This weekend I was driving down the river road and saw a young artist with his easel set up on the bike path. He was standing in front of his canvas, painting the beautiful Fall colors. I turned and craned my neck to see how he was doing as I drove by. There were colors and lines on the canvas, a half-finished work of art. “That’s brave,” I thought, standing there in public where anyone could watch his process, see the humble beginnings, judge what might not look like much in the middle.
I remembered watching Bob Ross on public television when I was a kid. My dad liked to watch him teach the audience how to paint landscapes, and Mr. Ross did have a mesmerizing quality about his voice (painting all his “happy little trees.”) I was fascinated by his process—he’d start painting the scene and it would look like a mess. It looked like a mess until he was more than half-way through– every time I watched, I was sure he had totally botched his painting this time. Wouldn’t you know, he always managed to turn his mess into a miracle, and end the show with a lovely nature scene.
All this has got me thinking about Perfectionism lately. I’ve probably been a Perfectionist since I went to school at age 5. I’ll spare you the psychoanalysis of my history, oldest child, blah blah blah. Let’s just say that even though I’m nowhere close to Perfect, I’m driven by a self-critical, super-sensitive, judgmental, hand-wringing inner Perfectionist. My family will tell you I can throw a wicked good party or event, but nobody (including me) has much fun getting there. (Note: I’m really working on this, and have reduced my frantic drill sergeant-ness a lot.)
I’ve been coming to realize lately how much this Perfectionism stops me. I get so anxious and worried that I won’t be able to do something Perfectly, so I’ll cut myself off before I even get started. While I’ve hosted the parties and holidays I felt like I had to do, I haven’t hosted a dinner party in years (my house is too messy… I don’t know what to cook). A lot of my writing has stalled, and several half-written novels languish in my files (what if it’s not good enough?) I have an interest in making art, and have purchased a lot of fun art supplies that I haven’t used (I’m not really good, I can’t draw, it’ll look like crap). And then there’s this blog.
Yes, Perfectionism strikes again. I’ve had this blog here at Pen and Moon for about 18 months now. I’ve blogged 22 times, which amounts to about once every 3 ½ weeks. Now that’s not bad in itself, it’s just a lot less than what I envisioned when I set it up. I’d like to blog at least once or twice a week—but I’ve been freezing up and dawdling, wanting to come up with (dare I say) the Perfect topic, written Perfectly, and I must find the Perfect photos to accompany it. Every idea I came up with was put through this old familiar filter: What would people think? How would readers judge me? My stomach would clench thinking about this. Most ideas—perfectly fine ideas—did not make the cut, because my Perfectionist wouldn’t allow.
Yes, there have been times in my life that cruel judgments have hurt me, filled me with shame. I know the Perfectionist wants to protect me so that I never have to feel that again. But it’s also stopping me—from bravely standing out in public willing to paint the beauty I see. From making messes with my art that might flop but also could soar brilliantly. From taking the risk to explore my thoughts and experiences, and having juicy word adventures in this blog. From writing what I want to write from my own heart in my own voice, and letting those words weave their way into books and stories and articles. From allowing myself to be out there in the world as the real me—Imperfect, messy, silly and wonderful me.
It feels vulnerable, this idea of giving up Perfection. It may have felt safer for me at times, but I can also see the harm it has done. The idea of Perfectionism keeps me living in illusion, and keeps me living in fear because it never allows me to just be Good Enough. But I’m going to try. For now, I’m giving myself the gentle push to blog more—Imperfectly, but more. (Yikes.) Stay tuned!
*Photos thanks to Bob Alberti