Monday, December 13, 2010

Worth Doing Well?

To my considerable annoyance, I am still sick. I'm not as feverishly wobbly as I was two days ago which is a blessing that I should be more thankful for, but less feverishly wobbly still implies a degree of fever and wobbliness that fails to please me. After two days of resting, whether I like it or not, I need to go into the studio and make another stab at my design final. I am not sanguine about the outcome.

Design school is the most difficult academic type thing I have ever done. This is speaking as someone who sailed through the upper division classes for her major and minor in college. I sometimes got stressed out or managed my time badly, but I never doubted my essential ability to do research and write a readable paper or draw interesting conclusions from my data. Academia holds very few terrors for me, but I do not love it enough to spend the rest of my life teaching and writing about 17th century literature, even though John Donne occupies a central place in my shrine to Dead White Guys I Have Loved.

Introduction to Design on the other hand makes my blood run cold. I think I might be in love. I have taught myself daunting computer programs and figuratively beat my brains out on my desk trying to do better. My self definition as a competent artist* is in tatters at the moment, and I would care more if I were not so determined to work my way to mastery at this. So far my efforts have met with far less success than another paper about the male gaze in the poetry of Elizabeth I's court.

So I have a standard of perfection that I am aiming at, and I keep missing it. It is frustrating. I want to get an A on my final. No, not just an A, I want a 4.0 on it. Losing that Saturday means that I lost a day of elaboration and thought. Even knowing that I had no choice -- I could not have physically got myself to the studio**-- does not help as much as I wish it did.

I want to be perfect, and knowing that I am not going to be calls up the insidious spirit of perfectionism. It says, "Why bother if you know you won't succeed?" There have been periods in my life when I would rather not turn in anything at all, than turn in what I thought was bad work. It doesn't help that this is the dark time of the year, and I always struggle when the days grow short. The voice of perfectionism says, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." And I chime in with the chorus, "if I can't do it well, I won't do it."

This is not helpful. Somethings are too important to be held hostage to an unrealizable perfection. A couple of years ago, I heard someone I respect said, "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." It took me a moment or two to work it out. I know her writing and art. From my point of view she does not do things badly. It occurred to me that maybe things worth doing are worth doing as well as I can whether or not I think that "as well as I can" is terrible. This was revelatory.

Unfortunately it's a lesson I have to keep relearning. Oh well.

From the commonplace book:

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft [or final project in design]. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it." -- Ann Lamott

“No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” -- Samuel Beckett

*My self-definition as an artist has never been in doubt. If I can't paint well, I shall paint badly. If I can't paint at all, I shall write. If you take my pen and paper away, I will cook. If you take my kitchen too -- I will sing my head off, even if I have a sore throat. But really, why is this hypothetical "you" so determined to stop me making things?

** I managed to run a load of laundry on Saturday. I had to take a nap after I took the hamper down the hall. Walking a mile, or even just walking to the bus stop, was right out.

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