A good friend wrote me yesterday and shared this thought on perfectionism from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:
Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life… Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness…
This reminder came at the perfect time, as I am currently wrapping up another season of journal-submission-frenzy. That’s when we writers offer up our fiction and poetry to the journal gods (disguised as fiction and poetry editors) and we pray they deem them worthy, these bundles of words we’ve worked and wrenched and polished and punished. Ah, perfect, we think as we hit “submit.”
But is it perfect? Or, can we wring the life out of our words with so much attention focused on making each one perfect.
I’ve said before, it’s humbling to look back on my writing from years ago. That’s another kind of writerly distance. They’re far from perfect, but old stories give us a window through which to look at our old selves.
So, without editing it, I’ll provide snippet #2 of an old short story of mine, “Sleeping Naked,” that was published in Carve Magazine years ago. (If you missed the start of the story, here’s snippet #1.)
When we last met these characters–the mother, you, in this second-person point of view, and pre-teen daughter, Cheryl–you have come home to find Cheryl is missing.
You think about what you should do, where she could be. You think about taking steps toward finding out, but instead you fix yourself a drink. (Hey, nobody’s perfect!) And you really do expect your missing daughter to come through the door any minute now…
Snippet #2 from “Sleeping Naked” by Rebecca Moon Ruark:
Maybe Cheryl’s being held up by your mother’s incessant gossip. It wouldn’t be the first time. Your mother has no idea what it’s like to raise a child in the nineties, all the nuts out there. You touch the goose bumps on your forearms. It’s getting cold out on the porch so you open the sliding glass door and go back to the living room. “God,” you whisper more to yourself than to Him, but still it startles you because you haven’t so much as said his name since your wedding, “please let her be there.” No Cheryl. You should pick up the phone to call your mom, but it’s too late, so you pick up your drink again and walk down the hallway to her room. You say your prayer. “Let her be there, let her be there,” like you’re some kind of magician. She isn’t in there, in her room. You rest your head in your hands for a minute, sitting on her bed, looking at her matching pink and purple comforter and pillow shams that really need a washing. The whole room, in fact, needs to be cleaned. “Shit, please God.” You look around like you half expect her to crawl out from under the bed, but she doesn’t. Part of you wants to scream, like in the movies when the sound is amplified, and the camera, shooting from above, makes everything swirl; then it all goes black.
“Please,” you remember asking Cheryl on her first day of kindergarten. “Please obey the crossing guards, remember to look both ways.” Cheryl insisted on walking the six blocks alone. She was independent already, and wasn’t scared in the least, but was smiling her chubby-cheeked grin on her way to her first day of elementary school. You maintained a distance of only fifty feet or so, going about five miles per hour in the Mustang. Cheryl played along. She knew you were following, but she didn’t look back once.
No Cheryl. Living room, no, porch, no, yard, no. You canvas the house in your head. The room spins. You turn on the stereo, jazz, to block out your thoughts. You take a couple deep breaths, concentrate on the sax solo. Part of you wants to let it be, just for the night, wants to take your shoes off and feel your feet sink into the carpet, wants to waltz in the living room without the interruption of a sneering pre-teen. The impulse is horrible, you know. You’re her mother. She’s your only child. She’s too young to be out this late, now going on one o’clock, without supervision. But, that other part thinks about how quiet the house is. The alcohol’s reddened your face and you walk back through the living room, out onto the porch, and notice how warm and moist the night air coming in through the screen feels on your cheeks and your bare arms.
If you hadn’t checked her room when you got home from your shift, you’d never know she wasn’t in there. You could have gone straight to bed, woken up and worried about all this tomorrow. Who are you, Scarlett O’Hara? You don’t have that luxury. Who are you kidding? Why is this happening? You make it to your bedroom where, as you undress, the woman overrides the mother in you, and you flip through a Cosmo, sink into the middle of your bed and fall asleep.
Does the mother get her act together? Does Cheryl come home? Want to read more?
Have a great day–in the Rust Belt, the Sun Belt, or wherever in the world you are today. I’m anxiously awaiting a visit from my sister and my dad, and so I may be offline for a few.
Happy weekend! ~ Rust Belt Girl (Rebecca)
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