The Search for Perfection

What would fill up my soul right here, right now? What can I do to feel the most pleasure, the greatest joy, the deepest sense of contentment? What do I need to do in order to feel complete and whole right now?

I ask myself these sorts of questions all the time. I suppose, given an hour or two to myself, I imagine I’d like to spend it doing things that bring peace to my soul. But I often don’t really have any clue exactly what that is. I can spend an hour trying to figure out what to do with a free ninety minutes. I am liable to waste an entire afternoon, if the circumstances are just right, simply contemplating possibilities. I don’t seem to know how to relax anymore. How to sit still. I used to be able to curl up on the couch and read an entire day away. Now, I can’t seem to chill out long enough to get through more than a few pages in a chapter before I have to get up and do something else.

I have been a little discouraged lately. And while I’m sure that’s in large part due to the fact that we’ve just passed out of the coldest February on record, the truth is, I haven’t been able to single-mindedly focus on anything—too scattered—always seeking out the next best thing. It’s possible these are the initial twinges of creativity, Spring Fever stirring up my insides, making me feel all jittery and jumpy and jazzed up, but still, it’s uncomfortable. Unsettling. Unnerving and all sorts of other “un” fun things. It would be nice to Be Still. But Being Still requires one to actually be still for a while, and these days, that’s asking for more than I am able to give.

I’ve been procrastinating. A lot. I know how involved writing stories can get, how easy to is to get lost, how time consuming it can be to spend countless hours per day on one draft, one line, getting it just right, and I just don’t feel I have that luxury right now between kids and housework and school and side projects and all the other details that make up a life. Writing happens in meditation. I can’t write very well if I’m thinking it through too hard and rushing myself, trying to squeeze a sentence or two out of a spare minute discovered in between catching up on course work, making lunches, and doing loads of laundry. There needs to be a sense of flow, a conversation between me and myself, slowly unfolding. It’s like an orgasm, in a way, it can’t be forced, you just have to ride the wave and hope it takes you there. I haven’t had much time to indulge.

Still, I want to, long to, ache to… just write.

Maybe the search for the “perfect way to spend my time” is as futile as the search for a perfect relationship or marriage, or job, or house, or whatever. Always bound to disappoint because, quite frankly, perfect does not exist. In any case, even if it did, who would want to be under that kind of pressure all the time? Not me. I think I have simply functioned for far too long under the mistaken belief that, if I could achieve perfection, I would finally be worthy of love. But I’ve begun to realize that the people who love me do not love me for any proximity to perfection, they love me for the messy, flawed and mixed-up bag of imperfections I truly am.

Maybe I don’t need to seek out the next best thing. Maybe I already have it. Maybe what I need is exactly what I’ve already got. I mean, I only ever start to worry about the next thing when this one is taken care of, really, which makes worry a luxury… and maybe it’s one I can eventually learn to live without. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I do, how I spend my time, as long as whatever I do fills me up in some way. I don’t have to get all 29 things on my To Do List done. At least, not today, righthissecond.

Maybe a break is okay. Take a hot bath, read a chapter, sit in the dark for ten minutes, alone, and watch the way the snow falls on the roof of the house across the street… that can be enough. A face mask, a foot rub, or a walk around the block with the dog. Three lines of a poem, one paragraph of a blog post, one sentence of a story I may want to write more of one day– or maybe not. I don’t think it matters what the thing is exactly, it’s more about figuring out what fills you up, and finding ways to fit it in every day. Maybe it is okay that I’m reading five books at a time, as long as I’m enjoying what I’m reading, valuing my time.

Perhaps it’s perfect enough to feel content in the moment.

I have put so much pressure on myself to “perform” well, to be the Best Mom, the Best Student, the Best Wife, friend, colleague, daughter, cousin, and… I’m sure you get the picture. I have struggled to be so damn good, so everything, all the time, afraid to let anyone—or even myself—down, for any reason, even when it is unavoidable (another “un” fun word). But I think I have to start remembering that it’s okay to not be everything to everyone. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to get a B once in a while. It’s okay to not be fucking perfect. It’s more than okay to decide that I want to do something and just give myself over to the joy of it, instead of playing a game of tug-of-war between me, myself and I. You can’t watch a movie and read poetry and write a novel at the same time, but you can do it all, one thing at a time. Piece by piece.

Bird by bird, as Anne Lamott says, in writing and in life.

I believe I am done performing, friends, in every sense of the word. This is my final bow. To hell with perfection. From now on, I will strive to be Okay. An Okay Mom, an Okay Student, and Okay Wife, friend, colleague, daughter, and cousin, etc. To enjoy the Okay time I spend doing whatever Okay things I choose to do, and to be Okay with whatever results from it. To feel Okay and worthy of love regardless of my messiness, my flaws and weaknesses and warts and all. And to remember it is even Okay for me to waste an hour wondering what to do with my free ninety minutes…

*This post first appeared on Living the Dream blog*

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