometimes they ask: where do you get your courage from? That can translate as: I do not care enough to just please. Or, I care enough about what I believe in. Some days perfect equals acceptable, perfect equals fitting in the norm, sometimes perfect is the right answer, is too certain of itself. Some days, perfect is dangerous, runs contrary to diversity. Still, some days I stumble into the perfect moment, which I did nothing to orchestrate. I was simply attentive, tuned in and open to see. Is striving for perfection one of our many human flaws?
Where does your perfect come from? Does it have a nationality? A colour? A face? A body shape? Usually when I ask myself this question I find that it is someone’s idea of what I need to live up to, or it is some notion in my head which is unattainable. That kind of perfect interferes with my exploration and play. In fact, it can end them.
An important phase of the creative process is that initial generative space where you allow yourself to explore playfully. It is a messy, uncontrolled, unorganized place. It is as ungrammatical as our thoughts, our sensations. It is an undefined, swampy place. Yet, I can stumble into beauty and perfection right there in the swamp, and draw a poem out of the murk.
Too often I encounter those, young and old, who cannot even begin on a project. If they feel they can not do it perfectly they would rather not do it at all. How about the essay you expect to pour out of your head, intact? Do you see the problem with this idea of perfection? I do. It will not let me write a word on this page. Nothing on the page comes out perfect. It could be pretty good. But it will not be perfect.
The blank page is perfect.
Then comes the long process of scoring the page and making it less perfect. In this first translation from world to word we cannot be perfect. Language is an imperfect tool. We have to translate a complex tangle of perceptions, emotions, assumptions, into a string of marks on the page to which we attribute meaning, and hope, eventually, to be able to conjure that complex experience in another. It is, in itself, magic, this learning to spell. Perhaps if we agree that as writers we will always be apprentices to that act of translation, to this casting of spells, we will likely be less inhibited by unattainable notions of perfect. Whose were those notions again?
Is there some perfect idea of perfection? Now, I am getting bored with my own notions of perfection. I begin to doubt myself. Even beginning to doubt if this piece is perfect enough.
If this kind of perfection is my house, I will be homeless. I will be silencing the very voice I am trying to capture and express. The voice I call my own. Call my home. It is a timid voice, and it can be very quiet. Is perfection a beacon that guides me? Is it a lighthouse that warns me where the treacherous rocks are?
Perfection will not let me submit this piece. Too many preconceived notions will always tamper with the genuine and unique voices that we are.
I want to know what perfection thinks of me. What is perfection’s idea of us. If perfection believes in me, maybe I will believe in perfection. Until then I will be cautious when it comes to visit. I will fear the meal is not perfect, and perhaps my hair is not quite right for this guest, who sometimes can take more from my home than I am willing to give up.