Sunday, July 24, 2011


Now that I have started recording this CD, I have so many thoughts breeding like rabbits in my mind. It's like an  explosion of insight, this experience. I owe each facet attention, in turn, but for now I'm trying to think about just this one: perfectionism.

Perhaps I start here because it seems a relatively easy aspect. I have never considered myself a perfectionist. Perfectionists, in my mind, are people who are uptight, never pleased -- impossible, really to please. And detail oriented. Every detail has to be just so, or they can't be comfortable.

Maybe it is easy for me to characterize perfectionism this way because that's not me. I'm pretty laid back, and I'm not particularly detail oriented.

But then I listen to my voice blaring over the speakers, and I hear the foibles, the missed notes. I hear myself speeding up and slowing down like some kind of 1905 hand-cranked motion picture.

And here's how I don't react. I don't think Lord, that's awful. Gotta do that again. I have to do better. I have to get this perfect.

No, my initial reaction, my feeling, is something more akin to "Wow, is that really the best I can do?"

Herein lies the rub. I really could do with a tiny dose of what I'm calling perfectionism. Because what I'm facing instead is a lifelong tendency to be happy with "good enough." To figure that whatever I do off the cuff is actually the best I can do.

I've known that this recording project was in part about the Lord's call to me to meet Him and have Him challenge some old ways in my emotional and mental processing. He's not disappointed me. I don't have any blueprint or agenda from Him, though, so everything comes as a surprise as we go along. And with this one particular facet I am reminded of something I wrote in this blog long ago about my schooling experiences. (It was in this post about Alfie Kohn's book Punished By Rewards.) Essentially what I'm driving at is that in school, I often just aimed low, for the grade, and not high, for actual learning, growing, changing, gleaning education. Most of the time I was able to get As or Bs at least without exuding a lot of effort, and if I had to put forth too much effort, I usually just avoided those subjects (like sciences in college). There were some exceptions, notably Alegbra/Trig in 10th grade. I remember lying in bed at night crying about that class, and being overcome with anxiety over it. I ultimately managed an A, but I also had to pay a book fine at the end of the year because I significantly abused that book in my frustration. It was horrible. And why? I think I didn't really know how to learn when I didn't understand something, and I didn't know how to be taught. I didn't know that being able to be taught has something to do with loving. The New Yorker author David Brooks has said, "We've spent a generation trying to reorganize schools to make them better, but the truth is that people learn from the people they love." My Trig teacher was an interesting character, but I can't say he inspired love in me. My 8th grade Algebra teacher, Mr. Blum, now he inspired love. And what I mean is that I knew he was teaching me. It wasn't because of any individual attention, because there wasn't any. But he taught the whole class in a way that conveyed that he wasn't focused on a textbook; he was focused on the students' grasping Algebra. It probably had to do with the fact that he was teaching a then-experimental "advance placement" group in a newly merged Middle School. But for whatever reason, I personally felt taught. I knew it mattered to him personally whether or not I understood. He wanted all of us to succeed. And -- he seemed to love math. That's gotta help.

But that was a unique experience for me. Most of the time, as I said, I just put forth whatever effort I felt like mustering, and I usually got good grades as a result. I learned to identify the things I naturally liked, but I had very little actual education because I was never really being drawn out, challenged, inspired, by anyone I felt any human connection to. I produced good grades but I never learned much. In college this changed I think, but there I was primarily exercising myself in my areas of strength (writing, literature and philosophy), areas that gave me an adrenaline rush but not anxiety when I had to essentially prove I was learning from my own reading and study and share this with my classes and my professors.

So what's the point? It's just this: with the exception of a rather narrow corridor of strength, I've been very slow to learn to try to do things excellently. That corridor was just enough to make me into an arrogant such-and-so. And since I'm no longer pursuing arrogance, all I find myself left with is the "good enough" approach. You know, hey, whatever.

The plan to muck through life this way has never particularly bothered me. But now, I listen to my voice, my guitar-playing. Music is supposed to mean so much to me. I'm thinking, this is how I convey my soul... no... this is how I give myself to love God. How? "Good enough?"

It's a mistake to believe one's acceptability is rooted in how well one can do things. God loves us because we are. No, He loves us because He is love. He couldn't be anything else. But His love, touching us, begs a response. Love begs for love in return. As St. John Chrysostom said in today's Office of Readings: "nothing so much wins love as the knowledge that one’s lover desires most of all to be himself loved."

So, this is something that is going on for me right now. Jesus calls to me: Love me back. Don't be afraid, and don't be selfish. Give me more. Strive to be perfect. But it's all about love.

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