This Is What Perfectionism Looks Like

The Devil Wears Prada / amazon.com
The Devil Wears Prada / amazon.com

I’m not the kind of girl who settles for second place. I’m a doer, a maker of things, a mover of mountains, especially those between my own ears. I am, in simpler terms, an insufferable perfectionist.

My boyfriend and I are both writers. We don’t write for (all of) the same publications and we learned a long time ago not to edit each other’s work, but we both string words together to form stories, although our definitions of what that means vary as widely as the pages that bear our bylines.

As a writer, I like my words to sound right in my head, to feel like soft-edged stones in my mouth. I whisper sentences aloud to hear their cadence in the unforgiving outside air, read paragraphs over in a different order, in case they rest better in other places than my first instincts placed them. My essays feel to me like sea glass that started out sharp and raw, but once I’ve revised and tumbled and crashed them together, the words come out smoother, softer. More pleasing when clanked against each other. And until they do, I’m not satisfied.

Trouble is, I never am.

“Aren’t you ever going to be happy?” My boyfriend asks all of his hardest questions in the car, on the days when raindrops race each other down the windows, or my sense of poetics makes me remember it that way.

I prefer egging on my favorite droplet to answering, but I’ve never been content with the kind of silence that hangs.

“I am happy,” I tell him. “I’m just not content. Not yet.”

“And when will you be?”

My boyfriend writes the way he lives: with quiet, steadfast assurance. His footing as sure as his keystrokes, he strings facts together like beads on a string. The string goes through the hole because it has to. He’s never tried to weave it into anything more than a line, the way my brain makes me do. Logical, he says he loves science because it means he can be proven wrong. But he doesn’t like to be wrong. He likes things he can prove. And while I can’t prove that my happiness will follow the gossamer threads of success that always dangle just beyond the next fabricated obstacle, I can’t prove that it won’t, either.

And that’s where the kinds of writers we are, the kinds of people we are, diverge.

There’s a Chinese proverb, “Keep always the edge of hunger” that I’ve kept in my locker, my cubicle wall, the edges of notebooks and my mind. I stay hungry for the next story, the next byline, the next book deal, the next perfectly polished stone word.

But there are typos and disgruntled readers. There are pages that yellow and curl in the sun. There are always better ways to do what’s never finished, and there’s always a strip of greener grass, glistening on the horizon.

“I don’t know,” I tell him.

Because perfection is never so unattainable as when it’s exposed to the entropy of our world. And I’m not a logical writer, who can build words upon each other to reach solutions I had sealed off ahead of time. I’m a weaver and a polisher of stones. Because to me, contentment isn’t a goal to be reached but a forest wraith, whistling between the trees.

I exist more in momentary happiness, those little salvations that keep my fingers wrapped around a pen, clicking at keys and cherishing the feeling of ink beneath my nose. Contentment comes not as a holy land in the distance, but in knowing I can put aside a paper, a poem, and cherish a breath before the next one.

Because for me, it’s not about being proud about what I’ve done, so much as stretching my bone-bound fingers and more ethereal hopes toward the finish lines begging to be broken. TC mark

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