Thursday! Between the 'Zines: Imperfect Perfection
How about that title, huh? Is that the most click-baity thing that ever baited a click or what? Or course perfection can’t be imperfect and if something is imperfect it is, ipso facto1, not perfect. Why, the nerve of me! The gall! The chutzpah! Who do I think I am, anyhow?
Except…let’s not be quite to hasty to judge, you Judgy McJudgeface! There is, at least today, a method to my madness2. You see, I’d like to briefly discuss perfectionism, from an angle that perhaps you’ve not seen very much. My hope, is to be a little useful to you this week and to be different from the other creativity gurus who seem to infest this and other platforms like head lice.
Okay. You know how perfectionism is wrong and bad and you much avoid it at all costs lest it devour your sanity and drive you to burnout and halitosis3? I don’t think that’s exactly true. I don’t even think it’s very true. I think it’s true in a general sense — that is, taking an action toward what we want is usually better than not taking action and “shipping” a creative work is usually better than waiting until we have all the crinkles and flaws sorted out.
“Usually”, however, doesn’t work for me.
See, I think we can bring perfection into a different frame. What’s more, I think we can get a lot of useful mileage out of thinking of “perfect” in a way we’re used to, but tend to avoid when it comes to creativity.
Here’s what I want to go with this. On one hand, “perfect” means “unblemished” and “complete beyond the capacity for improvement”. On the other hand, it means “the thing that fits best at this time and in this place”. Do you see the difference? We have in our heads room for the statement, “it’s not perfect, but it’s perfect for this”. That’s the world I think is best for art to inhabit. No creative work can be flawless, because art is subjective and one person will perceive a flaw that you or I won’t agree is a flaw at all. We will say something is perfect when someone else doesn’t think very much of it at all. Perfection in any artistic endeavor, as an absolute and objective measure, is impossible. That’s why all the creative advice folks tell you to throw the word away.
I’m not one of them. I want you to keep perfection and use it. Here’s how.
The next time you do something creative, think to yourself, “Is this thing exactly right for the place it will inhabit, for the person or people for whom I’m making it, and for the time I’m making it?” In other words, does that story you’re writing suit you and does it do just what you want it to do for the people you want to read it? Does your painting accomplish the purpose for which you’ve created it? Does it reflect the artist you are right now and hint at the artist you want to be? It is right for the here and now, from you, to your intended audience? If it is, you’ve made a perfect thing and you deserve a treat4!
What if you haven’t, though? What if your poem isn’t what you want? Well, that’s easy. Give it another pass. Relax and don’t try to fit it into every single concept of perfection you’ve ever encountered in your life. Don’t try to make it an Eternal Wonder of Literature. Did I mention relax? Yeah, start there and then make it the thing you want it to be right now. You can do that, I know. You’ve done it before, right? That was perfect then and the work your doing right now will be perfect when it’s done.
And by “done”, I don’t mean two years from now5. I mean, focus on what you want today and make it work for today.
Tomorrow, as a very wise man said, will take care of itself.
My dream is to support my family with my art. Can such a thing be done? Yes! But I need your help.
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That’s Latin for “all by itself”. Which, of course, isn’t possible, because nothing exists to itself and even things we understand today as self-evident aren’t and never were. That’s why we have to sometimes fight to make sure they remain as evident as possible.
As opposed to my everyday madness, which is pretty much ad lib and freeform.
I suggest a cookie or a tasty Dunkin coffee, but you decide what treat you want. Go ahead. I’m a benevolent treat dispenser!
Unless, of course, you’re making one of those massive art projects that can’t fit into a building. If so, you get to take your time. If you’re writing a book or painting a painting? Nah. Get that bad boy done.