Thursday, November 20, 2014

age and the siren call of the perfect

Last Friday I turned thirty-eight years old, which is roughly one million in literary terms. I'm as old as Mr. Rochester! I'm older than Mr. Knightley. And it is of course telling that a) I cannot even think of any prominent female characters who are thirty-eight and b) Messrs. Rochester and Knightley are both considered perfectly legitimate love interests for eighteen-year-old girls, while two years ago I already had "elderly" slapped onto my medical record.

I don't feel old, but that has less to do with the "forty is the new thirty!" or whatever and more to do with the fact that when it comes to adulthood I'm still pretty sure I have no idea what I'm doing. More gray hairs show up on my head every week, and sometimes I wonder if my skinny jeans and motorcycle boots are a bit of mutton dressed as lamb, but for the most part my age can still surprise me. (I do have Clint Eastwood-level crows' feet, but that's been the case for years. Due to greasy skin, I'm wrinkle-free everywhere else, but when I smile it's a total "why is that Muppet made out of leather" moment.) I also resumed my pre-pregnancy weight last week, although I used to be quite toned and now I sport the fungous flabbiness of a Lovecraftian horror, so there's work to be done.

For the most part, my late thirties are treating me exceedingly well. So of course my brain frequently turns to bemoaning all the time I wasted (and still do waste, alas) on perfectionism, because there's no better way to waste your time than to spend it beating yourself up for the time you already wasted. That's some high-level ouroboros-ing; don't try it at home. Seriously, don't. 

But that's perfectionism for you. People who are not plagued by perfectionism think that it means doing everything perfectly, which it doesn't. That friend or relative you have who does everything perfectly is, I guarantee you, not a perfectionist. Perfectionism means that you abandon writing projects halfway through because you can't get that one scene (or even that one sentence) right on the first three tries; that you sit there night after night journaling about how random undignified human moments make you permanently unlovable; that you sabotage good relationships because a known outcome which is a disaster is still safer, in your mind, than an unknown outcome which could be amazing.

(It took all I had not to self-sabotage with Berowne, because going forward into what was almost certainly a really really really good thing was, for me, less appealing than being able to predict exactly the sorrow and solitude which would result from me shutting down and pulling away. The phrase "Why don't we just see where things go?" sends literal chills down my spine, and is one part of why I could never be the Cool Girlfriend [the other part: I am not cool]. I HAVE TO HAVE THE ANSWERS. I CANNOT RISK FAILING THE TEST. Better to know that the answer is "crazy dog lady, alone forever" than to be the person who raised her hand all eager and said, "Maybe he's the one!" and WAS WRONG. WRONG IN PUBLIC. There is no worse fate.)

Perfection, most of the time, means not doing anything. Which is why I'm working really hard on not wasting any more of my time on it. In my personal life, anyway: the irony is that in my computer-oriented-role at work I say, all the time, "Perfect is the enemy of good," and mean it. I can forgive software its limitations, but not myself mine. Maybe try to think of myself as charmingly buggy? Requiring workarounds? We'll see. 

What I've read since last posting:

American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, by Karen Abbott. Abbott's such a good writer, but I didn't like this nearly as much as Sin in the Second City. She made the choice in this to jump back and forth chronologically rather than do a straightforward timeline of Gypsy's life, and that choice didn't work for me. It was harder to feel connected to the story, I thought. Looking forward to her Civil War book. 

Grave Peril, by Jim Butcher. I wasn't in the right mood for this. There was nothing wrong with it, but I have to be in a specific mood for fantasy, otherwise I just get bored. So I found this a bit tedious.

Once Upon a Winter's Eve, by Tessa Dare. Forgettable romance novella, notable only for the fact that apparently breaking a dude's nose is all it takes to render him unrecognizable to a woman who's, by her own admission, been in love with him her whole life. I've only been in love with my strapping hero for a couple years, but I'm pretty sure that if you covered him in dirt and broke his nose I'd still be like, "Oh geez, Berowne, we totally could have come up with a better excuse to leave this party early than you stumbling through the door covered in seaweed and passing out on my shoes*, and WTF happened to your nose," instead of thinking, Why does this mysterious stranger with his dreamy lips act like he knows me? When a plot strains even romance-novel credulity, it's not good. 

The Outcast Dead, by Elly Griffiths. The latest in Griffiths' shamelessly enjoyable "archaeologist fights crime" series. Although this one was about baby kidnapping AAAIIIIEEE. 

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronson. A fairly disjointed piece of reportage on the psychopath diagnosis and some of the history of mental health treatment in America. Ronson's a good writer, but this felt like a bunch of New Yorker articles that he tried to jam together into a coherent narrative. Which it may have been. 

Arms of Nemesis, by Steven Saylor. I always give ancient-Rome mysteries a try whenever I run across them, now that Lindsey Davis is just hitting copy-and-paste between Wikipedia sites and her manuscripts, but this was terribly dull and the dialogue-infodumping was agonizing. Won't be checking out any more of the series.  

May you all be free of perfectionism as much as possible. (Next time: will Beatrice become a self-flagellating perfectionist about not being a perfectionist? Almost certainly!) 

*Actually, I'd be very surprised if Berowne's social group hasn't experienced a party at which someone stumbled through the door covered in seaweed and passed out on someone's shoes (and someone else promptly said, "Now it's a party!"). 

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