"I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway".
"My students assume that when well-repescted writers sit down to write their books, they know pretty much what is going to happen because they've outlined most of the plot, and this is why their books turn out so beautifully and why their lives are so easy and joyful, their self-esteem so intact. Well. I do not know anyone fitting this description at all. Everyone I know flails around, kvetching and growing despondent, on the way to finding a plot and structure that work. You are welcome to join the club."
both by Anne Lamott in "Bird by Bird" which I am currently obsessed with thank you Feef.
I cannot tell you how often the ideal in my head of how things should be stops me from trying things out in the flesh. Recently I have caught myself wanting to write some little bits of fiction, but before my pen gets anywhere near the paper the "just stick to reading" voice appears on the scene. Then the "who do you think you are" meanie chimes in, as if I had rung up Penguin Books and asked them for a $50,000 advance. I was probably just going to jot down a couple of paragraphs in a notebook filled with supermarket lists and incomplete to-do lists that no one but me will see. Thankfully.
Because I was a newspaper journalist for a while I have this belief that I should be a good writer, of fact or fiction, but lacking any adult experience of creative writing at all and no thought-out plot line to speak of, I chicken out and yield to the bullying of the bad guys before even beginning.
But really, so what if it stinks. It's as ridiculous as washing up the dishes in the kitchen, alone, and wanting to dance to a song on the radio but not even letting my hips twitch because I don't have the entire number choreographed with leaps and crumps and floor swivels. What's so wrong with trying something out, having a bit of fun? The stakes aren't really that high. Even if that first story was leaked to the whole world the stakes still aren't that high because everyone is too busy worrying about themselves and their own what-if-this-gets-leaked issues.
Growing up, my sister and I spent weeks and weeks snowboarding. And after all that piste-time I really believed I should be railing and shredding and 360-ing and generally enjoying adventurous times on the snow. The reality is I don't much like anything harder than a blue run and am quite content meandering down wide open non-slopey slopes stopping for morning tea and lunch with a pretty early apres-ski on the cards. Actually, I could happily remove the entire snowboard from the equation and just drink coffee in the nice warm jacket.
But as my snowboarding career for want of a better word progressed, leaving so many lessons and cold hours and parental dollars in its wake, I became so ashamed of my real life ability that when Katie and I would enrol anew into a series of lessons, instead of revealing we had undertaken many weeks of classes over the years with other Svens and Jean-Pauls and Diddiers yet stilled sucked, we would bat our eyelashes and tell our instructor we'd tried it once, sometimes twice, before. He'd think we were amazing. Gifted athletes. A very strange part of me that I don't particularly like but which gets to call an alarming amount of shots would start up "yes you are a terrific snowboarder aren't you. Ditch the helmut and plait your hair in pigtails and find that beanie. Let them marvel at your speed". But the rest of me, plagued by the patheicness of my deceit, would spend the next few days putting down my snow skills and hating myself a bit for feeling the need to lie. During this mental storm I'd look over to see Katie gazing out over the slope wondering, as she has consistently done over the years, what sort of world this was that required her to leave the warmth and peace of her morning hot chocolate in the first place.
So there they are, those awful monsters of expectation and perfection, ruining it all again. (Or in Katie's case, not being at the beach).
It's only the belief that I should be better that stops me from enjoying the show, or in this case the snow. Snowboarding, writing whatever ... if there is an expectation in my head of how I should be doing it, fear and disappointment are not far behind. And that fear blocks me - and shall I say you too - from giving it a go in a "Frank sent this" Ken Robinson way, it stops you from experiencing the moment and leaves you a prisoner in your own tiny mind, closed off to the magic that is part of the bigger world around.
I may never love the process of snowboarding, but I want to be free to love it or to pray for its end, rather than to be preoccupied with meeting the self-imposed should standards ... of how I should be doing it, where I should be up to, what it all should look like. Same with writing, with mothering, with friending, with ageing, with anything I have a preconceived notion of, which now that I look at it is pretty much everything. ("But Ed, Daisy has to wear an elastic in her hair when she goes to school, not a bread bag tie". It was a tricky moment for the You Should Be A Good Mother voice).
And while I can't seem to forcibly evict The Shoulds from my head, I am doing that move where you make a V out of your index and middle fingers, point them at your own eyes and then those of your enemy. I see you guys. And I am going to ignore you and try a bit of writing and being cool about bread bag hair ties anyway.
With all the glorious end of summer fruit around, now is the time to make Stephanie Alexander's plum cake. I recommend it for both its taste and prettiness.