Question for you: my fledgling blogging career has had its wings clipped recently by a profound investment of all of my waking energy and time into which of the following three activities?
(a) Watching back to back episodes of Drop Dead Diva on Netflix?
(b) Nourishing the Nipper through his three month growth spurt?
(c) Trying to weather the storm of selling two properties between H and me and buying a new one?
Answer: It is of course (b). Well maybe also (c). Oh fuck it: also (a).
Buying/selling a house is very tense, isn’t it? I keep lying awake at night, hearing Ian McKellan’s* voice in my head whispering in hushed tones “The quest stands upon the edge of a knife” as I wait for our solicitor to give us a modicum of reassurance that we will, in fact, complete on one sale this Friday and therefore will, in fact, be able to go ahead with our planned purchase of our first proper family home. Rest assured, though, I’m not about to have a rant about conveyancing, or the property market, or interior design, fascinating as all three of those subjects may be to some. Instead I intend to rant, in altogether more vague terms, on this:
There is a concept which I have spent most of my sentient life seeking (and failing, often dismally) to obtain, believing it to be the ideal to which we should aspire in all aspects of our life: perfection. It is that whiney, whingey voice that insists that I must get top marks at school/do well at work/not get shouted at by the boss/teacher/parent, which as you get older and more material expands into other areas: I must eat organic meat, I must continually (well…) diet, I must have a clean home, I must have a Mulberry handbag, I must do this, buy that, say this, etc., etc., etc. It is a hideous, inbuilt and ingrained fear of criticism and sloppiness that I use to beat myself up and also project onto other unwilling targets and use it to beat them up as well.
If you can’t do it right, then don’t do it all, I often think. Well, I’m wrong. Perfection is the biggest paradox going. To aim to do things perfectly is, in fact, never to do, but to procrastinate, to hesitate, to fail before you even begin. To aim to be perfect is, in fact, never to be satisfied, but to be continually frustrated by your inevitable failure to attain the unattainable. Churchill had it sussed: “The maxim, “Nothing prevails but perfection,” may be spelled PARALYSIS.”
I am an incorrigible procrastinator and I do – genuinely – believe that this is at least slightly, if not wholly, due not to my natural indolence but rather to my obsession with perfection and my fear of being criticised for not obtaining it. I say this as someone who agonises for hours over the simplest email at work, and drives my junior colleagues to despair and drink by my unrestrained use of red pen when checking their work. This blog is also a case in point. How many half scribbled, unfinished, blog posts have I created on my laptop since I started this blog? It must be upwards of sixty or more. How many posts have I actually finished and published? Five. FIVE. Even I can see that’s a very poor productivity rate. The reason? I won’t (with the exception probably of this post) publish a post until I have written it once, then re-written it, then collated about fifty pages of research, then processed the same, then re-written the post, then amended it, then refined its spelling and grammar, then asked H to proof it, etc. etc. etc….. You get the idea.
If you are a perfectionist, then nothing gets done. Here’s another case in point: housework (vomit vomit vomit). It is risible to even discuss perfection in connection with my domestic capabilities. Cards on the table: I’m a slattern. But I think I am starting to understand why. When I clear up a room, I don’t like to whip round it in five minutes and move on; I like to declutter every cupboard, clean every corner, polish every surface, remove every trace of dust and dirt. Since that takes at least 2-3 days… well, you’ve guessed it, I do it about once a year tops, because it takes so long and the reward is so minimal, as the room is so often a tip again within a day or two. (As an aside, if this is your elephant in the room, as it were, I can’t rate the website flylady.net highly enough – sup up the evangelism and you’ll find some extremely good anti-procrastination and anti-perfection advice on cleaning and much more).
If you are a perfectionist, then nothing gets done. The ironing doesn’t get done because I don’t have time to press everything immaculately and put it away. The floor doesn’t get scrubbed because I don’t have time to get every mark off the kitchen floor. The living room doesn’t get tidied because I don’t know what to do with the pile of clutter on the dresser. If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all. So I shy away from playing the piano, in case someone hears me play a duff note or twenty; I shy away from working on the novel which I have been writing for years, because I am stuck on a section where the plot is crap; I shy away from applying for promotion at work, in case someone discovers, horror of horrors, that I am not perfect at all. So I sit there is miserable paralysis, doing nothing, judging myself and judging anyone else, especially poor H, who fails to live up to my bizarre and self-imposed (or conceivably parent-imposed) standards.
Having a child is a good antidote to this poisonous mindset. Childcare does not allow for much indulgence in procrastination or perfectionism. You can’t not feed your child because the place or time isn’t perfect; you can’t not change a nappy because you don’t have the right wipes to hand; you can’t not pick up or play with or interact with your child just because you don’t know all the words to Incy Wincy Spider or you don’t feel like smiling. You give yourself a kick up the arse and you get on with it, and you make loads of mistakes, and you get gradually a bit better at it all the time, and it’s ace, it’s the best thing in the world.
Well, here’s to imperfection, in all its glory. To finish off this highly imperfect post, since we’re in a quoting mood, here’s an extract from Leonard Cohen song, Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring//Forget your perfect offering//There is a crack in everything //That’s how the light gets in.
*It was Cate Blanchett. Sorry.