The Joys of Imperfection

It started with the left arm.  There was a dropped stitch, a slight irregularity in the smooth, sweet rhythm of the yarn.  The sweater-in-process, lovely and green, the color of wild asparagus, lay in pieces across the dining room table – its back, two arms and cabled front the eventual shape of loving, hand-knit warmth.

Still, that dropped stitch was causing consternation. Halfway up one sleeve,  it would have nestled into the bend of an elbow, barely detectable and probably unseen to even a well-trained eye until it began to pull apart.  But the knitter – proficient, quick, given to knitting argyles and Arans in darkened movie theatres – spotted it and felt it looming like an accusation.  “I’ll just unravel that sleeve and do it over,” she said. “It’ll take a little more time than picking up the stitch but after all – we want it to be perfect.”

With the sleeve unraveled and the yarn gently re-wound, she began to knit again. This time there were no dropped stitches, no errors, but a more subtle issue soon emerged. Intent on re-doing the sleeve perfectly, she may have been a little tense. While she knit, the tension worked its way through her hands, down the needles and into the yarn, making the stitches in the repaired sleeve noticeably tighter.  On a completed sweater the separation of the sleeves might have negated the difference in appearance. Side-by-side on the dining table, the variation was obvious. “Humph,” said the knitter, who had plenty of time and a tendency toward obsession. “I’ll just do that sleeve again.”

The third knitting was technically perfect. Unfortunately, there are yarns which lose a bit of their fuzziness and “spring” after being knit, unraveled, knit again, unraveled and knit a third time. Even without dropped stitches and uneven tension, the sleeve looked different.  With a large reserve of matching yarn available, pointed comments about Madame Defarge were dismissed out of hand. Another sleeve would be knit, this time from fresh yarn. It went quickly, and the sleeve was perfect.

Six months later a friend asked about the sweater. “Oh,” said the knitter. “It’s in the closet. I still need to put it together.”  Astonished, her friend asked why she hadn’t done so already. With the tiniest of sighs our perfectionist said,”You know, I just wasn’t happy with those sleeves. They don’t look right. They might need to be unraveled and done over…”



Despite our best efforts, sometimes a do-over isn’t possible. During last year’s holiday season, when a friend and her family completed their traditional jigsaw puzzle it was lovely but imperfect. Two puzzle pieces were missing, and there was nothing to be done. Not one bit embarassed, my friend posted a photo of the puzzle in her blog with a few words of explanation.

One piece, clearly missing from the snowdrifts and tree near the bottom of the puzzle, was chewed up by her daughter’s dog and left for dead on the floor. You can see that piece lying on the deep blue house at the left. It does look strangely like a piece of vertebra, but it’s only cardboard that’s been given the “doggie treatment” and then reclaimed, no doubt to the amusement of the dog’s humans.

The other missing piece, a bit of sky and tree from the upper-left corner, simply disappeared in the course of working the puzzle.  Perhaps someone bent across the table and caught it with their sleeve, sending it to the floor. Perhaps it tumbled off when the puzzle was moved from one table to another. It’s conceivable that the same dog who chewed up one piece swallowed the other. In any case, stories told to explain the missing pieces are as various and delightful as the imaginations involved.  Imperfections in the puzzle itself do nothing to erode the remembered perfection of evenings spent assembling it, knit together as they were with laughter, love and the simple joy of family tradition.


But of all the  imperfections I’ve encountered, one of the best was part of a painting done by a dear friend here in Texas. Known throughout the state for her exquisite florals, she began painting while still a young woman. She lived then in the Texas Panhandle, and much of her early work, done on pieces of barnwood or hardboard, reflected the escarpments, canyons and ranches that surrounded her.

Her first effort at “real painting”, a farmstead in winter created on hardboard in 1960, caught my eye during a moving sale many years later. When she learned I intended to purchase it, she gave it to me with a laugh, saying she never imagined anyone would want “that old thing”.  It wasn’t, I suppose, a “good” painting, but it was her first, and I was feeling sentimental.

