Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Perfectly Imperfect

by Sarah Sullivan

Enjoy the moment. Vector illustration - stock vector
I woke up feeling agitated. I crawled over my five year old, a recently predictable late night arrival, and with the grace of a drunken chicken, flailed my way to the floor where I rummaged around on hands and knees grasping for glasses, which said child had undoubtably kicked to the ground as she scrambled into our bed. Unfortunately, the lenses only brought into focus the sea of detritus strewn across our room; papers, books, toys, blankets along with a few stray gold fish crackers tragically separated from their school. But none of this was terribly unusual, so why the intellectual angst, the churning gut of irritation? 

This is what I pondered as I carefully picked my way through yesterday’s playdate carnage and on to the sink where I could wash away the long fitful night and begin my day freshly anointed, preferably with a huge cup of coffee. Then I remembered what I was doing before falling asleep. Before the lights went out and long before our daughter made her midnight ninja journey to penetrate the inner parental sanctum, my husband was taking a test. Not so much a test, but some kind of lifestyle inventory that a career coach had suggested. It asked questions like this:

Is your bed made every day before you leave the house? 

Are your clothes neatly pressed each day?

Do you have more than two drinks of caffeine or one drink of alcohol each day? 

Is your checkbook always balanced to the penny?

Do you exercise five or more days a week?

Is your car clean on the outside and tidy on the inside?

Do you have six months worth of living expenses saved? 

To which I would have to reply: 

Almost never.

Define “”neatly” pressed? 


No, but I occasionally glance at my balance when I’m making a withdrawal at the ATM.

Yes - as long as I’m well caffeinated and can drink more than one alcoholic beverage afterward.

I’m thrilled if my car doesn’t smell like curdled milk and/or teenage foot odor.

Please refer back to answer number four. 

I don’t think I passed. And that made me agitated. I had to spend quite a while thinking about why this bothered me. The answer, of course, was rather simple. The inventory quickly enumerated my copious imperfections. It made me feel bad about my self. Maybe I’m not a good wife or mother or daughter? Maybe I should be trying a lot harder and excelling in more areas of my life? Maybe I should make my bed right now!

Fortunately, a cool head prevailed and I am tucked into my disheveled sheets even as I write this. I started thinking about characters and how utterly tedious it is to read about perfect people. I’m not curious about someone who meticulously washes their car everyday or irons each article of clothing unless this type of OCD behavior is part of a DSM diagnosis. Give me the flawed and vulnerable, the smart but lovable airhead, the broken soldier, the bereaved parent paralyzed with grief, the failing grad student, the lonely fat girl and the plucky rumpled orphan. These types of characters make for good reading, because they’re real and relatable. 

Who, but Nancy Drew, could breeze through life in a flawless blue convertible perfectly coifed and outfitted for every adventure. With her impeccable manners and enviable athletic ability, Nancy never missed a beat whether she was attending a sophisticated gala or changing a flat tire. I used to love Nancy Drew and I have every confidence that she grew up, married the captain of the football team, became a top flight attorney, a whole-grain- bread-baking mother of three and President of the River Heights Junior League. When I was young her life seemed safe and dependable. But that was a type of childhood fiction I outgrew long ago. Maybe I will try to be better about making my bed or washing my car. Those kinds of lofty aspirations are important to consider. On the other hand, I think we shouldn’t get too uptight about perfection. I’m not suggesting anyone aim for a Dickensian sort of existence, but let’s face it, in life, as well as in writing, the messy imperfections, jagged edges, and yes, even stray gold fish, make it all infinitely more interesting. 


Shirley Drew said...

Fantastic post, Sarah! And just so you know, I'm slightly OCD, have no children, and I still have trouble doing the things on that list! And while I do sometimes yearn for perfection, I usually get past that feeling the way one does a failed sneeze! And I love the way you linked this idea to writing. Excellent job!

Sarah Reichert said...

I love this! Here's to miscreant goldfish crackers and charmingly wrinkled t-shirts. I sometimes get caught in the frenzy to get the house clean only to have it fall apart, when that time would have been better spent writing or playing. Perfect characters are boring, your life and writing is interesting and a joy to read about. Keep up the great work!

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