Sometimes, after a hard day of writing about perfectionism, all you want is a couple of puppies.
Sometimes, after a hard day of writing about perfectionism, all you want is a couple of puppies.
Mikey inherited my drive for perfection. Last week I hung in the laundry room some of my favorite drawings the boys have made over the years. Nico doesn’t draw as
well as Mikey did at his age, but if you ask him everything he does is brilliant. When he saw his pictures, he immediately pointed out everything that was awesome–and there was plenty of awesome. When Mikey saw my wall of pictures, he grimaced. This one, my favorite of the bunch, really annoyed him.
“It’s not my best work.”
Days later he saw it again as he was putting his baseball uniform to wash. He came storming back to my desk to complete his argument (I refused to take down the pictures days prior). “You know what really bugs me about that Allosaurus picture? It’s attacking a Triceratops, which is impossible. They aren’t even from the same period.”
I reminded him that (1) we don’t know any paleontologists so his gaffe is safe with us (2) he was barely 7 years old when he drew that picture and if anyone is allowed to take poetic license with dinosaur art, it’s the under-10 crowd and (3) too bad, so sad, I love the picture and it stays.
If you’re reading this, you can probably easily identify with Mikey’s seeing his art on the wall and grimacing! Fortunately for him, his mom knew exactly what to do: she helped him see the bigger picture, which I think is the right approach. I might have also made it clear to him that his concerns are valid – it’s great to be an expert on something, and to want to get the details right – but that you can take things a bit too far.
Meanwhile, baseball brings its own set of stresses:
Yesterday’s piece on Betty Ming Liu’s quest for self-liberation got me thinking about authenticity. Today, I ran across stories about two people, each on their own quest for it:
For Teyonah Parris (who plays Don Draper’s secretary Dawn on Mad Men) the quest was to accept her beautiful natural hair:
“I was walking down the street with one of my girlfriends and I saw this young lady who had the most amazing, bomb twist-out. I said to my friend, “Oh my gosh, her hair is so beautiful. I wish my hair could do that.” My friend looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Uh, it would if you stop relaxing it.” I stopped and thought to myself, wow, duh. I kind of felt dumb because of course I knew my hair was naturally curly, but it had been so long since I had been relaxing. I realized that I had no real relationship with my natural hair.
“At that very moment, I decided to change that. I wanted to see what my own hair felt like because I really didn’t know. I had no clue. In the back of my mind, I always figured I could go back to a relaxer if I didn’t like it. I started transitioning for a year and a half using sew-in weaves so my transition was fairly easy. My stylist would trim off the relaxer as time went on and eventually, she cut off the last little bit of straight ends and I was relaxer-free. I finally saw my own hair in its natural state.
“And then… I cried.
“I did not know how to deal with this little afro on my head. I called my best friend crying because I did not want to leave the house. She came over and literally sat me down and said, “Teyonah you are beautiful. Your hair is amazing.” She is really the main reason why I am natural to this day. Later on, we went out in Harlem and I was trying not to feel so self-conscious. The whole day, people would come up to me and say, “Wow, I love your hair. It’s gorgeous.” I was totally shocked. The reaction I got from other people was really comforting. I know we shouldn’t look for approval from other people, but in all honestly, it really helped me see that it was really my own perception of my hair that was holding me back.
I tore through middle and high school, craving perfect scores like a junkie in need of a fix. In college, I wrecked the curve for my straight classmates. Each semester, I petitioned the dean to overload my course schedule and sought the presidencies of student groups I had joined just days earlier. By the time I reached Yale Law School, where once-closeted academic superstars are like the hay in a haystack, coming out wouldn’t even have provoked a yawn. No matter. I built a wall of casebooks, hunkered down and ignored the growing hole in my social development.
Dr. Pachankis and Dr. Hatzenbuehler would not be surprised to learn that more than half the men in my randomly assigned “small group” seminar at Yale were gay. Deriving self-worth from achievement-related domains, like Ivy League admissions, is a common strategy among closeted men seeking to maintain self-esteem while hiding their stigma. The strategy is an effort to compensate for romantic isolation and countless suppressed enthusiasms. And it requires time-consuming study and practice, which conveniently provide an excuse for not dating….
But the study does show that the longer a young man conceals his sexual orientation, the more heavily he invests in external measures of success, potentially leading to undue stress and social isolation. Perhaps that explains why I recently moved to Washington, D.C., America’s most populous closet, where esteemed work abounds, promotions are frequent and ambition is in the water supply.
Another of the study’s findings is that boys who grow up in more stigmatizing environments are more likely to seek self-worth through competition. I spent my first 18 years in a rural, religious town in North Carolina, a state that recently passed a constitutional amendment barring same-sex unions by a wide margin. Now here I am, a metal detector scanning for golden prizes. That’s no coincidence, the research suggests.
(Click arrow at right to continue!)
