I’m inching my way through a stack of books right now. Books on perfectionism and shame, contradiction and beauty. The going is slow as I approach the next attic and it always seems I’m at eye level with the floor. The rungs are askew and the distance between them varies. One step is flat and grooved and my footing is sure while the next one rolls my whole existence into imbalance. It’s exciting to read thoughts that dance so gracefully with my own. To find that other people are streaming together similar ideas which means I can’t be crazy. Right? But the excitement of fitting in with my chosen crowd of thinkers fades as I hear an old voice whisper, you’re indistinguishable. Makes me feel like I’m a decade late, maybe two.
Contradiction and perfectionism worm their way past the most attentive watchman. The contradictions have declared peace under enemy fire as perfectionism pulls out the heavy artillery and I’m standing on a rung leading to an undefined space with no light to see the walls and dust hiding on top of silouettes.
My fingers haven’t touched the keyboard for a week. I let perfect inflict trigger finger. If I can’t evoke words to describe life, it feels duplicitous to use an external source to describe my personal experience. The dictionary in my head gives the following definition. Thesaurus: a manual for plagiarism. Madness! But it’s the standard that my mind holds me to and one that I’m sorry to say, I often hold to those nearest to me. Comparison to others, to myself, to my dreams hidden under dusty drop cloths pushes me down a couple of rungs. Perfectionism whispers that the drop cloths have nothing but junk underneath them. Dusty old smelly junk that isn’t even worth donating to Goodwill. That I’d be better off to close the door in the ceiling and slink back down to the floor.
I want to write funny to tell you about my preschooler who’s going to play baseball for the Hankees, and serious to make sense of life that’s hard, and dumb to laugh til we run to the bathroom. (you know you’ve been there)
I don’t want to laugh when life’s not funny and I don’t want to fume when it is. My sister likes to remind me of the time I said it’s time to stop, we’ve had enough fun for one day. I cringed the first time realized that I say things like that to my kids. Who does that?
I want to climb the ladder into the dark and dusty with a little candle that softens the shadows. Find my way to the dormer and let the light in and dance as the fresh sunshine reveals muted rugs and tarnished silver and antique furniture that’s once again en vogue. Pull out the china and crystal and throw a party as beautiful as a photo shoot for Town and Country. A back drop of perfectly silvered wood and muted beauty themed pink with rich mahogany and earthen greens. The crazy thing is, in my head, I’m standing alone in the middle of the beautiful. I can breath deeply and I’m happy. Like a private tour of the Vatican, gorgeous, peaceful, sacred. A moment to soak in the exhilarating peace.
I love the crazy that happens before a party. In the hour before guests arrive, I’ve tried new recipes, made an apron, rearranged kitchen cabinets, and painted furniture. When it’s all done, I lay the table, straighten the napkins, light the candles and sit for a glorious 3 minutes. But when the guests arrive? I’m ready to leave. I love people once they’re in my house, I really love them when they’re gone, but the moments before they arrive, I wish I would have reserved a table for one. And I’ve spent most of my life laced under the shame of my table preference. Maybe I plan parties to coax my introverted self from under the table (but mostly I think it’s because I like pretty).
Once the people arrive, I feel responsible. I’ve felt responsible for them since Kindergarten when I took hats and mittens for the children in my class without them. As I entered real life, if someone tossed me compliment on my shoes, I felt an urgency to pull out a cold silver foot measure, a shoe horn, and get them fitted for a pair even pay for over night delivery. And I’m feeling very uneducated right now because I had to look up the name of those foot measure thingies. Did you know they’re called a Brannock Foot Measuring Device? And I’m about to shame myself for one little minute because I didn’t know the name of the name of it. Unless your name is Tom McCann, I would never hold you responsible to name the shoe measure thing, but some unspoken and highly complex rule seems to apply to my existence. Good grief!
Brene Brown writes that where there is perfectionism, shame is always lurking, in fact, shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. I’m discovering how often I shame myself. It’s an ugly word with smothering capabilities.
Shame hides and haunts looking for the opportunity to slither under a closed-door.
Shame takes over entire days, lives, families. It’s insatiable baby, perfectionism, is fed with a steady stream of messages that scream not good enough. Until now, I’ve labored to disassemble perfect. I’ve whipped out a step by step plan to loosen up and perfected my plan to ditch perfection. Could that sound more ridiculous?
As I climb my ladder slowly, I begin to see bits of light. I think I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of the ceiling and hope to soon open wide the door in the floor. When I do I believe I’ll find, in the shadows, a beautiful service set for luncheon. Will you stick around with me for a while?