On the other hand, I also was charmed by a cardinal she’d tucked into the branches of a tree leaning across the entrance to a lane. Seen against banked snow and stark limbs, it was cheerful and appealing, a reminder of all the cardinals I enjoyed during snowbound Iowa winters. Today, her painting has been passed on, but the slightly amended photograph above does capture a bit of its feel: cold, stark and yet graced with unexpected color.

While I still had it, the little painting disappeared into my own closet and languished there until a determined bit of sorting-out put it back into my hands. Looking at it with fresh eyes, I examined the snowdrifts, the trees, the cardinal. Of all the painting’s elements, the bird was the least well-done. “A third-grader could have done that bird,” I thought. “I could have done that bird.”

It made me curious. Given the quality of other elements in the painting, why had the vibrant color been used to create such a simple smudge of a bird?  I asked my friend about it, and her trilling laughter cascaded through the house.  “Oh, my dear!’ she said. “That’s no cardinal at all. When I finished the painting, I wasn’t thoughtful enough to move my little homestead out of the way and so I dropped a bit of red paint on it.  It was terrible sloppiness on my part. I tried to wipe it off, but I wasn’t skillful or patient enough. So, I left the smudge – and now you’ve seen it as a bird, all this time.”

Imperfect creatures though we are, we long for perfection. Much of the melancholy swirled through our New Year’s celebrations comes from looking back and seeing past imperfections all too clearly – every dropped stitch, missing piece and smudge that we’d prefer to forget. Looking forward, we can be tempted into believing that this year we’ll “get it right”, even as we choose to ignore our own limitations, the contingencies of history and the truth that life is, by its very nature, imperfect.

In the coming year, bits and pieces of life will go missing, get chewed up, or simply become worn with overuse. Plans will unravel. Friends will drop us as easily as a stitch. There will be errors and omissions, miscalculations, simple forgetfulness and the dropping of accidental words whose stain never will be erased.

When these imperfections appear, it will be equally tempting to grow petulant, to give up on life, to disparage our efforts and declare our resolutions irrelevant. But before we stash the sweater in the closet, sweep away the puzzle or hide the painting, it may be worth reminding ourselves that there are stories in the mistakes, beauty in the  flaws, and compelling mystery in the smudges of time and history wiped across the canvas of our lives. Perfection is one thing. The joys of  an imperfect yet cherished life can be quite another.



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Published in: on January 10, 2011 at 5:24 pm  Comments (30)  
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  1. “Imperfect creatures though we are, we long for perfection.” Exactly what I was trying to get at in my post yesterday, although it appears my dear ‘readers’ thought I was specifically addressing templates.

    I struggle with perfection, wanting it sometimes, and yet despising the agony it puts me through. Isn’t there a certain beauty in the imperfections as well? I’m trying to learn to cherish them as you so eloquently pointed out in your beautiful post. (Fun how we were thinking along the same lines, as so often happens with us.)

    Bellezza,

    Sometimes I think what we call perfection is very much a matter of definition. We define the “perfect” Christmas, poem, person or vacation for ourselves, make a checklist and then set out to achieve it. Therein lies the way to Great Unhappiness – or so it seems to me.

    I’ve begun to think of perfection as wholeness and completion, what happens when something becomes what it’s truly meant to be. The easiest examples I can think of right now are my blog entries. Every now and then, I work and work and work on one, and suddenly, it’s “perfect”. That doesn’t mean that it’s equivalent to any 900 words in “The New Yorker”. But it does mean that nothing more can be added or subtracted, that at that point in time it expresses for me precisely what I wanted to say. (Whether it communicates to anyone else is another issue, of course.)

    I can’t help but smile, for you know how I’ve been with my own template. It’s in need of a bit of housekeeping, but it’s still perfect for me. If WordPress came along and said they were making it unavailable, there’d be rending of garments.

    So, here we go, into a fresh, new year, ready to sort it all out again. Personally, I’m looking forward to all those tem-plates – and maybe a side of perfection, just for fun.

    Linda

  2. Very insightful. As a perfectionist, it’s very hard for me to “let it go” when I’ve discovered a mistake in something I’ve made.

