Episode 03:13:2023 - Prompt: Perfection
Perusing the menu, I picked out three possibilities: either the soft chimichanga (chicken), the lunch-sized fajitas (chicken), or the tostadas - you guessed it, chicken. I wasn't that hungry, so I chose the entree that didn't come with rice and beans. "The tostadas, chicken," I said to the waitress. "Perfect," she replied. Perfect? What's perfect about chicken tostadas? Would beef have been perfect, too, or the chimichanga or the fajitas?
Children are schooled in perfection from a very early age: physical appearance (girls especially), grades and test scores, athletic or artist performance, job evaluations. And you know what? We always fall short and, if you're like me, tend to beat ourselves up about it. "I should have tried harder." Often we compare ourselves to others, only to discover there's always someone more attractive, smarter, and more accomplished in whatever we might do.
In The Way of Perfection, Teresa of Avila writes, "Let the truth be in your hearts, as it will be if you practice meditation, and you will see clearly what love we are bound to have for our neighbors." Perfection, a way of being. So, before we left the restaurant, I said to the waitress, "Thank you for your service, I enjoyed the tostadas very much." And that was the truth in my heart.
I have always disliked my hair. It's very fine, thin, and straight, though it was auburn (that, I liked) when I was in high school. I hated all I had to do to make it even semi-ok - let's not talk about perfection. It resisted the coaxings of hot roller and curling iron alike. I had to plaster it with hair spray to get it to maintain any semblance of style.
Adding insult to injury, it got even thinner as I approached peri-menopause. When I finally decided I needed a wig, there were already two balding spots that my doctor told me looked like alopecia. She said the hair would not grow back.
I've worn wigs since 2014, meaning eight years of good-hair days. Ah, perfection.
I’ve been wanting to post something here, but kept delaying it. I feared it wouldn’t come out perfect. Which is a funny thing to fear, since few things in life are as certain as non-perfection. Perfection is, by definition, unattainable--so of course all real things fall short of it. To exist is to fall short. The pinkest sunset isn’t perfect, neither is a dress with pockets, or charred okra, wrinkled bedsheets on Sunday; not even the Manhattan with equal parts dry and sweet vermouth is perfect.
And yet, I keep striving for perfection. I, who don’t even come close to an okra.
Having been raised by a chronically-disappointed mother, a woman who scolded me when I laughed and scolded me when I didn’t, I got too used to noticing what’s wrong, what’s lacking, what should’ve been instead. I’ve spent a life dreaming of perfection, then raging at imperfection. Seeing nothing between those two poles.
But maybe the opposite of perfect isn’t imperfect; the opposite of perfect is enough. So, if these 190 words aren’t what they could’ve been, should’ve been, at least they’re enough to replace my Monday fears.
I was a hot-head five-year-old, new to the world, determined to right wrongs. Despite repeated explanation from patient parents, I refused to believe that some were feebler, less than perfect. “How can you strikeout? How in the hell do you keep swinging and missing? It’s on a tee!” I would scream at my teammates during pee-wee baseball games. “Now calm down, son. Not everyone’s as capable as you,” my summertime coach and full-time dad would advise from the dugout. Until the lesson was learned, Coach Dad would follow up with “One more outburst and I’m pulling you out of the game to cool down, boy.” This always got my attention. Over that pivotal summer of tough fatherly love, I discovered it felt better to encourage rather than to scold. A life lesson to aspire to.
The little perfectionist still lives inside me but he’s older and wiser now. He’s in no rush, the home runs come. It's a long game and the ball, after all, is on a tee.
I'm almost always the cheerleader. It's important to lift each other up, praise our accomplishments, however small, and take a moment to celebrate our strengths. I have found these qualities in all sorts of people, facing all kinds of challenges. Even the fragrant, homeless man suffering PTSD on the streets of New Orleans during our vacation couldn't stump me. After a heartfelt hug, we went to buy him a loaf of bread, some lunch meat, laundry detergent, and cigarettes. He had a job interview in a few days. He wasn't perfect but he had a plan so I wanted to help him be confident, prepared, and smelling fresh. I had every faith that he was taking the right steps and capable of succeeding with just a little help. We have all made mistakes and fallen short of our potential in some regard but I emphatically encourage folks to focus on their triumphs and positive attributes instead. So why have I wasted nearly a lifetime of opportunity to actively pursue my art for fear of less than perfect results?! If only I could turn back the clock, erase that damning “if I don't try, I can't fail” attitude, and be my own cheerleader.
I shared a bedroom with my big sister Judy beginning at the age of 2. She was 7 years older than me and a true OCD perfectionist. Her bed was made, military style, each morning. Her clothes neatly folded and put away. The things on her dresser were displayed in exacting order.
I, on the other hand, was a messy, artistic little whirlwind that never put back her toys..or clothes...or my sisters things that I had secretly touched. I did as I wished in our bedroom and let the chips (or clutter) fall as they wished, driving my sister (and our Mom) crazy with yelling, "WHY CAN'T YOU PUT THINGS BACK?!" on a regular basis.
Years later, when I moved into my own apartment in college I began organizing my rooms in spectacular neatness. I have no idea what started it. It just happened. And it felt good.
But then, one day I started to not put things back...I would leave the tried-on clothes laying on the floor for days. The vinyl records stacked out of their sleeves. The acrylique paints left opened and piled in a corner, scraps of paper everywhere. Then after a week (or two) I would deep clean and organize everything again and relish in the feeling of accomplishment and serenity.
I have been this way since my 20's.
30 years ago I met my husband, who, unbeknownst to me, was the exact copy of my sister, ocd-wise that is. We moved in together shortly after we met, he, the Felix Unger to my Oscar Madison (the Odd Couple, for those that don't know) We have bickered for 3 decades about my "Chaos" as he calls it, where I call his compulsion about Mise en Place with our everyday things "Militaristic".
