A wise nun once told me, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Those of you who have been taught by Sister Anne Patrick will understand the irony of this most sacred advice coming from, perhaps, the most meticulous person I’ve ever met. Her advice came at the onset of a great endeavor: our senior seminar at Carleton for the completion of our Religious Studies degree. Several months later (and one typo in the opening line) I submitted my senior comps. 30 pages felt like quite an accomplishment back then.
30 minutes is about all I can manage today.
Lent begins tomorrow. Forty days in the wilderness. I never really observed this religious rite of passage until I came to the East Coast and found myself surrounded by Catholics. Christians who love Jesus with a good beer. Christians who are steeped in historical traditions going back centuries.
Those of you who know me well know that I can but rarely take any tradition at face value. I always have to tweak or question something. So I have never attempted to give up some of the more traditional abstentions: chocolate, coffee, television, sloth, vanity, etc. I have had the most success with a more mindful approach. One year, for example, I gave up anger. I didn’t stop feeling angry, but I did start to notice patterns and started asking questions. “Why am I angry? Is it justified? Didn’t this happen at the same time yesterday?” For those of you who do yoga, meditation, or metacognition, this practice of “observing your thoughts” will resonate.
As it turns out, 40 days is about how long psychologists say it takes to make or break a habit. My bad habit? Perfection.
Don’t laugh. Seriously. No scoffing. Despite how my EXTERNAL world may appear to you (See: messy room, messy desk, misplaced keys, losing train of thought mid-sentence) it may surprise you to know that there is ONE realm where I become immobilized in fear of imperfection. My writing.
I must have dozens of drafted but unsent letters, emails, blog posts, and tweets that somewhere between writing and sharing I lost my…focus? Conviction? Nerve? That’s not to mention the unwritten drafts in my head…filed haphazardly but visited or stumbled across again and again.
A friend once told me that I was like an open field with an invisible wall…that you run into full tilt because you don’t realize it’s there. Perhaps this is true of many of us, but I can’t speak for many of us. Only for myself.
I know that I must write. I know that to do so is to reveal to the critique of others my thoughts half formed. Ideas have imagined.
I know that I have also struggled to write because to do so one must withdraw from the world…at least momentarily…and I do so love the mess of the world.
So this Lent I commit to breaking the habit of narrative immobilization. For 30 minutes a day (the length of a Daniel Tiger) and without time for edits, revisions, or doubts, I will embark on this study of imperflection to see where it will take me and shape me as a human, as a writer. I’d welcome anyone who wishes to join me. We are all so beautiful in our half-finished stories…and that’s TIME.