poetry, tea

Ditching perfect

I’ve been seized by an attack of perfectionism lately, especially where writing is concerned. Nothing seems good enough. Everything seems to just sit on the page, staring back at me, all loose ends and unconnected sentences and uninspiring, flat descriptions. I can’t make it hang together the way I want, so I leave it in the draft folder and go away.

I keep coming back to try again, but it is always the same…I can’t get the words off the paper on which they’re written or the screen on which they are typed. Everything is so frustratingly two-dimensional.

*      *      *

Yesterday, morning, around 10:30ish. Snack time. I baked some muffins and put some water on for tea and put a stack of books on the table.

It was our first official poetry tea time.

We sat and nibbled muffins and drank our tea, and each child shared a favorite poem (either by reading it from a book or by asking me to read it for her).

We giggled at Shel Silverstein and smiled at Robert Louis Stevenson as we welcomed them to our table.

There was a spontaneous group recitation of Christina Rosetti’s The Caterpillar.

We ate too many sugar cubes and smeared extra jam on the muffins. The butter dish got sticky with strawberry, and we added too much milk to our cups.

It felt like a party.

Sam brought a poem that he wrote himself.

He wrote a poem.
But he wouldn’t read it.

He said he was too nervous. I tried to encourage him- we’re a safe audience, we will love it!– but he refused to read.

Then, it was my turn…and as I prepared to read something from the book nearest me, Lucy said, “But I want you to read that grasshopper poem you wrote.”

My eyebrows went up as my stomach dropped. How did she know? Sam must have seen my notebook, the one in which I’d hastily scribbled earlier about the grasshopper, and told her. It wasn’t ready. I wasn’t going to read it. I wasn’t finished with it yet!

They all chimed in…read the grasshopper! We want to hear about the grasshopper!

Amazed at my own reluctance, I tried to talk them out of it. I have this poem over here, guys (this poem by a real poet). That one’s not finished yet. It’s not ready to be read.

 Then Sam offered his poem to me.

You can read mine if you’ll read yours afterward.

Inspired by his bravery, I took his words, carefully written on thin, blue and red lined paper in his best almost-second-grade writing, and I spoke them, breathed into them, let them rest on the ears of everyone listening. A satisfied smile settled on his face.

Then I took a deep breath, picked up my poem and spoke it into existence…and I felt better about it than I thought I would.

*      *      *

Again and again, I come to this place where I find myself paralyzed by the specter of perfect.

It could be better.
It isn’t enough.
You could do more.

Perfectionism is a gut-punch that knocks all the air out of me and makes me afraid. We have a long history. It pursues me through the years and always finds me…but I’m the one who chooses to keep standing there and letting it hit me over and over again.

The hardwiring that makes me susceptible to perfectionism is something I inherited…maybe genetics, maybe life experiences, maybe some combination of both of them.
But standing there, standing still in that place? Getting hit over and over again? That’s a choice.

The quickest way out of that fearful, tentative place is a deep breath, then straight through and onward.

Deep breath. Straight through…and onward.


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