Embracing imperfection

When I was a child, I was a creative spirit. I liked to draw and paint, and also enjoyed acting and singing. My artwork wasn’t bad and I had a pretty good voice but I had a fatal flaw: frustrated perfectionism. Every time I drew or painted something, I tore it up as soon as the flaws became apparent. Later it got to the point where I froze whenever I faced a blank canvas. It was the same with the performance arts: I couldn’t bear to watch or listen to myself without dissolving into a puddle of shame.

Thankfully I grew up and became a writer. It is far less degrading than other forms of prostitution. And while some client revisions make me want to tear my hair out, I’ve learned to take satisfaction in making the best of each writing assignment. There is always an opportunity to bring creative flair to copy, even if I sometimes think of myself as a ‘silk purse maker’ (transforming the proverbial sow’s ear). It’s easier to be a closet perfectionist as a writer than as an artist, even if death by editing is a thing. Word processing technology lets us draft and redraft in blink of an eye and ensures that the worst of our spelling and grammar mistakes are hidden from view. Beta readers and editors help us transform our shitty first drafts into stories that people actually want to read.

Each new year brings with it the chance to start again, whether in writing or in life, with a blank page. Like every year, I am setting myself, if not firm goals, a mantra or two. This year I’ve decided it is all about embracing imperfection. It may not be perfect, but it is my life and I love it. Each day, no matter the weather, the time available or whatever else is happening, I will do something that makes me truly happy. Just for me. Creatively speaking, I will not throw out the baby with the bathwater when my work falls short. I will believe in my star and, if something needs work, then I won’t back away from it. No shortcuts. The only failure is the failure to keep trying.

We live such curated lives. I post pictures of this beautiful place where I live and enjoy hearing from people who appreciate them. We are indeed blessed to live here. But sometimes it feels like those photos are completely unreal. Days with no shareable moments, when life’s problems and challenges feel overwhelming. When everything feels like a shitty first draft and you just want to crumple it up and start over.

But I’m learning that the imperfections are what make things interesting. I’ve always found beauty to be like that: flawed is better than perfect. I’d rather look at an interesting face than one which is boringly beautiful. I recently had a revelation about my work-in-progress novel: my main character needs more flaws in order to reveal his arc in the story.

On a side note, I made these vanilla ‘kipferl’ cookies, a local specialty, at Christmas. They were supposed to look like crescent moons but their appearance was far less than perfect. The bright side? They tasted absolutely delicious!

So I’ll be embracing imperfection this year. What about you?

Natürlich

Things have this way of working out. For better or for worse, when they’re good and ready. It does no good to fret and stamp your foot, although I still do this. There is a natural cycle to things and it is a lot easier if you just go with it.

It feels that things are finally coming together in this new life we chose a year ago. Nothing major. Just a general sense of freedom, of being able to get out and do things, plan things, live again. To breathe freely. Natürlich.

It helps that the summer season is finally here. Nature is in full swing, from the birds on our terrace to the sheep next door. When I go for walks or a bike ride around the village, I see more than the usual number of people with backpacks and walking sticks. The tourists have arrived and the cafés are busy, both indoors and out. The lake is dotted with sailboats and the sky offers up the spectacle of paragliders. I watch them land on the field below, some with such grace that they land in a single swoop, coming to ground with their sail erect above them before it gently crumples.

My husband went back to the office last week. For a whole day! From next week he will be going back again, at least from time to time. That will give me much needed head space. Don’t get me wrong: we have plenty of room. But we’re both used to doing our own thing, and I’m thrilled to see things returning to their natural order. Natürlich.

Our local swimming pool, indoors but on the waterfront with views over the lake, has opened with limited hours and numbers allowed, and I’ve gone and swum laps a few times. And after a hiatus of more years than I can remember, I’ve returned to the gym. Crazy, eh? Just as summer starts and still with masks required. But I’m determined to beat the creep of pudge that’s come on suddenly, surprisingly, after so many months when I thought I’d managed to keep things in balance. And I’ve rediscovered how much I love the way it makes me feel to move my body in a space dedicated for that purpose. Even without speaking (much) to anyone, being in a place with other like-minded people somehow feels inspiring.

It also helps that I know my way around the area now. Words of German are beginning to break through the static of my incomprehension. I know a few people well enough to say hello. We have a history here now, however short. This is where we sat last summer after seeing our new home for the first time. That’s our neighbour who runs the language school where I tried (and notoriously failed) to take a German A1 course last fall. And there’s the doctor I saw just before Christmas when we had our encounter with SARS-CoV-2.

I know we’re not there yet. Corona (as it’s often referred to around here) is still with us, and its nasty variants may yet sweep through on another wave. But we’ve armed ourselves with vaccines and masks and new ways of interacting. I think I’ve seen more of my Canadian family on Zoom in the last few months than we did before. And client calls are usually with video now, so I can put faces to names.

It’s the little things, I guess. Like this (not so small) apéro plate from a local restaurant we discovered in the nearby town of Morschach. A kitschy kind of place up the mountain where the charcuterie is home-cured and everything is local including the lingo. And you just go with it.

How are things in your world? Are you ready to get back to any kind of normal?

Hope springs

A ray of hope is springing in my heart today. Not only has the Swiss council announced its decision to gradually lift confinement measures — shops will reopen from March 1st and outdoor activities will begin to get back to normal — but the weather has gotten decidedly spring-like.

I went for a walk as the sun began to set, going uphill for once rather than down to the lake. I wanted to see as much of the sky as possible. It paid off, as the little road that goes up the mountain from behind our apartment led to a path through the woods back down to town. So not only did I get this view, I discovered a new route for short hikes.

