Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Gift of Imperfection*

One of the things that has stuck with me from elementary school Social Studies - besides the rap about Andrew Jackson that my friend, Sara, and I wrote and performed for the class ("My name is JACKS-on from WAX-haw!") - is a little fact about a particular Native American tribe known for their intricately woven blankets. Apparently the master weavers would intentionally weave a mistake into each of their blankets so as not offend the gods by being "perfect". (Now that I'm thinking about it, I may have learned this from Antiques Roadshow. No, I couldn't possibly have. I think I've known this longer than that show has been on. I digress. I will continue this discussion with myself later.)

Anyway, this notion of the intentional mistake is something that has really appealed to me over the years. I point to this concept whenever I am confronted with my own knitting errata. Oh, that? I did that whole row of lace backwards because I wouldn't want to consider myself equal with the gods of knitting. It works for just about any sort of situation, actually. Burned dinner? Can't have the kitchen gods angry with you. Wedged your foot between the bus step and the curb and fell flat on your face? Gotta remind the public transportation gods that you know your place. Wore your shirt inside-out all day? Lettuce stuck in your teeth? Garlic breath of doom? The personal grooming gods are a vicious lot and you certainly don't want to mess with them by daring to be perfect.

I am, by nature, a bit of a perfectionist. Far from perfect, but a perfectionist. It's not the sort of perfectionism that drives me to keep a spotless house or match my socks to my underwear every day. I have a lot of hairs out of place and the whole grunge movement got their look from me. I have always wished I was that sort of perfectionist. The kind that looks good. But no. I am a perfectionist in the things that I believe (whether they were or not) were entrusted to me. If I make a commitment to do something, by golly, I will do it and I will do it right, and I will do it the best I've ever done it. Whether it's recycling or knitting or smoking or breastfeeding or walking to school or reducing my carbon footprint or folding laundry or making birthday cakes or folk dancing.  This serves me well most of the time. It's exhausting sometimes, but generally means that I get things done. It certainly helps with the whole parenting thing. And the spouse thing. The flip side of this, however, is the crushing self-inflicted guilt for not measuring up to my own, bizarre, somewhat randomly determined standards. The hubris of this whole way of life does not escape me.

So, if I.... well, let's just say... make a commitment to post on my blog for every single day in December and then the day after Christmas, decide that my time would be better spent playing board games with the monkeys and curling up on the couch with a giant burrito and the Chief Lou and watching Harry Potter instead of writing something, well, then there's a bit of personal hell to pay. The strange self-recrimination for skipping a day. For being "lazy". For failing on my commitment to... what? At about 11:57 last night I said "Oh no! I forgot to post today!" and the Chief Lou said "Oh well." He's good for me that way, you see. He reminds me that I don't have to go full bore charging into everything in the whole world and that I sometimes can just take a day off. And he can gently remind me with two words ("Oh well") that while he's proud of me for the whole blog thing, spending time goofing around with my family is not exactly failing at anything.

Neurotic perfectionist that I am, though, I thought I'd just let the blogging gods know that yesterday was my intentional mistake. It is my flaw in the blanket. Because heaven knows this whole blog thing is serious stuff. Can't be messing with the gods of blogging, making them think that you think you're one of them or something.

*A note on the title. There is also a book of the same title by Brene Brown. It's a pretty good pop-psychology read for those of us folks who drive everyone crazy trying to be perfect and failing at it. This post has very little to do with that book, but I thought I'd mention it in case someone stumbled upon this post by Googling the title and was confused. And if you're the person who Googled "sleek-jowled" and found me, please leave me a comment and explain how that all came about. 


  1. "Far from perfect, but a perfectionist." I am still chortling. I cannot wait to lay this on a certain oldest son, self-proclaimed perfectionist that he is, who has the unmitigated gall, to demand the same from me. "Don't hold your breath waiting, son, it could be hazardous to your health." So sparkly, s staus. What a treat.

  2. I have a couple good friends who are perfectionists and while their quilting skills top mine in every way, I think I can relax alot more than them. I'm pretty perfect at being lazy.

  3. Heh. It's so funny to read this because that lame-ass post I put up yesterday was a result of just the kind of self-inflicted guilt you are talking about--I was lazy and sick and sick of being lazy and sick of everyone else being sick all around me and I really tried to talk myself into "oh well" and just couldn't do it.

    I admire the fact that you did (didn't?) and that you can make perfect post out of an imperfection (or almost perfect, so as not to piss off the gods).

    (Didja ever stop to think what the blogging gods might actually LOOK like? If we are all created in the image of the blogging gods and the way I frequently look while blogging is any indication, it's better that it remains a mystery.)

  4. I'm definitely stealing your excuses for not wanting to offend the gods. This is perfect for me, hehe.

  5. Great post! I actually wrote about my laziness yesterday - - I am far from being a perfectionist. although, like jewels, I am pretty perfect at being lazy. And I think spending time with your family is way more fun (and important) than making sure you post something every day just for the sake of posting!

  6. Heh heh. I love this. The flaw thing is one of my favorite social studies lessons, as well. Martha Beck once said something along the lines of "To rest when you are tired is as important for creativity as working when inspired." You need time to work, and time to gather. Great blog!

  7. Blah ... this pretty much describes me in so many areas of life. Especially blogging. Nice to know we're not alone. (:
    I agree with Judy, spending time with family and avoiding bringing wrath from the blog gods is definitely a WIN.

  8. Yes, don't anger the blogging gods. Or the house cleaning gods. Especially not the coffee gods!

    I am also a bit of a perfectionist, though certainly far from perfect. My perfectionist tendencies often get in the way as I decide not to even attempt things I can't perfect. I struggle with this *every* time I write a Juliana piece.

    Your imperfection manifests itself in ways that are perfect for my encouragement. If I could, I'd hug your imperfectness right now!

  9. Oh s**t.... and I quote " If I make a commitment to do something, by golly, I will do it and I will do it right, and I will do it the best I've ever done it." Holey moley - you nailed me and it has driven me crazy. I am an incredible asset at work b/c management KNOWS I will get the job done and get it done well. I can say (now that the proof is in the young adults hanging out here at the house over the holiday times) that I did the parenting thing well enough.... my burned out knees attest to the way I tackled the whole running a marathon thing . You get the picture. What I am FINALLY learning - but admit that I still have not fully embraced - is that this perfectionism is not all its cracked up to be.

  10. I saw myself in so much of what you wrote today. I'm thinking I might steal your excuse of 'intentional imperfection' in the future:) Glad to hear Chief Lou is there to keep you on track- we perfectionists need to have people who are grounded around us. Glad to hear your 'imperfection' was the result of such a well-spent day!
    @ Masked Mom...I fully agree re: blogging gods

  11. What DO the blogging gods look like? Now MM has me wondering.

    I would also like to hear the rap about Andrew Jackson if you please.

    It's important to remember the people we most let down when we're not perfect is ourselves. Everyone else is glad to know we're not perfect!

    HA! Great word just now: pshinese


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