If your job is not central to your mission, but simply a way to earn money, then one of the profoundest acts of self-liberation you can make is to reduce your hours or (even better) quit. Blogger Betty Ming Liu just quit her job, and her list of goals for her next stage is awesome:
– I want to self-publish a book. If you’ve been with me for a while, you know that this is an on-going yearning. Maybe not the most practical solution for making money, but crucial for personal fulfillment. The rough first draft is done and I’m ready to rock this dream!
– Expanding my YouTube presence. There’s not much up right now but look for more. During recent One-to-One training lessons at the Apple Store, I’ve learned to use Final Cut Pro X. Now it’s my chance to put those skills to practice in editing my own how-to videos about all kinds of things. Stay tuned!
– Spend time with my daughter. She is now a college-bound, young woman. If you’ve been through this stage with a kid, you know that part of me wants to scream. So much going on, on multiple levels. Major transitions in our relationship. There’s also the fun ahead of prom and graduation. Really glad that I now have the time to fully engage in the moments ahead.
– Start dating again. It’s been nearly two years since I’ve been in a relationship. With a full-time job, I was married to my work. But maybe there’s a chance for a shared life ahead. I’ve grown up a lot over the past two years and am much more willing to risk the vulnerability and intimacy required to be with a significant other.
– Start painting again. The easel and my oils have been calling to me. Over the past year, I’ve also been ripping out stuff from the newspaper in hopes of collaging with newsprint someday. Well, maybe “someday” is on the near horizon.
– Jump start my teaching career. I left a great teaching career for the adventure of being a digital journalist filing daily stories online. And every day, part of me missed being around young people. Even though all the colleges that I taught at said that they’d love for me to return one day, most of my gigs are gone. But I do have one assignment for the fall: I’ll be teaching food writing to undergraduate journalism majors at NYU.
– Catch up on home repairs. My sweet little house could be in much better shape. It really bothers me that the screen on my front porch door has been busted for the past year. My deck posts are rotting away and need to be replaced. Yes, this means dipping more into savings. But I can’t let my house fall apart. It’s my main asset and needs to be maintained.
– Catch up on my sleep. Yesterday morning at around 9 a.m., my daughter knocked on my bedroom door and hollered for me, sounding worried. She wanted to know if I was sick because I’m usually up very early. Helloooo, can’t Mommy sleep in on a Sunday morning? Haha.
I love how defined her list is, and admire how she’s adroitly balancing professional and self-care goals. And I’m particularly glad she’s working on her art because, as you can see, her art is awesome! Love the bold, fearless brushstrokes and colors married to simple forms and mundane subject matter. (Reminds me of Pablo Neruda or William Carlos Williams poems.)
(Click More arrow at right to continue)
Evidence that sleep is important is overwhelming. Elegant research has demonstrated its critical role in memory consolidation and our ability to generate innovative solutions to complex problems. Sleep disruption increases the level of the stress hormone cortisol. Impulsive behaviors, lack of empathy, sense of humor, and mood are similarly affected.
All in all, a tired adolescent is a grumpy, moody, insensitive, angry, and stressed one. Perhaps less obviously, sleep loss is associated with metabolic changes. Research has shown that blood-glucose regulation was greatly impaired in young men who slept only four hours on six consecutive nights, with their insulin levels comparable to the early stages of diabetes.
Similar studies have shown higher levels of the hormone ghrelin, which promotes hunger, and lower levels of leptin, which creates a sense of feeling full. The suggestion is that long-term sleep deprivation might be an important factor in predisposing people to conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
Adolescents are increasingly using stimulants to compensate for sleep loss, and caffeinated and/or sugary drinks are the usual choice. The half-life of caffeine is five to nine hours. So a caffeinated drink late in the day delays sleep at night. Tiredness also increases the likelihood of taking up smoking.
Collectively, a day of caffeine and nicotine consumption, the biological tendency for delayed sleep, and the increased alertness promoted by computer or cellphone use generates what Carskadon calls a perfect storm for delayed sleep in teenagers.
What a mess. Poor kids.
First, as the article points out, a lot of creative endeavors, including even writing, can tax the body:
As a yoga teacher, Bobowicz was concerned about the repetitive stress that plagues artists as they work.
“Jewelers can hammer over and over again, painters use their hands and wrists to do brush strokes, and writers crouch at their desks and type — stress that builds up on important parts of the body can become a block so the creative force can’t flow through,” Bobowicz said. “We want to keep these body parts open and healthy. I see this as occupational therapy for artists.”
For writers and others who are sedentary, that’s also a big problem.
Beyond that, getting passionately involved in yoga or any other endeavor can take the pressure off your writing.
Finally, physical exercise is a great catalyst for creativity, and many people (including me!) get useful ideas or fresh perspectives while walking or exercising.
So…good idea to incorporate yoga or another physical activity throughout your day.
