25 September 2010

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 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.


Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground - you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it's going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breath and move.

- Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Anne Lamott

This should be recommended reading at any OCD anonymous meeting. I'm not sure the first point applies to me, but the second one sure does. It takes writing as lucid as this sometimes to confront you LIKE THAT. I never thought to link perfectionism to how I always felt severely handicapped when it comes to writing in verse, but it all makes sense now. A friend said I once told her something, when we were 13 or 14, that left a deep impression on her to this day. While editing an essay of hers and pointing out the missing full stop at the end of a sentence, I said in a matter-of-fact way, "Do you know why you need a full stop? It stops the words forming a sentence from falling out." Now I don't remember where I picked up this aphorism from, but I blame it for instilling in me a mortal fear of incomplete sentences ever since. Tell me to write a poem and I clam up. I should have seen the warning signs then; a kid who goes around sprouting lines like that clearly harbours a disturbed mind.

The second point also brought to mind Zee, who probably agrees whole-heartedly with everything in that paragraph. She told me recently about a box of beads she spilled on her bedroom floor and left in situ for the next couple of days. I had recoiled in mock horror and outrage hearing that, but somehow, I am envious. I couldn't shake off the image of the beads (I imagine them to be multi-coloured glass), sprawled out undisturbed on the floor, glinting with a sinister sort of beauty, promising pain for any unsuspecting pair of feet that comes their way. That to me is poetry - visual poetry at least.

11:12 AM;

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I lean my head slowly to the side, reflect on the camellia on the moss of the temple, reflect on a cup of tea, while outside the wind is rustling the foliage, the forward rush of life is crystallised in a brilliant jewel of a moment that knows neither plans nor future, human destiny is rescued from the pale succession of days, glows with light at last and, surpassing time, warms my tranquil heart.

- The Elegance of the Hedgehog,
Muriel Barbery


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