I've been able to break him down just a bit, to get him out of his perfectionism, for which I am thankful, but, I'm more thankful for him helping me be more mindful of my surroundings, although from time to time I will still comment, "OK Judy!", when he asks me to clean a pile of something sitting there for a few days.
For me, it’s not the outward appearance of having it all together. It is the inward diatribe, the checklist of things to accomplish before I am perfect.
I live in the world of before. I am not perfect yet, but someday, I think, I will get my shit together. For some odd reason, I believe I will enjoy being perfect. Flossing will be fun. Wiping down the counters at night will be relaxing.
My perfectionism dictates that not only can I fail at an external level, the clutter on my counter or not squeezing a workout in, but I can also fail any time I experience any other emotion than joy. I am at fault for living a real life.
But one day, I will graduate from the world of before, when I am perfect. Or, one day, I will leave the confines of before to live my life as I am.
“He’s perfect.” I don’t think she meant it the way it sounded, as in “he’s a human without flaws,” but it worried me nonetheless.
Was she savoring the way they lived together without conflict? Or was she commenting on a level of emotional intelligence we’d never seen in a man? Or crediting him with the flatlining of her anxiety since they’d been together?
Maybe “He’s perfect,” simply meant “I trust him.”
She seemed happy and at peace. But seven months isn’t very long, and I couldn’t help ducking a little every time she used that word, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
It’s not that I didn’t want her to marry him. I wanted her to wake up with joy in her heart every day for the rest of her life! I loved that he cared for her so well.
I’m just so suspicious of that word, the one that can never fulfill its promise.
10 years ago, my grandfather died. He was in the final stages of dementia. The dying process lasted for a month. I was with him every day and finally pronounced his last will. All treatments were stopped.
A few months later, my grandmother tried to drown herself, but she fell in front of the river and lost consciousness. She was found shortly after, hospitalized with hypothermia and lost a large part of her memories. She had to go to a care home, where she still lives today. I was by her side until her condition improved.
During all these month, I drove home overtired and kept hearing the same song - Perfect Day by Lou Reed: "Oh it's such a perfect day, I'm glad I spent it with you".
Even though the circumstances were anything but perfect, the fact that I spent time with these loved ones was perfect. Maybe we should value more the smaller moments we spend with people who actually mean a lot to us.
For years, I felt my adopted city of Berlin was the perfect place to live. Berlin of the 1990s was wild, a playground for young adults and the young at heart. Everyone was some kind of creative, working on one or more “projects.” Nights stretched into late morning. There was dancing around bonfires at squats, a different underground bar for every day of the week, techno parties at unexpected places, and popup art and performance spaces. Best of all was sitting on the roof of one of the many dilapidated 19th-century apartment buildings in East Berlin, watching the sun rise with new friends.
Over time, the bubble deflated. We grew out of our roaring twenties and the city settled into capitalism. Housing got expensive, bought up by out-of-town investors. So did everything else, when the euro replaced the Deutschmark. Class differences I once naively ignored became glaring as those who could purchased their flats while others were priced out of the neighborhoods they helped make hip. The number of cars on the street – and the bicycles they hit – increased. So has violent crime. The romantic patina has turned to urban grime. Berlin has become just another metropolis bursting at the seams.
I immediately related to Tig's bit when I first saw it. For years I bemoaned my own small boobs ignoring their beautiful shape, I saw only through the lens of breasts as objects of male desire and the belief that bigger is better. By the time I moved to LA, I'd held the idea long and strong enough that one day I'd have a boob job and the second part was that I didn't want to shell out for it. Afterall, enough gals I knew had boyfriends pay for the surgery. Some crazy-ass thinking and this format is too short to deep dive into that cluster of fucking insanity. As an aside, I too had had my nose done, paid for it myself, and prior to finding a doctor who respected that I wanted to retain characteristics of my parents' prominent noses, had a doctor explain why I needed a more "feminine" more akin to a ski jump. Anyhow, back to boobs. It took two types of serious cancer within a year of the other for me to recognize I was living my life off-course and bizarrely invested in an abusive relationship with a man with a personality disorder. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was the cosmic punch in the face to wake me out of three years of my own cult-like experience of delusion and self-abandonment. I was shocked to learn that aside from a mastectomy that chemotherapy was part of the protocol. I sobbed heartily. Suddenly a thought occurred to me. Having amazing health insurance at the time through an incredible hospital system, through snot and sobs, I asked "Doctor, if I have reconstruction surgery then I can choose my size of implant?" Free. Bigger. Boobs. Now a solid, yet conservative B, I don't bemoan my breast size. I am grateful, however, my early photography involves many portraits of my original breasts. How lovely they were. Careful what you ask for right. Although, losing my breasts was a small cost to never losing myself again.
I was in love with my bike as soon as I saw it in the bike store. A simple sturdy bike, teal colored, no bells and whistles. Perfection! It sat there looking strong and sturdy and I knew we'd have adventures together. I tried it out, riding around the store parking lot. It was as perfect to ride on as its appearance. My husband and I at the time lived near the Minuteman Rails to Trails bike path and we would bike from Bedford to Cambridge often on a weekend. Now 10 years later and living in Maine I ride often. The road takes me by farms and fields, past the now dilapidated school where I went to Kindergarten 60 years ago, that is now some kind of offices, past the school where my brother went, that is now part of the college, past the little food store my mother used to stop at to buy burger or chicken for dinner, that is now a convenience store. Riding on my perfect bike, much sturdier than any childhood bike I had, I pedal easily up the gentle hills, fly down the roads between old houses, past farm fences, and I feel much sturdier now too.