Tiny drops splatter against my face, and I’m not sure if it’s snow or rain. I look across the pasture and see a smattering of white flakes. Nothing accumulates. Perhaps on the mountain ridge the snow is sticking, but the clouds are so low, gray and dense I can’t see the ridge. It’s mid-day and the light is fogged. Blue skies do not exist in northern Idaho when the sun rolls across the southern horizon like one headlight off in the distance.
Each snap of twig cracks loudly in the silence and gloves protect my hands from the jagged edges of the branches. Dried moss falls gently into yellowed grass. It’s all flammable so I gather what I can. I’m dismantling the massive pine limbs, twig by twig. Three crashed to the ground from fifty feet above in a windstorm last spring. Dead and dry, these branches give the gift of kindling.
What is it about common work? Washing dishes or gathering kindling, feeding a barn cat or collecting eggs? It’s just chores, monotonous and unending if you cook or tend critters. Yet, outside in this spitting snow, snapping apart limbs as if I were re-making a Lego star-ship, I feel whole and grounded. I feel connected.
We all want to feel connected, to feel that our voice matters in the constant chatter of social media, to feel as if we have something to say, something to hear, something to learn. Outside, I’m a part of the great expanse, I’m one with the snow, I’m taking what was given and I’m going to light a fire and give warmth to my home. I want to write fully connected.
It’s a word that jars my senses. Perfection once ruled my life, yet never have I been a perfectionist. It was my father. He sought perfection as a shield to protect the family from the shame of what it was. Incest and perfection are cruelly melded in my mind. I escaped the one only to be dogged by the other. Perfection was harder to shake.
Maybe it was because my father tried so hard to polish the family image and it was done so out of fear, that perfectionism gives me hives. Right along my jawline. I panic, thinking I’ve failed. What have I failed? Well, nothing, really, it’s just that perfectionism was a measure of failure and failure was unacceptable.
Like the time the principal approached my father at a volunteer fire department meeting. Seems that some parents had complained to him about their daughter getting bullied at school. He told my father to go home and talk to me. In my father’s eyes, I failed so tremendously because I broke the image of a perfect family. I brought attention to the family. Never put the family in the spotlight. Never fail at anything.
Thus I was grounded for over a month. Yelled at, lectured and berated. Never once did it occur to my father that I was being bullied, too. Not that it really would have mattered to him. It was the breaking of that almighty image he wanted us to have publicly that mattered. His ideas of perfectionism ran from how I acted to how I looked.
Was it the isolation that taught me to connect with falling snow and internalize my thinking, deepen my capacity for imagination? Or was it the humbling that made it difficult for me to ever belittle another human being? As an adult, I recognize what a fearful man my father was. So fearful that he demanded perfection at any cost.
Trying to achieve it never worked out, but did teach me the value of high standards. Tempered with the grace I learned about excellence, which is never perfect but often simple and elegant. Like the bare-bones writing of flash fiction prose. I also learned to connect with people and honor who they are, especially those willing to be vulnerable in their search and definition of self. Bullies, deniers and critical perfectionists, I avoid. Long ago, I learned that a generous life is more fulfilling than a perfect one.
Writers are, for the most part, a self-aware lot. We write to discover who we are and what we have to say. We read and learn from others and redefine ourselves and our thoughts every time we write. To connect with writers is amazing. It mutually fires our creativity. In response, we are generous to one another.
Yet, I see my father’s shadow in the writing world, too. Perfectionists so embittered by what they think is failure, they lash out. Bullies on Good Reads, trolls beneath blog bridges, authors kicking other authors. Writing coach, Daphne Gray-Grant, got me thinking about perfectionism and generosity in a recent post. She states that we can fight perfectionism with generosity. I agree. It’s been a life-long lesson for me. Yet when I shared with her the generosity of the writers who gather at Carrot Ranch, she said it was a “rare group.”
Well, you are indeed rare gems! Your generous reading, writing and thoughtful comments are appreciated by me and your fellows. We can create connections through our writing and we can encourage each other in a past-time or career that challenges us to break through perfection to embrace art. To see it, to feel it, to create it. To write feeling fully alive and actualized.
If you battle perfectionism in your writing, strangle it with a cord of Christmas lights and be generous to yourself as you navigate the often bumpy writer’s road. Perfection is often boring, anyhow. Sure, your commas go where they should, and all your words are spelled correctly, but does your writing crackle with energy that comes from who you are? Do your best. Be real. Learn. And try again. It’s art; be messy.
Rare gems, it is! Let’s see what discoveries this prompt leads us too.
December 17, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about rare gems. It can be treasure, rough or twinkling, an object, place or person. Go on an adventure, let you imagination fly and kick perfectionism to the curb. You are in pursuit of something greater!
Respond by December 23 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here.
The Climb by Charli Mills
The first ascent was roughest. Splintered rocks rusty with lichen sliced through Hank’s gloves a dozen times. He worried about cutting his nylon ropes on crags fractured by falling boulders, ice heaves and thaw cycles. His pack hindered him, but Hank needed the essentials—dehydrated protein, shelter, dry layers. The higher he climbed, the thinner the air, the harder to breathe. Across the vast chasm of ruined mountains, Hank regarded the battle smoke. One side blasted anti-aircraft cannons; the other lobbed homemade bombs. He was searching for Afghan black tourmaline reputed to absorb the world’s adversity. On he climbed.