    Patti,

    I think all of us have trouble with those mistakes. I suppose one task we have is learning to distinguish mistakes that should be corrected from imperfections that are just part of the craft – or life, for that matter.

    I have a small wall hanging in my kitchen that was hand-woven in Paint Rock, Texas. Like so many pieces from traditional cultures, it has a flaw purposely woven in, as a reminder that there is no perfection in life. I like that.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and for leaving a comment. You’re welcome any time!

    Linda

  3. There have been times in my life when a spot of spaghetti sauce on my shirt would have ruined my evening.

    Now, not so much. Now I think I might even try to make it look like a cardinal.

    Bogon,

    Well, either that or a dinner-table Rorschach. Who knows what that marinara or chocolate mousse might reveal? ;-)

    Linda

  4. A good reminder — thanks.

    Dave,

    You’re welcome, indeed, and thanks to you for stopping by.

    Happy New Year!

    Linda

  5. Many years ago, on an elementary school field trip to the United Nations, our tour guide paused and directed our attention to an elaborate tapestry (a “Persian rug”) hanging on the wall of a stairway. She explained that, because the artisan believed that only god is capable of perfection, a deliberate imperfection was woven into the pattern. Why that has stayed with me over the decades is a mystery. Perhaps, at the time, it didn’t make sense and so stuck in my mind, awaiting some future resolution. I’m still waiting.

    Al,

    How interesting that you mention the deliberately flawed tapestry, analogous to the wall hanging I described to Patti, above.

    What God or the gods are capable of in terms of perfection I can’t say, but I’ve been told that, in Navajo rug weaving, there always is an imperfection woven into the corner to allow the Spirit to move in and out of the rug. The interpretation of the flaw offered by the woman who wove my hanging was slightly different. As she put it, the flaw is there to remind us that all of creation is flawed. In her view, perfection is not the elimination of imperfection but the ability to incorporate imperfection.

    A wonderful and famous musical expression of this line of thought is Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”:

    Ring the bells that still can ring,
    Forget your perfect offering,
    There is a crack, a crack in everything,
    That’s how the light gets in…

    I suppose the trick is to focus on the light, and not the crack.

    Linda

  6. Perfectionism is a tough trait to overcome and, as you so eloquently write, we all long for Perfection. But what is Perfection? Is it what the medievals knew as God? Is it Nature? Is it, in fact, Imperfection? (No, I’m not making that up. Ruth touched upon it when she wrote of the Japanese–I believe–concept of Wabi-Sabi. Of course, I’ve probably got that wrong.)

    Sometimes, we focus so hard on being perfect, or trying to be perfect, that we lose the point of what we are doing. I am guilty of that; it has cost.
    I hope your knitter eventually took that sweater from the closet, stitched the parts together and wore it with pride.

    ds,

    The sweater, I’m sorry to report, still resides in the closet. I tried to free it, but to no avail. Perhaps one day…

    Perfectionism is tough. A friend who’s in business once told me that, given a choice, he’d never hire a perfectionist. His reasoning? They tend not to be as creative, flexible and resourceful – qualities he deems important. I’ve confronted the demon of perfectionism a time or two, and I suspect he’s on to something. It’s certainly worth thinking about.

    And you have it exactly right re: Wabi-Sabi. I’m no expert, but I can google in a flash, and I just found the most wonderful entry rooted in Leonard Koren’s “Wabi-sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers”. According to the author, “wabi-sabi is the quintessential Japanese aesthetic. It is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”

    Not only that, the discussion of Koren references Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”, and his words about there being “a crack in everything” which I included in my response to Al up above. As it turns out, Cohen was a Zen monk on Mt. Baldy in Los Angeles, and obviously understood wabi-sabi.

    What wonderful discoveries – thanks so much for the “new path”!

