Alison: Imperfection Friday–The Girls Not in the Basement

“Cultivating a Resilient Spirit” was the focus of part four of Brené Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection book study. Reading and doing my art journal assignments reminded me of a novel I read a few years ago, one by none other than ReFabber Barbara Samuel. Mirabou In the first chapter of Madame Mirabou’s School of Love, Nikki, newly divorced, awakens in a cold house and realizes that she needs to go down to the basement to check out the furnace. It’s a task that would normally have fallen to her husband, as she hates the basement–a detail that hooked me because I have my own creepy basement I refuse to enter outside the hours of 10 a.m. to noon.

Nikki stands at the top of the stairs: Continue reading

Jenny: Cottage Saturday: Winter Wonderland, My Ass

It’s snowing again. AGAIN. I opened the door yesterday after the blizzard was over, and Mona went barreling out into the snow and buried herself head first in the drift in front of the door. The dogs haven’t had a decent run in weeks, all I do is shovel white stuff, and I’m getting a little CRANKY, especially since Krissie really has to wait to come down here until I can clear some of this mess away, which I can do easily if it would just STOP SNOWING. Continue reading

Alison: Imperfection Friday–Is It Too Much Too Ask?

It led to peanut butterLet me begin with a memory. An early summer day. The porch, the laptop, and me, and it’s a rare moment–I’ve forgotten I’m reading my own work. It’s been awhile since I worked on this scene, and I don’t quite recall how I left it, or what’s ahead. I’m immersed, curious, writer-absent/reader-present. And then…

Screech. Story flatlines, and I find myself staring at this fiery invective, a brief but dense paragraph of me telling me off, telling me to just shut up because I have nothing in me worth putting on a page, and even if I did, I wouldn’t know–

Well, you get the idea. It was kind of horrible. Chilling, like I’d turned my cart into the baking aisle in an innocent quest for marshmallows and met head-on a stressed out Momzilla yelling at her overtired kid. No wonder, I thought, seeing that dark, dark text on my screen. Who could create anything with a voice like that in her head? Continue reading

Jenny: Imperfection Friday: Therapy in a Notebook

After Alison described the Gifts of Imperfection course, I signed up for both sessions. Hey, they were having a new year’s sale. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they mentioned paint and markers, and that sounded good. Plus after seven therapists, I figured plumbing my inner depths would be more like wading in the kiddie pool; I’d done most of the hard work and now I’d get to play with colored markers. And that part’s true, I’m having a lot of fun with the journal, but it turns out my inner depths are a little deeper than I thought: the course has really given me a lot to think about. Continue reading

Imperfection Friday: The Shield

’Tis not the season, but let’s talk gingerbread houses. My younger sister and I were watching one of those competition shows on Food Network a few years ago, and the challenge was gingerbread houses. We were rooting for one competitor in particular–she had a gorgeous, artistic design that included handcrafted candy. “Bravo,” my sister and I said. All that care, that attention to detail: good stuff.

Gingerbread Downton Abbey: Any store-bought candy on there? And does it matter?

Gingerbread Downton Abbey: Any store-bought candy on there? And does it matter?

The other guy (or girl; it’s been a long time)–well, his first item of business was unwrapping a bunch of store-bought candy.

“Boo,” my sister and I said. Store-bought candy was inferior. It was a cheat, if not by the actual rules then in spirit.

And we proceeded to watch our girl lose. I don’t remember exactly what happened with her, whether she dropped a tray or forgot some ingredients or simply worked slowly, but as she toiled on the decorative details, she fell further and further behind on the actual house.

My sister wailed, “This is my life! This is my life!”

And because we are the sort of sisters who can win Pictionary with two-stroke sketches, I wailed back, “I know! I know!”

What were we seeing? I don’t recall that we used the word “perfectionism,” but the cost of it was playing out in sugar and sweat and heartbreak right before our eyes.

A few weeks later, I texted her with something I’d seen on-line:

Done is better

It was supposed to be encouraging. However, part of me questioned, “But is it? Is ‘done’ really, truly better?”

From the first time I saw Martha Stewart, I knew she used the word “perfect” far too often, yet without that drive, how far would she have gotten? We’ve all seen or paid for so-so work where “done” seemed to be the primary goal, and even if a refund is possible, we can’t get our time back, no matter how much we may wish to. I suspected plenty of the work I’ve loved and/or admired was produced by perfectionists.

But there’s an (admittedly slim) chance Martha Stewart isn’t a perfectionist after all. Because as it turns out, perfectionism does not equal striving for excellence.

Scarecrow to GlindaAs the Scarecrow said when Glinda revealed the very shoes Dorothy wore could take her home, “That’s so easy! I should have thought of it for you!” Yeah, I don’t know why I’d never really made the distinction before reading The Gifts of Imperfection. I can’t say I thought of perfection as an attainable goal, but pursuing an ideal nevertheless seemed noble to me. I’d even heard highly accomplished people claim they weren’t perfectionists and wondered, how can that be? 

Brené Brown compares perfectionism to a shield. A twenty-ton shield we use to try to deflect “the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” “Healthy striving” is self-focused, asking how can I improve? Perfectionism is “other-focused–what will they think?” It’s “trying to earn approval and acceptance” and a “debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.

About the time I’d started Brené’s class, a friend had recommended a book on writer’s block to me, 7 Secrets of the Prolific, by Hillary Rettig. After months of struggle and a pressure-filled writers conference where it seemed the only thing people had to say was “you won’t have any kind of career unless you’re producing at least two (or three or seven) books a year,” I was told my friend, “Prolific! I just want to be able to open my work-in-progress without hating myself!”

I was desperate enough to order it, though. And isn’t it a blessing how, when you’re ready to learn something, it keeps turning up in your life? Before Rettig got to any strategies, secrets, or cures, she took plenty of time to explain perfectionism, and much of it surprised me. For example, her claim that “perfectionists are grandiose.” I never identified with the phrase “delusions of grandeur,” but Rettig’s connections between grandiosity and unreasonable goals hit home.

Then there’s grandiosity’s complement: undervaluing the “ordinary processes of creativity and career-building.” Rettig stated, “Perfectionists are all about the easy win,” and I protested, “Am not!” But then I remembered my shock and awe when I discovered George Orwell’s drafts for the first page of 1984 in the back of my Norton’s anthology. Orwell had to work that hard?1984 Draft

Whether Orwell was a perfectionist or not, I can’t say. I don’t know about the baker on Food Network, either. Or even Martha Stewart. Brené believes perfectionism exists along a continuum, something we all experience to some degree sometimes. Whether it’s situational or chronic, she calls the consequences of perfectionism life paralysis.  I loved Barbara’s swimming post this week, how she let herself be vulnerable as she learned how to swim. If she’d tried to shield herself with perfectionism, she would have missed out on the “delirious pleasure of a new skill.”

“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism,” Brené writes, “is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life.” How do you put down that shield? Since I’ve gone on so long already (and haven’t even gotten to the art journal assignment yet), I’ll pause here and come back with Brené’s practices next week.

Thank you, ReFab, for so much for the thoughtful conversation last week. Feel free to comment on anything, but I’d love to know: How do you tell the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism?

Alison: Imperfection Friday: Snow Queens

Skidding in here before Friday is over in all time zones. Sorry–I went one way, and the device with most of my pictures for the post went another. We just reunited tonight. I was rather stressed about the whole thing, but around lunch, I checked in and saw Krissie’s moving post and some of the compassionate responses she’d received. Felt like leaving space for that turned out to be a good thing.

Many, many thanks for the warm welcome last week. The book study has been so good, but your comments enriched the experience.

On to part two… Continue reading