I hadn’t yet been part of this conversation. My ears perked up, I shuffled over, and I said to her, “You could write about that. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything with any personal insight into that topic from your point of view.”
We talked for a while about laundry folding and kitchen arrangement. Except for me, the group was made up of engineers, people whose work depends on attention to detail. When does attention to detail become perfectionism? I suspect there’s a continuum.
When I have been characterized as perfectionist, it feels like an accusation. The person saying it doesn’t admire the trait or its outcome (e.g., neatly folded sheets in the linen closet, a well-edited memo). Or it’s a way of distinguishing him or herself from me, as in, “You (Jane) are so uptight. I am easy-going.”
I don’t think of myself as desiring perfection, per se. Yet I do desire — and like, feel peaceful with — order, thoroughness, and the well-wrought detail.
Funny, I just had an impulse to make an annotated inventory of what parts of life or the physical world seem more pleasing to me if they are in line with my standards. It might start like this:
- kitchen cabinets: stuff should be categorized, not stuffed-in randomly
- closets and bureaus: neat, folded, unstuffed
- desk: clear surface, things put away
- yard: neat, trimmed, branches picked up — however, I don’t like a precise, manicured look — there has to be softness around the edges… and yet there are edges…
- natural world: I like to see fallen branches, puddles, rusted cans among leaves, and yet I usually get to these places via a well-made path, which I like
- writing: I prefer a fully-explored draft, even over-stuffed with ideas or information and long sentences, yet I want a finished piece to have shape, flow, grammar, and an absence of cliché, which to me is a kind of inexcusable clutter
As time passes, and therefore there is less time in front of me, I let some perfectionist tendencies go. One does this also as a parent, as soon as you recognize that your infant is a wild thing. Students, too, have minds of their own.
But I hang on to others — performance at work and art and in the primary relationship(s) — and in some ways exacting standards are hampering.
To chew on some more.
Photos taken October 21, 2012 at Allandale Farm by me.