Most of the snow has melted, seemingly overnight. The birds were busy and I even saw a bee and clouds of gnats. This is quite the contrast to the -12 C temps we had on Sunday. And even though I’m not fooled into thinking that this is indeed the start of ‘Frühling’ (Spring) a month ahead of schedule, nor the end of the pandemic, it feels like a much-needed sign.

It’s not unusual to find rushing streams and babbling brooks around here. In fact, in my on-again off-again efforts in German, I have learned that Brunnen, the name of the town where we live, actually means spring or fountain.

It does a body good to get out, breathe the air and be reminded that all of our human problems are nothing to this world we live in. The seasons change to their own rhythm. Nature does its thing. All our cares will soon be washed away in the rains, or lifted in the clouds that float across the sky.

Hope springs.

At least until the sun sets.

How about you? Do you feel hopeful?

Objets perdus

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

I hate losing things.

The thing is, most of the time, 99% perhaps, they are not lost. Just misplaced.

My husband is perfectly fine with this. After a few minutes of irritation and rapid searching, he gives up. It’s like he lives his life according to what is possibly the world’s first meme:

“If you love something, set it free.
If it comes back, it is yours;
if it doesn’t, it never was.”

Quote: Richard Bach, author of the 1970s novel ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’.

I, on the other hand, drive myself and those around me mad by embarking on a relentless search. Retracing steps. Picturing the object the last time I saw it. Not resting until I have exhausted every possible avenue of investigation that may lead me back to the thing.

“How do you say, ‘lost and found’ in French?” I asked my husband, when I first tried to retrace a lost object in Paris.

“Objets perdus,” he said. “Or, objets trouvés.” Hmm, I wondered. Which is it? The yin or the yang?

Last week, when I lost my very expensive glasses — the ones with the Alain Mikli frames and the progressive lenses that go dark in the sun — on a trip to Annecy, I left no stone unturned. Searched the car, various bags, called the restaurant where we’d had lunch. Emailed them a reminder. Called the stand-up paddle rental place. They all replied kindly and with patience that sadly, no glasses had been found. Rien.

Heart heavy, I realized that acceptance was probably the best approach.

Yet secretly I began to think about getting new ones. They are my working glasses after all, the only pair that lets me comfortably see my computer screen while reading close up, standing up and walking around. Oh, and if somebody comes to the door, as it happens fairly often, my eyes don’t tear up as they normally do in the sun.

“Wait for a while,” advised my husband. “They may turn up yet. Besides, they are very expensive!” He even volunteered to look for them again. Then forgot all about it.

Granted, he loses things a lot more often than I do. His wallet on our honeymoon, his wedding ring while repainting our first apartment, his keys more times than I can remember. He worries less, manages fine without. Is generally happier. I wish I could be more like that.

Years ago, on a return flight from Croatia, his suitcase vanished into some lost-luggage vortex. It was a smart little Samsonite that I’d bought, and it contained all of his best casual clothes. They never found it. If memory serves, we got $200 compensation. I am still in mourning for one particular summer shirt.

It is the lost part of the thing that upsets me. There is no closure. And let’s face it, is there anything sadder than a single sock? Anything more useless than a key untraceable to its lock? One lone earring, bereft of its mate, leaves me longing for my lost youth. Lost luggage makes me grieve for the perfect items that will never be replaced. Knowing it is out there, somewhere, of virtually no value to anyone but me.

I suppose this means I should work on something that in yoga we call attachment. To be happy, we must strive for non-attachment, which frees us to experience the world in a deeper, more fulfilling way. I am far too attached to things and to my creature comforts in general. I know this to be true. And yet. How wonderful is it to be able to see the world through a comfortable pair of glasses?

The best part of losing things is finding them again. The joy I felt when my glasses turned up yesterday, wedged in their black case in a corner pocket of the trunk, was like a redemption.

All is not lost.

Everything is possible.

Namaste.

P.S. What is the most memorable thing you have ever lost or found?

Feature photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Mon singe

I have a monkey on my back. Un singe. See him? No, of course you can’t. He’s a private little fellow.

I’m no addict – he’s not that kind of monkey. But carrying him around all the time can be exhausting. He never shuts up.

There he goes again: What on earth are you writing about? No one is going to have a clue what you mean. A monkey? How ridiculous!

Monkey has his good points. Sometimes he makes me smile.  Il fait le singe, makes like a monkey. And he can be a creative little guy. Bitingly funny. Who would even think of half the stuff he comes up with? Too inappropriate, mostly, to share with anyone else. But in some ways he is my muse.

Most of the time he is an angry little dude who makes me impatient and short-tempered. A kill joy. He can be terrifying, with his dire predictions and irrational fears.

He is my inner critic, my slave driver, cracking his whip. Not good enough, he whispers. Who do you think you are? Often I believe him. Monkey see, monkey do.

Too often he exhausts me to the point where I just give up. No, I will not be good enough. While I’m at it, I won’t be good at all. May as well fool around instead of working. Waste time, kick back, have another glass of wine. I will forget about exercising or writing or doing whatever else I’d planned.

Now it’s time for a change. This year, I’ve decided to make friends with my monkey.

I can’t get rid of him completely. But I am thinking that perhaps I need to work with him. He is part of me after all. And in order to enjoy the good I need to manage the bad.

So I’ll tell him it’s okay not to be perfect. Sometimes good enough is just fine. And failure is okay if it means you really tried. In fact, it can be positive.

He will surely scoff.

And I’ll simply say: Monkey, be quiet. (Not ‘shut up’. Even monkeys deserve respect.) I’ll invite him to take a deep breath, admire the view. I’ll even give him half of my banana.

The rest I’m keeping for myself.

Happy new you!

Have you made any resolutions for 2019?