    Linda

  7. The striving for perfection comes natural to anyone with talent. I enjoyed the read. I miss reading word blogs and I miss writing. I’ve been thinking seriously of entering the arena again, but something isn’t quite perfect:-)

    sherri,

    There are times I’m intrigued by the possibilities of the web, and times I’m astonished. I just was roaming about Pearweed Images, and discovered two of my favorite photographers, Andrew Graeme Gould and Ginnie Hart, both commenting on “fare” – one from Chile, the other from Holland. And your site is a treat, despite the fact that it’s so elegant I feel like a ten-year old in anklets and patent Mary Janes roaming around.

    As for the striving after perfection, I suspect the key is to strive with energy and determination, while accepting with grace the fact that we sometimes fall short.

    In any event, I’m so pleased you stopped by, and I’m completely delighted to have been guided to your site. It reminds me of a funhouse, with a multitude of doors, and I’ll try to open every one.

    Linda

  8. Sometimes I think the myth of perfection is one of God’s jokes or the devils tool.

    Nanette,

    Perhaps it’s neither. Perhaps it’s only an expression of our own desire to play God or bedevil other people. ;-)

    Linda

  9. You know, I’m just thinking whether there’s any correlation between being a perfectionist and seeing the glass half empty, or the hole in the donut… etc. As a recovering perfectionist who still suffers from relapses, I tend to fall in the category of ‘pessimists’. Your post is encouraging, there’s beauty in imperfections. I just have to appreciate it from a different perspective.

    But no matter what, after all the hours spent on a jigsaw, I would not be satisfied with a few pieces missing. The process is important, but the outcome is gratifying too… consider just any piece of artwork. The example of your Texan artist friend’s painting is most interesting. If the painter thinks it’s a smudge, it’s a smudge, not a cardinal. Her intention and gratification is the standard of perfection. It’s subjective I know. I’d like to think that a true artist works to please herself. So if she doesn’t feel it’s perfect, then it’s not, in her eyes.

    A thought-provoking post, thanks Linda!

    Arti,

    I’d not thought of it in quite those terms – the relationship between our attitude toward imperfection and an optimistic or pessimistic view of life – but it makes sense. I’ve known a couple of folks who seemed able to find a flaw in anything, and they were pretty morose sorts. They actually seemed to seek out flaws and would search until they found one.

    If they couldn’t find an imperfection, they’d project one. Give them a beautiful bouquet of roses and they’d say, “Well, sure. But you just watch – there probably are aphids in there, or the seller misrepresented their age and they’ll fade in a day, or…. or….” I’m not sure if that’s pessimism or a desire to destroy other peoples’ joy, but it wasn’t much fun to be around.

    I agree with you that “the process is important, but the outcome is gratifying, too…” But sometimes, the goal gets transformed, an unexpected outcome appears. If the puzzle had been completed perfectly, all of the attention and admiration would have been directed to the puzzle, and perhaps to the perseverance of the puzzlers. As it was, the missing pieces led to something different – stories to tell. I’d bet you a good cup of coffee and an almond croissant that if ten puzzles in ten years were completed, the one that’s going to be remembered is the one where the dog chewed up a piece and the sky mysteriously disappeared.

    As for the issue of perception – remember my post about the Bluebird of Perception? I seem to have this “thing” with birds. ;-)

    Linda

  10. Linda,
    This is a good one for me.

    I’m a perfectionist. We’re so difficult and we know it, and life is even more difficult when you’re a perfectionist who makes so many mistakes. Sigh.

    I used to love cross stitch because it was perfection. All you had to do was follow the pattern. My husband had a favorite aunt. She was an incredible woman. She went into the woods and cut down her own Christmas tree until the year she died. We visited her every Christmas. One year I noticed a cross stitch hanging in her kitchen. It read Merry Christmas, except Christmas was spelled Chirstmas. It would have driven me crazy, but it didn’t even phase her. Somehow I loved it when she did it, but I could not have tolerated the same hiccup in myself. Perfectionists find it much easier to accept imperfection in others.

    I’m constantly working on this thing. It’s one of my New Year’s resolutions – lighten up!
    Bella

    Bella,

    One of the things that makes perfectionism so dangerous is its close relationship with fear – fear of disappointing others or ourselves, fear of criticism, fear of ridicule or failure. Besides, it can be exhausting. The classic example’s from school, I suppose. “Did you get a “B”? Why not an “A”? You got an “A”? How about an “A+” next time? You got an “A+”? But was it “100%”? It was? Good. Now, keep it up.” Expecting perfection from ourselves can create some difficulties, but imposing perfectionistic expectations on others can create misery.