The Guardian reports on a new exhibit on famed British children’s writer Enid Blyton. She produced more than 700 books, mainly for young readers, and was very disciplined both in her writing habits and her bookkeeping and business management:
But grown-up visitors will be intrigued to see how little editing Blyton’s manuscripts needed. She would cross out the odd word, insert an adjective here and there, but what was published was more or less what she battered out with two frantic fingers on the typewriter, also on display in Newcastle.
During a 50-year career, Blyton rattled off an astonishing 700-plus books, as well as 4,500 stories. The exhibition also reveals that she did her own accounts. A pencil-written ledger from 1926 entitled “work paid for” showed Blyton, then 29, earned £189, nine shillings and 11 pence in January alone. “It’s fascinating to see how organised she was,” said Kate Edwards, chief executive of Seven Stories. “She was such a shrewd businesswoman.”
Also on show in Newcastle are diaries Blyton wrote that reveal a woman with a Stakhanovite work ethic before the Russian miner had become the patron saint of grafters the world over. “Worked all day till 4.30,” she notes tersely on 25 October 1927. “Did 6,000 words today, a record for me.” In 1931 she writes: “Did story for my Page [the welcome page she wrote for each edition of her magazine]. Went for long walk with Nurse. Rested till tea. Knitted till bed.” The next day, Seven Stories adds as a postscript, Blyton gave birth to daughter Gillian.
If you’re a perfectionist, you might read the above and chastise yourself for not being similarly dedicated, or you might even aspire to match her productivity. It’s okay to dream big, but make sure you understand how she achieved her productivity. She obviously had a flair for spinning prose that didn’t need a lot of editing; at the same time, however, let’s not forget that she wrote children’s books, which tend to be shorter than adult ones, and also efficiently created series in which she re-used the same characters and settings. It also probably helped that there was a robust market for fiction back then–actually getting paid for one’s work is a huge motivator. But Blyton was also pretty monomaniacal about her work:
“Writing trumped all else in her life, relegating world events to a footnote. “Worked all day,” she wrote on 2 September 1939. “Germany invaded Poland today so I suppose we shall be at war tonight.”
Reminds me of something I read once about Mozart, that in all of his hundreds of letters to his father and others–letters that, in some cases, were filled with minutiae about music– he never once mentions his generation’s major upheaval, the French Revolution.
As for Blyton, if you’re not able or willing to duplicate the conditions for her prolificness, then don’t worry if you’re not able to match it. Instead, figure out what you ARE able to reasonably achieve, and focus on that. Remember that comparisons are frequently misused in a perfectionistic way.
“Have you noticed just how often the critics disagree with one another? And how often they’re just wrong?
“And yet we not only read them, but we believe them. Worse, we judge ourselves, contrasting our feelings with their words. Worse still, we sometimes think we hear the feared critic’s voice before we even ship our work out the door…
“Every single book I’ve written has gotten at least a few one star reviews on Amazon. Every one. The lowest possible rating, the rating of, “don’t bother reading this, in fact it never should have been written.” Not just me, of course. Far better writers, writers like Fitzgerald, Orwell and Kincaid have gotten even more one-star reviews on their books than I can ever hope to.”
The trouble is that many lower-income students don’t have the luxury of studying an unremunerative field just because they’re interested in it. According to this University of Rochester study, many choose a major more on the basis of whether they feel they can earn a living doing it than any intrinsic liking for it. This may be one reason why lower-income students as a group don’t do as well in college as upper income ones:
For instance, wealthier students appeared more likely than low-income students to achieve success based on their interest in studying certain subject areas. It’s not that low-income students don’t want to study various areas, but their motivation for enrolling in college may be more related to a desire to improve their financial situation, and that has a strong impact on their success.
Mason Currey, author of Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, writes about three procrastinating writers, Edgar Allen Poe, William James, and Franz Kafka:
In his letters, Kafka complained that his day job was holding him back, but as Louis Begley argues in his excellent biographical essay on Kafka, this was really just an excuse. Begley writes, “It is rare that writers of fiction sit behind their desks, actually writing, for more than a few hours a day. Had Kafka been able to use his time efficiently, the work schedule at the Institute would have left him with enough free time for writing. As he recognized, the truth was that he wasted time.” [Highlighting mine-HR]
For the record, never refer to your reasons for not writing as “excuses,” “complaints,” or “whines.” First, because those are negative, moralistic labels that do not add anything to the conversation: they simply shame (and, thus, undermine) you. Second, people’s reasons for underproductivity are always valid. Always! 100%. I’ve been doing this work for more than a decade and I’ve never yet heard an invalid reason.
I don’t know what happened to Kafka. Was he exhausted after his job, was his family life stressful, did he have trouble coping with his lack of public recognition, or was he just afraid to keep visiting the darkness that so often appeared in his writings? According to Wikipedia, “Kafka finished none of his full length novels and burned around 90 per cent of his own work,” which suggests a whopping case of perfectionism.
A sad case, all around. Read more