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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Anne Lamott on perfectionism...

"She recounts her formative years and where she headed once she encountered that inevitable fork in the road where we can choose between being shut in and shut down by our traumatic experiences, or using them as fertile clay for character-building:
I started writing when I was seven or eight. I was very shy and strange-looking, loved reading above everything else, weighed about forty pounds at the time, and was so tense that I walked around with my shoulders up to my ears, like Richard Nixon. I saw a home movie once of a birthday party I went to in the first grade, with all these cute little boys and girls playing together like puppies, and all of a sudden I scuttled across the screen like Prufrock’s crab. I was very clearly the one who was going to grow up to be a serial killer, or keep dozens and dozens of cats. Instead, I got funny. I got funny because boys, older boys I didn’t even know, would ride by on their bicycles and taunt me about my weird looks. Each time felt like a drive-by shooting. I think this is why I walked like Nixon: I think I was trying to plug my ears with my shoulders, but they wouldn’t quite reach. So first I got funny and then I started to write, although I did not always write funny things. … All I ever wanted was to belong, to wear that hat of belonging. In seventh and eighth grades I still weighed about forty pounds. I was twelve years old and had been getting teased about my strange looks for most of my life. This is a difficult country to look too different in – the United States of Advertising, as Paul Krassner puts it – and if you are too skinny or too tall or dark or weird or short or frizzy or homely or poor or nearsighted, you get crucified. I did."

...and...

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.
In this bird-by-bird approach to writing, there is no room for perfectionism. (Neil Gaiman famously advised, “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”, and David Foster Wallace admonished, “If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.”) Lamott cautions:
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life. . . . Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here – and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing."
 http://www.brainpickings.org/