    I had to grin at that casual little throwaway line – “all you had to do was follow the pattern”. More easily said than done, my dear. Did you ever read the story of my first firing? I was working as a service assistant at SWBell in the late 60s. It was my first job in Kansas City. I was the one who took your name, address and so on if you called to initiate phone service or make changes. We were to record the information on grids made of quarter-inch squares, one numeral or letter per square. We were NOT to go outside the lines. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t do it perfectly. After two warnings, I parted ways with SWBell (at their invitation) and went over to Liberty Mutual, where I did well and was happy.

    I was lucky, though. I ended up understanding that striving for excellence and perfectionism aren’t the same thing. It took a few decades, though.

    Linda

  11. One of the things I’ve noticed about imperfections is how many of them tend to vanish with time. When we’re painting a room or building a deck, every smudge and slightly misaligned board jumps out, almost taunting us. Some we fix and others we ignore, but all, it seems, fade into the background eventually as life moves back in. (I only wish I could remember that at the time.)

    Thanks, Linda, for another thoughtful and beautifully-written essay.

    Charles,

    One of the rules I eventually learned as a varnisher is what I call the “Rule of Good Enough”. Inevitably I get to a point where a piece of varnished wood is perfect – except for that one little bug. So, I dispose of the carcass, sand out the imprint, and re-varnish. This time, there’s pollen in the air – not enough to make you sneeze, but enough to show up on a beautiful, glossy rail. Sand again, re-varnish, and admire the way the rising wind “freezes” your brushstrokes in time. And so on….

    There are times when the Law of Diminishing Returns takes over with a vengeance, and you have to just say, “There. That’s good enough.” And it always is. Well, except for the time the mallard drake with his eye on a cute little hen landed full-on in wet varnish. Duck footprints are cute – but even little Miss Good-Enough thought she’d have to re-do that. Instead, the boat owner took a look and said, “You know, I’ll bet I’m the only person in the world with mallard footprints in my varnish. Leave them.”

    See? Beauty in imperfection!

    Linda

  12. I would not have thought such a topic could be such a fine fine piece. That is, if someone said “write about imperfection and make it meaningful,” most of us would have just sat there, staring at the blackboard, wondering what to write.

    I love the painting, too, the red smudge. You’re so right; there is beauty, not only in imperfection, but in the appreciation of that imperfection and all that went into it.

    (Honestly, though, the knitter…? Wow, such persistence. If I knew how, I’d put the sweater together for her. Isn’t it funny the things we choose not to finish?)

    oh,

    I suspect if someone had said to me, “Write about imperfection and make it meaningful”, I, too, would have just sat there and stared. It’s so much easier to begin with something noticed, something specific. I’ve been pondering this one since I saw your jigsaw last year. The photo sat in my draft files all that time, with nothing more that “imperfection” as a title. Eventually, the sweater showed up – and then I remembered the cardinal. Voila!

    And you know how we’ve talked of the power of a title to direct, pull together and clarify. I started out with plain old “imperfections”. Then, I switched to “Unfinished, Missing and Smudged”. Only when I went back to “The Joys of Imperfection” was I able to stitch things together.

    As for the knitter – I have a wonderful vest she “finished” last year. It took two years to get it put together. Now, she wants it back to change the crocheted trim around the edges. She’ll never get it back, because I know what would happen. That vest would get unraveled and join the green sweater in the unfinished pile!

    And after all this time, I’m willing to acknowledge this about NaNoWriMo – what a wonderful event to push a perfectionist writer to enjoy the experience of just finishing something, for heaven’s sake!

    Linda

  13. That just sums you up, shore – a person who turns a smudge into a cardinal! Wonderful (literally)!

    Jeannine,

    Who knows? Maybe my literally laid-back childhood, when I spent hours looking at clouds and “seeing things” in them, shaped my way of looking at the world.

