Monday, November 08, 2010

Problem Diagnosis

I have a problem. I am a chronic perfectionist. For those of you who don't live with such a disorder, let me enlighten you.

For example:

My wife is a great quilter, mostly machine piecing, but is currently working on a large hexagonal hand-pieced quilt. As we sit and watch TV at the end of the day, she works on her quilt. I thought, I should do something like that. So, as I thought about what I wanted to do, I found this:

We actually have three blocks that we bought at Pike's Place Market in Seattle hanging in our bedroom.

Leila laughed at me. Because this is crazy.

I did make a quilt once, I did some appliqué for a quilt for my sister's son. But a kite and some clouds are not small geometric concentric shapes.

My attempt lasted just a few minutes. Then I was frustrated because I couldn't do it. Of course.

Many times I have run into the same thing. I have woodworking projects half finished in my garage because I tried to make cabinets before I knew how to make a box. (I had a hard time with my mortise and tenon joints and making the doors just right). I did make a workbench that I am proud of, but it took all of my willpower to keep going because it wasn't turning out like the ideal.

Plato described "ideal forms" that exist in an eternal sphere. In this mortal plane, actual representations of these ideal forms always fall short and exist like shadows on a cave wall flickering in the firelight. If a hypothetical person was forced only to see the shadows on the wall, he would believe that the shadows are the true forms.

Unfortunately for me, I have a mental image of what this ideal form should be - whether it is a song I am trying to play on the violin, how my house should look, the report I need to write, the woodworking project gathering dust in the garage. When I attempt to mimic that form, my imitation falls short, and I become discouraged and frustrated because I can't do what I meant to do.

What is the solution? It is to embrace the shadows on the wall. Because even shadow puppets are better than nothing. My neighbor gets so much done that is done so well, but each project is flawed when you look close. Most people would never notice. Probably no one would notice the flaws in what I do but myself. So that is my goal: To let myself do imperfect work. To begin where I am and see where it takes me.


Charlotte said...

I have found cooking to be a good exercise for this. I nearly always fall short of the ideal (the professional photo in the cookbook)- something either over cooked or undercooked or underseasoned, etc. But I have to accept my efforts and sit around and watch others reactions to my efforts (which, as you said, most people don't notice, or are at least polite enough not to say anything). And then I get to comsume my imperfections so they are no longer staring me in the face.

Good luck, from one recovering perfectionist to another.

Erica said...

I have never achieved perfection until I have had utter and complete failure multiple times. Even then, the next time I try it, I have a failure. (Picture Lemon Meringue Soup on thanksgiving after years of success with the same recipe...) I will embrace my shadow of pie and love it.

Bonnie said...

Achieving perfection on a project is like figuring out perpetual motion. To quote from Music Man, "I almost had it a couple of times."

Our best effort, for the time and place we are at,is an acceptable offering.

Besides if we only tackle things we can complete perfectly we miss all the joy and accomplishment from trying.