Note to (the Perfectionist) Self

Finish each day and be done with it…
You have done what you could;
Some blunders and absurditites no doubt crept in
Forget them as soon as you can
Tomorrow is a new day;
You shall begin it well and serenely.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I flipped to this quote one night before heading to bed at the end of a particularly difficult day. Lately I’ve been trying to read encouraging and/or inspirational thoughts to close my days and when I saw this quote on that day, I broke down in tears.

As my breath caught in my throat at the sheer timliness of reading these words, I felt the weight of the day literally being lifted from my shoulders. I felt relieved at the reminder that I did not have to take these worries to bed with me.

Finish this day and be done with it. It is over. You did what you could do. Not necessarily what others expected you would do or what they thought you should do. You did what you could do. Now let it go.

No doubt you made some mistakes or said some stupid things. Forget about it. Others probably have. You are your harshest critic.

Tomorrow is a new day! You shall begin it well and calmly. Choose peace over turmoil and serenity over fretfulness.

The day will be what it will be. It will bring what it will bring. You can only do what you can do. And when it is over… the second most important thing will be to know that you did your best… And the most important will be to release it.


A Little Less Than Perfect

Hanging things on the walls of a 100-year-old house is a challenge. Nothing is straight, nothing is even. Not the floor boards, the base boards, the door frames, the walls or the ceilings. So you can imagine how difficult it is to hang pictures or wall decorations and have them appear perfectly straight. If you align them with the ceiling, you can guarantee they will not be parallel with the floor and vice versa. This can be quite maddening for a self-professed perfectionist.

For someone like me who loves, loves, LOVES straight lines, parallel lines, perpendicular lines, 90 and 45 degree angles… the decorating process can be nothing short of difficult. Now, I’m not talking “Alice-In-Wonderland” type screwy walls and floors… just your basic I’ve-been-sitting-here-for-100-years-and-the-ground-beneath-me-isn’t-level-and-therefore-I-am-going-to-settle-into-a-not-so-level-position-myself screwy walls and floors… In other words, things are just a little bit off.

The same thing applies to positioning furniture in-line with the ancient floor-boards. I once spent an entire Saturday morning trying to line my bed frame up with the floor boards, only to realize then that the accompanying area rug looked crooked. And the bedspread design, which is of course, vertical stripes wasn’t quite right.  Suffice it to say, I was glad no one was around to watch me obssessively ooch and scooch the bed (by degrees) this way and that… wondering where the fatal flaw was. Exasperated, I eventually just gave up.

I have done my best to hang, position and drape my décor in this not-so-perfect-but-full-of-character-house and adjust my concept of what “straight” really is. Usually I end up splitting the difference between the floor and ceiling with whatever piece I’ve chosen to be the “anchor” and try my best to ensure the surrounding pieces are as in-line with it as possible.

The same can be said of the people we choose to hang our “stuff” on in this life… our parents, our children, our friends, our spouses, our leaders. I mean, just like that 100-year-old house, no one is perfect. In fact, the very definition of the word “perfect” is: entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings. Now tell me… do you know ANY human being who fits that description? None of us have a perfectly straight, perfectly even, perfectly sound foundation. We all are loaded with flaws, defects and shortcomings.

So, when looking at those people who we deem to be the “anchors” in our lives, the absolute BEST we can ever really do is try and adjust our concept of what “perfect” really is by splitting the difference between expectation and reality. Recognize that those we love are not-so-perfect but full-of-character… And then do our best to ensure that the others we CHOOSE to surround ourselves with, are as in-line with us as possible in this less-than-perfect world.

The Rolling-Ruler Concept

When I was little I loved to draw. My mom and dad, wanting to encourage this activity, were always getting me different types of “supplies” that I might use to create my masterpieces. One of the things they bought for me when I expressed some interest in it (after watching the TV Infomercial of course) was the “Rolling Ruler.” That was its name… and that’s exactly what it did. It was a ruler with a roller inside of it so that you could not only make perfectly straight lines, but perfectly SPACED straight lines.

In high school I took this nifty little tool with me to my art classes and I began using it on quite a regular basis. Before long I was using it for ALL of my art projects. Everything I drew was black and white and comprised of straight lines. I’d draw lines closer together and with heavier pens or markers to make things appear dark and then I would draw light, spaced-out lines to make certain areas appear lighter.

One particular day during my senior year, my art teacher was watching over my shoulder as I created a cityscape with my rolling ruler. It was then that he uttered ONE sentence that would set a course for the rest of my life. He said: “Joanna, you really should consider going into Commercial Art since you seem to like things so clean and precise.”

That was all it took. I was a senior. I knew I would be going to college. But I had NO idea what I should study once I got there. So I looked for a reputable school that offered Graphic Design as a major. (Graphic Design was called Commercial Art at one time) I found a school—Bowling Green State University—I applied, was accepted and started the Graphic Design program in the Fall of ’93.

I graduated exactly 4 years later, moved out west, got married, secured a great job in my field, bought a home, and began building a life. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I was no longer using the Rolling Ruler as merely a drawing tool… I had begun applying what a dear friend of mine would later call the “Rolling Ruler Concept” to all facets of my life.

You see, what attracted me so much to the Rolling Ruler as an artistic device… was the control. Hello, my name is Joanna, and I am a control freak. I love precision and I crave perfection. With evenly-spaced, parallel straight lines everything ALWAYS makes sense. There is neatness and order, and I am the one making it happen. I am the one drawing the perfectly straight lines with the help of my handy little tool. Nothing EVER goes wrong, nothing is EVER crooked, everything is ALWAYS as it should be. As an aside, do you notice the use of all of the superlatives here? Heavy use of superlatives is another characteristic of textbook control-freakism.

At this point I should mention that if you are one of those go-with-the-flow-totally-not-a-control-freak-type-people… good for you! I envy you… but this writing will have little meaning to you whatsoever. On the other hand, if you’re anything like me, you understand exactly what I’m talking about.

There is a real problem that arises when one tries to apply a RULER of any kind to their life. Trust me, I know. For awhile I had the ILLUSION of being in control because things pretty much went the way I had planned them to… until they didn’t. And when they didn’t, my ruler went flying… and I was lost. I learned that the ruler didn’t work on other people’s behavior, it didn’t work on biology, it didn’t work on medical science’s intervention, it didn’t work on matters of faith and it didn’t work on external influences.

It was inevitable that at some point in time that ruler was going to get wrenched from my tightly-clenched fist and cast into the wind. Why is that? Because Life is messy. And since we’re talking about art, I would say that if Life were a painting, it would be a Jackson Pollock. All colorful and noisy and chaotic with spatters of paint, shards of glass and grains of sand and dirt tossed this way and that.

I’ve learned the hard way that Life doesn’t follow straight, evenly-spaced parallel lines. Life’s lines are crooked and bent and swirly and jagged and they cross over one another and collide unexpectedly and they are usually too wide, too thin, too short or too long. But even more important to note is the fact that WE are not in control. Many times I have exhausted myself trying to MAKE this “Rolling Ruler Concept” work in my life, but it won’t matter how hard I try… I have discovered that much of life was and is and will continue to be beyond my control… though I still fight it… A LOT.

One of the most difficult things I have to do on a regular basis is lay the ruler down… take a deep breath, step back, say a prayer and watch as the masterpiece that is my life reveals itself to me. Crooked lines and all.