Making the most of Perfect

Making the most of Perfect

We all know there’s no such thing as perfect. Life is messy and complicated. Striving for perfection is futile – and exhausting!

Perfectionists can be hard-working, tenacious, with an eye for detail. But we can also be an unhappy lot. If we’re not careful we tend to be uptight, controlling and anxious. And all of this, ironically, gets in the way of really and truly enjoying those perfect things we strive to create.

We ruin things by clinging on too tight. We rarely enjoy the journey because we’re looking ahead instead of experiencing the moment. And even if we achieve the end goal and it ends up just perfect, we’re normally too fraught to appreciate it.

I decided to give up perfect a long time ago.

I realised that I cannot possibly be a perfect person. I will never be a perfect mother or a perfect friend. My children will never be perfect and nor will my marriage. We’re all fine just the way we are – lovely and flawed in all sorts of ways.

But it’s not easy! My brain is hard-wired to see problems and to fix them. To root out weakness. To work hard to make things the best that they can be. And even when I’m 100% committed to Project Good Enough, as soon as I get distracted my clever-old-brain nips in quick and reboots my default settings. Before I know it I’m back to striving and rushing and cramming too much in and fixating on things being just right.

But I can forgive myself. Project Good Enough doesn’t have to be perfect!

Creativity requires imperfection

Crucially, the creative process demands that we learn to embrace ‘failure’ and imperfection. It requires that we eschew perfect in favour of experimentation. We simply must embrace the idea of trial and error, and (as writers) writing regularly, writing badly, writing regardless.

The feeling that what we have to offer isn’t good enough is an inevitable part of the process. Every writer you most admire can tell you this is true. The early stages of any work are inevitably lacking. Ernest Hemingway advised the young Arnold Samuelson that The first draft of anything is shit. If we are not prepared to produce shit, then we won’t produce anything at all.

In praise of the perfect moment

In amongst all of this has been the wonder of discovering – don’t judge me, and yes, I’m being serious – the perfect moment! I’m talking about surprising, unorchestrated moments of pure joy. A few examples:

I was driving at dawn through the valley where I live, the sun low in the sky, mist clinging to the fields. A huge stag lifted its mouth from the grass and glanced towards the car. I slowed, pulled over and got out. Our eyes met and we regarded each other for several long moments until, eventually, he turned and walked away, leaving me stunned, rooted, in love.

I was astonished by how I felt – just so full of happiness I wanted to shout out with the joy of it. In fact, I think I did.

More recently, I was mountain walking in Scotland with my husband in rain and low cloud. Visibility was appalling, although we knew where we were going and were chatting away and having a fine enough time (we’ve resigned ourselves to walking in poor weather if we’re going to make Scotland a destination). But then, after a couple of hours climbing in the fog, near the top of the munro, the cloud blew over and revealed the 360 degree view, the majesty of the mountains, the lochs stretching away into the distance. There was nobody else in sight. Just wilderness. It was magical – beautifully, perfectly, magical. And I was gut-wrenchingly glad to be alive.

Then there was the time my daughters persuaded me to go with them on a ‘banana boat’ ride in Croatia. Banana boats aren’t really my scene – they absolutely wouldn’t feature in my perfect holiday. I’m more of a tranquil-fishing-boat-in-a-port kinda person. But they’d cajoled me into joining them and my husband, and I’d relented. It was so hilariously exhilarating to fly (dragged) behind a speedboat on an inflatable!! I laughed so hard I literally wet myself (fortunately we were in the sea so nobody noticed). We were all completely ecstatic and in fits of giggles and immediately queued up to do it all over again.

None of us have ever forgotten it and occasionally, collectively, relive the joy of it. It was a banana boat for goodness sake! It wasn’t the Taj Mahal.

There are many other moments obviously – perfect little snippets of unadulterated happiness that just seem to spontaneously happen. Moments that fill me with awe. Moments that make me feel mind-blowingly, spine-tinglingly alive. But you know what? My wedding day, the days my daughters were born, big-event birthday parties… all these happenings that I’ve participated in, or organised, or had high expectations of (and mostly thoroughly enjoyed), don’t seem to feature in this great long lovely list of perfect moments.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying these ‘special’ events weren’t happy occasions. They absolutely were. But for whatever reason, that I can’t necessarily explain, they just didn’t become one of those amazingly perfect, more-often-than-not fleeting, moments that take my breath away.

I’m sure for many of you it’s no surprise that life’s deepest joys can’t be controlled and engineered. But it WAS a surprise for me.

Don’t sit around waiting

I’m not suggesting we are, or should be, passive beings who need to helplessly wait for nice things to happen to us – as if life will, and should, deliver at some point. Far from it! I think we all get to contribute to our own perfect moments. If I’d refused to join my family on the banana boat, or if I hadn’t got myself up the Scottish munro in the first place then those moments would never have happened.

There is definitely something about creating the life we want and putting ourselves into the situations that resonate most with us. Opening ourselves up to experiences. Saying yes!

But there is also something slightly random about those truly perfect moments. It feels as if there is an alchemy at work that won’t stand to be contained. I’m sure we’ve all attempted, at some point, to create or recreate a magic moment only to find that it has given us the slip. It’s like trying to catch a wave in a jar.

Perfection in the big smoke

When Ella Kahn (DKW Literary Agency) invited me, in May, to meet her in London to discuss my current novel, and my writing in general, I knew there was a chance that she might offer to represent me. There was no guarantee, but I knew there was a chance. I also knew that if that happened I would be absolutely delighted. It would be a really happy day, and a hugely significant one for me.

But what I didn’t know was that, in the event, the sky would be an unfettered blue. I didn’t know that the sun would be fierce and that just behind King’s Cross I would find a terraced area, with water falling and grass to sit on and beautiful trees. I didn’t know that Ella would be lovely, or that she would be so enthusiastic to work with me.

After our meeting I sat in the sunshine, elated, outside a swanky bar and ordered myself a glass of champagne. It felt deliciously decadent (for a country girl from the north).

With the sun warming my skin, one step closer to being a published writer, I felt a rush of joy and awe and gratitude. I luxuriated in the wonder of it – this new perfect moment that I knew I’d remember, probably forever.

 

What are your thoughts about perfection? Want to share a perfect moment? Scroll down and let me know….

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5 thoughts on “Making the most of Perfect

  1. I love your post jo, it is so inspiring and put me in mind of some of those peak moments in my life when joy came in unbidden and not organised by me, finding an ebony jewelled damsel fly when I didn’t even know such things of beauty existed for example. So pleased to hear your closer to getting published!

    1. Hi Ali! Thank you… xx It’s lovely to hear from you. I’ve never heard of an ebony jewelled damsel fly either! The world really is a beautiful place. xx

  2. Beautiful to read Jo. Yes, to the strange way in which the unexpected moments carve themselves deepest in our memories, not always/necessarily the ‘big’ moments.

    Re perfection, the story I love best is about the American poet William Stafford. He told a class of writing students he taught that he wrote a poem every morning, first thing, and then stuck it up on his mirror while he shaved. ‘Every morning!’ exclaimed one of the students, ‘How on earth do you manage that?’ ‘Lower your standards’ replied Stafford. Exactly.

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