The Antithesis of Perfect
Let’s talk about perfectionism.
I think I picked this habit up from piano lessons, or at least it’s the first memory I have of experiencing perfectionism. Somewhere amidst the years of scales and Beethoven, along with recitals for proud parents, came the notion that mistakes were simply bad.
My parents never told me so, but mistakes meant that I hadn’t practiced enough. I didn’t do my part. I failed because I messed up in front of other people. I flubbed the fingering and even though I had enjoyed practicing the piece of music time and time again, the fact that I messed it up in front of listeners, well, that meant that I failed. Ice Castles by myself was all fun, but Ice Castles in front of other people had to be perfect.
To this day, I don’t play piano for anyone else because the anxiety about making mistakes is so potent. Actually, the last time I played in a recital, a professor conspiratorially whispered that he had made the same mistake when he played Rachmaninoff in college. No doubt the comment was meant to make me feel better, but it made me feel ten times worse. Someone noticed my mistake!
As a theatre director, I often revel in actors’ mistakes. Unplanned, authentic, impossible to prepare for, they are rich material. But tell that to my nervous system when I’m the one in the hot seat or trying something new. I prefer to over prepare and never once make a mistake, thank you very much.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gathered a few tricks to fight perfectionism- tools that ask the real, imperfect me to join us in the room. Yoga- because there is simply no such thing as a perfect pose. Jumping quickly into new things without leaving time to think. Painting. Being a beginner. Doing something intentionally before I’m ready.
And then there’s the most enjoyable tool of them all- bad poetry.
Here’s how it works. I create some intentionally bad poetry and keep going until something truly, hilariously bad makes me laugh. My poems usually start out rough, without a shred of joy, and halting, but as the knots loosen, I start to feel unmistakable delight. That’s when I know I’ve succeeded.
Bad poetry works for me because my inner critic simply cannot fight a childlike pompous cross between Dr. Seuss and Shakespeare. There’s nothing like a true try gone horribly awry.
If you have a fear of making mistakes, try it.
You, oh wondrous creative soul,
Who hath turned a drudgerous and simpleton life
Into one of rapturous delight,
A mountain of words cascading from my open mouth
Finds home on my page.
Oh creatin creature creative cinch monster,
Why wilt thy not visit?
What should be easious is not
Therefore nauseous I am.
For oh, where foreart thou Juliet?
Schmooliet. Cooliet. Fooliet.
I’m not through yet.
I shall move on with my groove on
Not a groupon.
Lady, though the snarks and grumpkins lay waste to your day,
May you keep your head high, ever nigh, giving them the stink eye.
Shrink eye. Think I on fungi.
Me oh my. Why oh why.
Flea figh pho fun,
skip to my loo, my darling.