    But best of all, when Ruth explained what had happened, it didn’t change a thing for me. I could see the smudge, for sure. But I still saw a cardinal, too. ;-)

    Linda

  14. I always liked that idea of the missed stitch in the Navajo blankets and the Persian rugs. Not so much with the rugs and the whole “only God is perfect” nonsense. After all, he created man, didn’t he? But the gateway for the spirit to enter and leave the blanket is just plain cool.

    Years and years ago I was the assistant editor of a trade magazine: Inland Printer/American Lithographer. It was for the printing trade and, incidentally when the Saturday Evening Post ceased publishing IP/AL became the oldest continuously published magazine in America. Anyway, I had the responsibility of editing a monthly column on proofreading and let me tell you if it WASN’T perfect there was a flood of letters pointing out the error.

    Richard,

    I just got curious and checked out the creation story in Genesis again. At least God declared the various parts of creation “good”, not “perfect”. According to Genesis the farthest he was willing to go was “very good” – and that, just once. It tickles me to imagine that part of God’s perfection might be that he’s not as much of a perfectionist as we are. Maybe he was working by the rule of “good enough” when he created humanity. ;-)

    I’ve actually seen a copy of “American Printer”. A friend in West Texas, now retired, spent his life repairing printing presses along the Gulf Coast and has a house full of publications and memorabilia. He may have been one of the readers lurking out there, just waiting to jump on whatever error you let slip through. He certainly has the personality for it.

    The thought of a column on proofreading is intriguing and terrifying. I had no idea how difficult the process can be until I started this blog. The errors that amaze me most are missing words. I can read and re-read, and still miss the fact that a given word isn’t there. Somehow I add it in the process of reading. Typos, transposed letters, punctuation errors – there always is at least one per blog entry. I’ve learned that letting things sit and settle for even an hour or two and then re-reading can be helpful.

    Linda

  15. One of the (few!) benefits of aging for me has been the easing of the kind of perfectionism that once made my life miserable. Now I see the charm in a red smudge on a painting, or a dog-eared puzzle peace. I still aim for perfection, but allow myself to fall far short without too much angst.

    Becca,

    I always think of music when I think of you. Today, I’m thinking and wondering about the difference between technical perfection and musicianship, or whatever the word might be that musicians use to describe that “something” that infuses some performances but not others.

    Perfect technique doesn’t always stir the heart. I think as we grow older we learn to “play the music, not the instrument”.

    Linda

  16. I think it is imperfections that makes an old barn worthy of oils on canvas. It is the big ears that makes the kid with buck teeth look cute and the ice cream dribbling down the chin that makes being a kid seem so wonderful.

    oldmanlincoln,

    I agree. Every now and then one of my customers fusses because assorted pieces of wood on their boat vary in color, or exhibit whorls or irregular grain. When they ask why the pieces can’t be identically matched I tell them, “Because we’re using wood and not plastic”. There’s a big difference between being grown and extruded.

    Linda

  17. Re: Proofreading. The way we proofread at IP/AL was when we had the galleys the associate editor and I would read out loud to each other and make corrections that way. There were seldom any errors when we did it that way.

    Also, several of the covers of that magazine way, way back were art deco and they are at the Chicago Museum of Fine Art.

    Richard,

    The practice of reading a written piece aloud has a lot of advantages. I’d not thought of proofing, but of course that makes sense. I have a little “deskbot” who mostly sleeps down in the corner of my desktop, but every now and then I’ll have him read something aloud and just listen to it. Once again, technology to the rescue.

    I did an image search for the magazine and nearly died at the beauty of some of those covers. I’m a great admirer of all things Art Nouveau and Deco, anyway, and the only word for some of those images is “scrumptious”.

    Linda

  18. You know, I gave up on perfection a long time ago — and I’ll tell you what did it. Working for a perfectionist boss, who would nitpick copy to death, changing and rechanging, back and forth; every collar crisp. And, she felt she was always right, because she was perfect — or at least more perfect than anyone around her. I realized that perfectionism may be the best example of imperfect I know!

