Enemy of the Good

June 2, 2010 at 11:07 am (Uncategorized)

I’ve been meaning to post something here for the past several days. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Posting something isn’t good enough for me. What I’ve been waiting for is the time and the energy to write a coherent piece about how I’ve been feeling well enough to add nearly fifty pages to my memoir last week. I holed up for four days in a bed and breakfast near Helena and did nothing but write. I’m nearly done with the material my potential literary agent requested. I’m hopeful I’ll have a draft completed by Friday.

Returning to work isn’t the only topic I have in mind for a blog piece. I have a card file stuffed with ideas. Sandra Ahten, the amazingly helpful life coach I’ve consulted, advised me to keep such a file of my ideas. So I have a backlog of essays to write on topics ranging from the death of our beloved cat to the sense of community at the Cancer Treatment Center.

Lots of people have told me to stop “wasting” my time on my blog and focus on my memoir or other writing that I might get paid to do. Or they’ll recommend I quit laboring on the longer, more polished pieces that are my blog’s hallmark. “Why not just post a blurb about the day?” they ask.

It’s a good question. I could keep my blog more current if I changed my vision and opted for snippets instead of paragraphs. There’s only one problem: I can’t. I’m a lousy summarizer, and even lousier quipster. When it comes to my writing, I can’t stop being a perfectionist. Even when I exchange text messages with friends, I can’t let myself use “2” for “two” or give up my beloved commas. My fourth-grade English teacher would be proud.

In many ways, my perfectionism prevents me from keeping up with my blog. If I don’t have the time or the energy to write something up to my standards, I can’t make myself cut loose and just post any old thing. To quote Plato, I am letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Perfectionism can be crippling. If everything has to be done to a certain standard—writing an essay, cleaning the closets, cooking dinner—you can wind up paralyzed. Believe me, I know. It took me two years to start writing my thesis on the medieval mystic, Marie d’Oignies. Every word I thought about writing couldn’t come close to how good I wanted it to be. So I spent many months thinking and worrying about the project, but not actually working on it.

Becoming chronically and seriously ill with sarcoidosis helped me get past this—as did having a child. “Good enough” became a reasonable standard to live by when I had limited time to do anything. I couldn’t fret about keeping everything up to snuff when I suddenly had a tenth of the time and physical capacity. Once neurosarcoidosis literally flattened me for nearly two years, I understood what a luxury it was to fret over what were truly meaningless details. What a joy it was to be able to write at all—or make a meal, play with my son, hang out with my husband!

Given all this, should I diagnosis my desire to write more polished essays on this blog as a case of resurgent perfectionism gone awry? I don’t think so. And I’ll tell you why. I recently stumbled across a lovely blog called Orangette (http://orangette.blogspot.com/). Written by Molly Wizenberg, who is also the author of the memoir A Homemade Life, this site uses food as the lens through which to explore life, love, and friendships. Molly doesn’t often post blurbs. Like me, she writes longer essays in which she tests recipes, muses on food, and connects her current experience in the kitchen with her family. I’ve gotten addicted to Orangette—not because I’m preparing her gourmet recipes for dinner, but because I love her stories. I realized that Chronic Town is not that dissimilar from Orangette. I don’t post colorful photos of my lunch, but I do use the experience of illness as a way to write about life.

So I’ve decided to stop berating myself for not loosening up on my blog. Maybe I won’t be able to post every day, but I will keep showing up here. I hope you don’t mind waiting a few days for longer essays. I’m not holding out for perfection, just the time to write something good enough for me.

Addendum: I received a wonderful e-mail from a fellow Frog and Toad aficionado. I DID procrastinate writing back and inadvertently deleted the message. Could you PLEASE drop me a line again with your e-mail address?

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