Here’s a little confession I bet many of you might find surprising: I’m a perfectionist.
I know it doesn’t seem that way. By all accounts, I’m pretty laid-back and quick to let things go when they don’t work out according to plan.
But I have a sneaky suspicion that these are the methods I’ve developed over time to protect myself from disappointment and constantly feeling like a failure. That’s a post for another day, however.
The point is: I think there are two kinds of perfectionists in this world.
There are the classic ones we all associate with the term. Those who don’t stop until whatever it is they’re working on is as close to flawless as it can possibly be. They are masters of the process. Entirely unafraid of becoming consumed. Leavers of legacies.
Then you get those who are so appalled by the idea of doing something imperfectly, they never try in the first place. They loathe the process, the hard yards, the hours of practice and chipping away at the rough edges. Not because it’s difficult or boring or repetitive. Just because they hate the fact that they (probably) won’t be able to do it perfectly from the start. Plus, what if they allow themselves to become consumed, only to end up being/producing/making something mediocre after all?
And so, they don’t put their hearts and souls on the line.
I’ve been giving this strange kind of perfectionism a lot of thought lately and, quite honestly, when I recognised the pattern playing itself out over and over again in my life, it made me quite panicky.
It’s not that I never step out of my comfort zone and try anything new. Quite to the contrary: I’m a huge fan of learning new things! In the past year alone, my list of would-be hobbies has included everything from sewing and photography to drawing silly animal cartoons and writing poems.
However, as soon as the glamour of newness starts fading and it’s time to move up a tier, I dig in my heels. Rather stick to the bit I’ve perfected already than go through the painful process of being terrible at something all over again.
Well, that’s obviously no way to live a life.
So, I’ve put myself on a strict process appreciation rehabilitation programme (the PARP) that includes learning one new (and relatively difficult) song on the piano and spending a couple of hours a week drawing and painting.
The song I’ve chosen is Comptine d’Un Autre Été from the Amelie soundtrack and I’m learning it through a YouTube tutorial by the ever so kind and patient (that’s how it feels, okay) Thomas Forschbach. I obviously don’t have a piano of my own, so have to carve out time to tinker away at Guillaume’s house or when I visit my parents in Betty’s Bay. This has forced me to be even more patient with myself, as I need to go back to the very beginning every time I sit down to play. I started about a month ago and, so far, I’ve managed to get a handle on – maybe – the first four bars. If that much.
It’s painful, I’m not going to lie (especially for those who have to listen to the same handful of notes over and over again), but it’s for myself and no one else. So, maybe it takes the rest of this year or maybe it takes another ten, but someday I’ll sit down and play it from start to finish without a glitch and take pride in the fact that I immersed myself in the process.
As for the drawing and painting… I hinted at it in my post about creativity, but I have a special little wound attached to this. During art classes as a child – whether extramural or at school – my teachers would often try to correct my work (one even drew outlines of shapes she thought should be there in Tippex after my paint had dried). It didn’t bother me too much back then, I thought that’s just the way things worked, but looking back now, it sure did plant a little seed of doubt in my abilities.
So, sitting down now to make imperfect drawings is a special kind of therapy for me. Recycling a stack of notes from my student days, I settle in at my kitchen counter after dinner and draw whatever shapes my pencil seeks to make and then fill them in with plain old strokes of watercolour paint.
Out of this, a craving for symmetry arose and mandalas came to mind. So off I went to CNA and bought a geometry set (the exact same kind I found so intimidating at school), some fine-tipped pens and a transparent ruler. I can see why they call it sacred geometry – there’s a sweet surrender in following the bends and curves of circles to find new shapes tucked away inside.
I’ve been tempted to share both my song and my ‘art’ online – to show (as opposed to tell, like I’m doing here now) the ‘world’ how I’ve embraced ‘the process’ and, let’s face it, hopefully, get some positive feedback to boost my efforts. But maybe not everything needs to be shared. And most certainly, not everything needs approval. Maybe some things just require our full attention and the honour of not being interrupted (even ruined) by our incessant search for the perfect angle. Maybe some things are so sacred they belong only to the here-and-now.
Maybe sometimes, you need to hold your own hand and quietly pioneer a new path instead of retreading the old.