    Maybe I’ve just reached an age where if I have a few wrinkles (in the clothes or otherwise), I’m OK with that. Maybe I always was, but just tried too hard. Sure, I don’t want the casual imperfectionist doing my brain surgery, and when I send an article out for spec or the magazine I edit to the printer, I do my best to make sure it is error free. Yet, I suspect some writers would take issue with my twist on a sentence, eager to redo it and make it more perfect.

    The bit about the knitter cracked me up. I know that knitter — and she’s not me! Oh, if I catch the error in time, I’ll go back and re-do it. If it’s really awful, I may scrap it. But if it’s darned close or under the armpit, if it doesn’t mess up a pattern or scream at me — then I’m OK with it.

    It’s the same with visual art and collage. I’ve had plenty of things not look quite right. Now, I could think of this as a mistake or an imperfection and throw the thing to bits. Or, it could be an opportunity to stretch my learning and develop a new skill as I work with it. Not correct it, exactly, but expand upon it. And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Hopefully I’ve learned (if nothing else, be neat.) Some of my best photographs were accidents — not the “perfect” image I planned.

    There’s a difference in being perfect and not being just fine. It varies situation by situation. Person to person. Being imperfect doesn’t mean not trying your best. It means being OK with your best — even if it isn’t perfect.

    jeanie,

    Your last sentence is so true, and points to complexities I’d not even begun to think about when I wrote this. Being detail-oriented doesn’t necessarily mean being a perfectionist. Excellence and perfection aren’t the same, but sometimes “perfect” is the only answer.

    I still laugh when I remember my introduction to html. I was so astonished I wrote a post or two about the strangely elegant but demanding language. I had to make myself become more detail-oriented in order to “get it perfect”. If I didn’t, those italics or colored text weren’t going to show up. Even the simplest error was visible – I had to close my tags!

    On the other hand, what defines perfection in a song, a collage, a piece of writing? There are no rules for those – no tags that must be closed to ensure that the photograph, the essay, the painting “sings”. Let’s be frank here about a reality you know as well as I – sometimes when we begin a project, we haven’t a clue where we’re going to end up. There’s only a hint, a direction. There’s a world of difference between “perfect writing” and “writing toward perfection”. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

    And sometimes, as with your collage, the “not quite right” isn’t a fault of technique at all. It’s only that it’s danged hard to translate that vision in our head into concrete reality. As you say, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But when it works, there’s nothing better.

    Linda

  19. Nice post. Those are the moments memories are made. Reminds me of putting together a puzzle with my best friend who is no longer with us on this plane. Anyway, four of us sat around her table putting a Norman Rockwell of the little boy in the doctors office together. Piece by piece was handled by us all and in the end we still could not find the most important piece of all, the little boys backside. We laughed about that for years and wondered if someone in the puzzle factory was getting a good chuckle out of that little slip of the wrist when it came time to inspect and add it to the box. It’s the only thing we could think of to explain that particular little crack of cardboard missing. I hope somewhere in Heaven Linda knows I’m thinking of those good times.

    And I’m glad you thought the dash of red was a flying cardinal. I miss those bright spots of color on a bleak winters day.
    Hope your winter is mild where you are Linda.

    peace n abundance to you,
    CheyAnne

    CheyAnne,

    What a fun story! And it shows once again that the memories are more important than the “perfection” of the puzzle. As Jeanie said above, we’d like the brain surgeon to be “perfect” in his skill, but there are other kinds of perfections to enjoy.

    But if you don’t have the cardinals, you have the sunsets. The photo of Flag Mountain on your site is gorgeous. I went snooping around the map and surely I’ve seen the mountain even if I didn’t know it at the time. My one long journey through New Mexico took me to Eagle’s Nest, Arroyo Hondo and Questa, so I was in the neighborhood.

    Keep those creative juices flowing – your poppy brings me pleasure every day.

    Linda

  20. We’re surrounded with the manufactured: the boring default. So if you make something, celebrate that you’re an artist, not a factory!

    Claudia,

    Exactly so. I’ve run into “extruded art” a time or two, and it wasn’t especially appealing.

