Perfectionism is slow death. (Hugh Prather)

I separate all of my M&Ms by color, and then I eat each color in groups of three. I wish I were kidding. For the longest time, I really thought that this, among many other things, was simply quirky. I’m not so sure anymore.

There is a proper way to fold everything: large and medium bathroom towels get folded one way, hand towels another way, washcloths another way. I have another method for folding the towels and washcloths for the kitchen. There is a proper way to fold sheets, jeans, to tuck socks together. And all of these right ways are set up in a little system of rules in my head. Part of me argues the point that I’ve just figured out the neatest way to fold everything so that it fits into the space we have for it, and another part of me realizes that the preciseness with which I accomplish these tasks is a bit neurotic.

The other day at the shop, I was cutting apart my printed blog posts and securing them into my journal. I saw nothing odd about this. I cut them into pieces, then glue stick the pieces into place, and then cut tiny little strips of tape to secure the corners and kind of ensure (more) that they won’t fall out (someday).

Dani was standing next to me, watching: “What are you doing?” I told her. “But why are you taping them in? They’re already in.” I explained. She watched for a few moments more, and then just burst, “I can’t even watch this! It’s like, sick! It’s driving me crazy!” And off she went. I could kind of tell that it was getting to her – like nails on a chalkboard – but I kept going out of perverseness, I suppose.

My logic? No one but me really understands it. It’s another little code, another little set of rules. The title of this blog? Dreamphemera, alluding to the inescapable brevity of the human experience. Me including my (by nature ephemeral) blogs into my (less ephemeral) journals? That, I suppose, is me railing against that – me shouting into the darkness, saying that I, somehow, will circumvent the end we all come to and leave a legacy of some sort. That I will find a way to control that, too.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I’ve been thinking a LOT about all these little rules and codes, and unspoken taboos lately – these quirky little habits are like the visible tip of an insidious iceberg. Beneath the surface lurk all sorts of other little rules and codes for behavior, tasks, food, conversation, relationships, etc. AAARGH.

I’m frustrated. It’s frustrating. The more I think about all of it, the more I realize that it really is all about control, and the urge to feel safe. If I control the outcome and all the players, then it will be known, and therefore, safe. What utter hooey.

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself. (Anna Quindlen)

I am a total perfectionist. While Dani watched me cutting those strips of tape for my blogs, she saw me as doing each one uniformly, with uniform motion – all that I could see was that this strip was too big, that one too small, this one inserted crookedly.

This is something that’s been coming up for me consistently the past few weeks – first with the small things, the little routines, the subtle habits. And then, I started thinking about it on a deeper level – and I could see that it was like a fungus that had spread throughout the entire block of cheese, unseen. The only things I’d noticed were the quirky things that people commented on – all of the deeper stuff? I got real good at blaming it on something else (all excuses).

When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target. (George Fisher)

Then Wittler and I had a conversation last night – issues resulting from one of the subtler and more damaging ways I “seek perfection” needed discussing. It was an awkward conversation. I had a hard time being honest. I wasn’t totally honest. And it didn’t feel good. Afterward, I lay in bed, studying the ceiling in the dark, and dwelling on it.

And came up with a few things:
Perfectionism is about control, not about seeking excellence.

Perfectionism kills creativity.

Perfectionism kills relationships.

Control is about avoiding fear and pain.

Controlling outcomes is an effort to feel secure.

Control is an illusion.

Security is an illusion.

I don’t want to do this anymore.

On this path, fumbling towards mastery, out here where everyone can watch, I’ve encountered challenges, I’ve changed mindsets and behaviors, I’ve worked on me, and all the stuff surrounding me. This is a tough one.

I couldn’t be honest in our conversation last night, because I felt like Linus. As though someone had asked me to set down my blankie, and walk the rest of my days without it, naked.

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. (Anne Lamott)

If I don’t get honest about this with myself, I won’t be able to be honest with Wittler. And if I’m going to be honest, giving up this way, this control, terrifies me. Even though I can intellectually know that control is an illusion, giving that up just scares me to death. What do I put in place of it? And how can I ever hope to truly thrive, to truly grow, if I am so busy making sure that everything is in its appointed place, and done in the approved way?

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. (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird)

 Maybe it’s time to start relaxing into the fumbles.

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