less-than perfect

You know the three wishes game? Which is pretty much–that. You get three wishes. And you spend a lot of time crafting them carefully, wording them in very specific ways so that you are not screwed by a mischievous genie over a technicality because you had a dangling modifier or forgot to be precise in your choice of adjective. I spent a lot of time working on my major wish, and it was this: to be perfect. I don’t remember how, exactly, I phrased it, but what it boiled down to is that I wanted to be perfect in every way–physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually perfect. That is a whole lot of perfect. That is a whole lot of wishing.

I want to be perfect and unassailable. I want to be absolutely bullet proof. I want no one to ever find fault with me, because there are no faults to find, no cracks, seams or crevices. You can’t dig your fingernails under the edges of my mask and yank, because there is no edge because there is no mask because there is just me, all the way down, and every stop of the way–perfect.

Of course no one is, everyone makes mistakes, everyone has endearing flaws and charming faults and that is what makes them wonderful and with a little communication and just a smidge of work and compassion and understanding everyone can accept everyone else’s interesting quirks and winning idiosyncrasies and love-them-because and not -in-spite-of. Hooray!

That doesn’t stop me from wanting to be perfect–I accepted long ago that I need to give up perfection in general, don’t worry. But I still carry with me a streak of the -ism that coats everything I do in a thin, greasy sheet of frustration and irritation. I want to be good at everything, and immediately. I want to pick up a bowling ball and roll a hole in one, I want to complete The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in ink in under twenty minutes, I want to have a designer’s eye for color and a decorator’s sense of shape and proportion and have a spectacular home that makes people gasp and a sense of style that makes people shake their heads admiringly. I want to paint, draw, knit, sew, sculpt, dance, sing, photograph, and do all of it so well that I ought to get Major Awards for all my attempts.

I want. I don’t. I have tried each of these things, and in some of them, I am reasonably good, some of them I am okay, in some of them I fail egregiously and the result should be dropped down into the bottom of the sea. When I was younger, this would mean that I would immediately cease to try entirely and I would never, ever, ever again pick up a piece of pastel chalk because I was so terrible and being terrible made me angry and the idea of practice made me angrier, because why wasn’t I good just naturally? Why couldn’t I be perfect? Why why why why I HATE YOU and snap goes my pencil or the pool cue, and I am jealous and envious of the people who are better than me, just naturally because they are lucky and I suck and why do they get to be good and so what if they spent years practicing it is not fair.

I think maybe I am growing up, a little. See, I know a shitload of talented people, and I hate hardly any of them. I particularly seem to know talented photographers whose photographing is really just stunning–they have an eye for composition and color and subject and they have read their camera manuals and they take their cameras wherever they go and they take pictures wherever they are and they are just good.

Me, I have a little point and shoot whose manual I have never glanced at, whose settings are a mystery to me, whose button makes a satisfying click. I do not take good photos. Some of them turn out well because if you take four hundred pictures, luck will have at least one of them turn out surprisingly well. My pictures range from bad to boring to surprisingly cool, and I still take pictures. I still carry my little camera around with me–or I used to–and take pictures of things that make me happy, and upload them to Flickr. Some kind of switch flipped in my head, and just the act of being creative is meaningful to me. Just the act of writing that sentence means I ought to be smacked in the back of the head, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

I went for our dog walk yesterday, and I took hundreds and hundreds of photos all the way up the mountain and back down and the hour and a half flew by and some of the pictures, I absolutely love and some of that is because I love my dogs and some of that is because the pictures are funny and some of that is because I  lucked into a beautiful shot or because nature cooperated. And all of it makes me happy. I am never going to be a great photographer, anything approaching perfect–even if I had the time to practice, I don’t have the sensibility, I am not good at shaking off the cliche and finding the real picture, and it turns out that that is more than fine, that I am less than perfect.

3 Replies to “less-than perfect”

  1. When I was in 4th grade, I read “The Once and Future King” for the first time. (I’ve probably read it another 10 times since.) T.H. White posited that when you achieve perfection, you cease to exist. So when Galahad found the Holy Grail, POOF. All gone.

    Like you, I hate being imperfect and hate being sub-par at anything, even things that take serious work and practice to master. But because of that book, I’ve never longed for full-on perfection.

  2. How did you get inside my head?!!

    I’ve spent far far too much time planning my three wishes and the top wish is also to be perfect- perfect looking (of course) as well as being really really amazingly good at every single thing I do. And I don’t want to have to work at it either :)

  3. I always found fault with myself in that I was “pretty good” at the things I tried to do, but “really good” at absolutely nothing. No great talents, no amazing gifts – just ok. Average. Which means I’ll never be amazing. Which sucks.

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