    A perfect, down-home example just came to mind. A friend’s grandchild wanted to make cookies with Grandma. Grandma, who was feeling assorted pressures, tried to get by with slicing and baking dough-from-a-grocery-store-tube. Nope. It wasn’t going to work. Quote of the day? ‘”Grandma! I want to make cookies, not bake cookies!”

    That’s the urge we have to nourish.

    Linda

  21. Bravo! That was wonderful on many levels and gave me much to think on in my own quest for something perfect. I have a closet full of ‘sweaters’ I haven’t finished either. No one asks where they are, anymore, since it’s so full, they can see the ‘sweaters’ in all their unfinished glory.

    Jewel,

    We all have our quests, our imperfections and our “unfinisheds”, don’t we? But there is a certain glory to the unfinished, and so much potential it’s almost unbearable. Though arthritis and a shortened attention span have slowed my own mom’s knitting a good bit, there’s nothing she loves more than standing among her boxes and boxes (and boxes!) of projects saying, “I believe one of these days I’m going to get some of these done.”

    I’ve learned not to be impolite and ask, “When?” ;-)

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the kindness of a comment. You’re always welcome.

    Linda

  22. “There is hope in error, none in perfection” my mother always says. And I agree.

    I remember knitting a sweater for my husband with a checkerboard pattern and when I was done I see that one row of squares is three rows high instead of two. I’m not one who rips it all up and starts over. I left it as it was.

    There was not a happy reactions from my grandmother when I told her that. On the other hand, she has told me stories about mom, who she never finished anything she sew because she too much cares to make it perfect.

    Thank you for a nice read full of hope.

    Désirée,

    I have a mother who is very much the same. There is a lovely cream-colored sweater tucked into her closet I would love to wear, but it’s been “in process” since several birthdays ago. I tell her I would enjoy wearing it more than admiring it, but I’m not making much progress with my argument.

    I do think “hand-made” or “hand-knit” items often are charming because of their imperfections. They remind us of the person who made them, and warm our hearts as well as our bodies. I’m sure your husband enjoyed his sweater, even with the “misplaced” squares.

    Your mother’s saying about hope and perfection is very interesting. I’ve not heard it before, but I’ll be tucking it into my little “snippets” file. It’s a good one to remember.

    Linda

  23. Poignant! The last two paragraphs really resonate with me and happenings in my life as of recent. Wonderful lessons to be learned from encouraging words of wisdom. BW

    BW,

    Let me put it this way… One of the great things about getting old is you have a longer track record to look back on, and many more opportunities to say, “Well, if I got through that…and that…and that…and…” I can get through this!

    Or to put it another way, if I were forced to make a choice between “perfect” and “real”, I’m going with real every time. In the end, it has a better chance of being perfect, even with the flaws. It’s one of the mysteries of life!

    Linda

  24. This post really speaks to me, in that I’ve learned lately the joy of accomplishment, seeing a project through, trumps any joy derived from perfection. I’m learning to go with real every time, thanks for the good reading!

    • Ivy,

      Congratulations on your accompishment! It really can be deeply pleasing to complete something, especially if there have been obstacles along the way. (And aren’t there always?!)

      I’m glad you found the post and glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the kindness of a comment. You’re welcome any time!

      Linda

  25. Linda, Thank you for directing me here. I felt the sweater makers pain. :)
    ~ Lynda

    • Lynda,

      I think we all have the experience – we just go through it in different ways. The only one around here who doesn’t worry about being perfect is Miss Dixie Rose, the cat – she knows she is!

      Linda

  26. Linda,

    This is beautiful and the gentle reminder of the beauty in the flaws of life. We all strive for perfection but at the end of the day sometimes we just have to be content with who we are and how our sweater comes together. It may not be the perfect sleeves but it will always keep us warm.

    • belleofthecarnival,

      And in the end it’s the warmth that counts, I think. A beautiful pattern is wonderful. An obviously skilled hand behind the work is delightful. But the impulse to make, to do, to create for another’s happiness and well-being? That’s perfection, don’t you think?

      Linda


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