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?

Der Schnee

One of the things I love about living here in Central Switzerland is that we get a real winter. Something about the snow — der Schnee — always raises my Canadian spirits, especially in the run up to Christmas.

Even a sprinkling of the white stuff on the mountains casts everything in a new light. You see all kinds of details that you never noticed before.

There are twinkling lights on the balconies and across the valley, making it feel like a winter wonderland. Even the fog has it charms!

Part of the fun here is knowing that no matter how much snow falls, they are up to the job. Our town has a veritable army of snow removal trucks waiting in the wings with their engines revving. By November, they’ve installed bright orange poles all along the edges of the roads to clearly demarcate where the plows need to go. Even our small street is already plowed by the time I take the dogs out at first light.

Oh, the marvel of Swiss efficiency! (I do miss things about France, but snow removal is not one of them).

And when the sun comes out and bounces off the mountain tops it’s just, well…soul-satisfying.

At this time of year, as we head towards the winter solstice, you have to get out early in the afternoon to catch the sun’s last hurrah before it slips between the mountains. Then you get to huddle indoors as darkness creeps and even pour yourself a glass of something to enjoy from the warmth of cozy indoors.

If you are really blessed, you may even have a furry foot warmer or two.

What’s your favourite part of winter?

Redemption

I have been remiss in posting here of late. There are no excuses other than life taking up a lot of room in my head. Plus, a new computer distracting me, a work-in-progress I’m trying to finalize and a bunch of other (fairly major) things worthy of their own posts. More to come soon, juré, crâché. (That’s French for ‘I swear’…)

Plus, most importantly, November. My most-detested month is now behind us. It was mercifully short due to everything else going on. Now, December has come in with a bang in Central Switzerland as it has in much of the northern hemisphere. With a mood-boosting ton of snow. Schnee! Neige!

For us November ended on a rather astonishing event. You may remember that we moved last year from a house in France to an apartment in Switzerland. At that time we decided to downsize the pet population. I did not post much about this at the time as I wasn’t particularly proud of it. Basically, we decided to rehome our two cats as we were moving into a space with no direct access to the outside. My excuse was that they were outdoor cats and that surely we would find loving homes for two sweet, if senior, cats? The real reason was that I couldn’t face the idea of all that hair and being a full-time cat caretaker. Mea culpa.

A very kind friend who lives in a neighbouring town offered to have the cats at her place for the interim. Within weeks, we had found an adoptive family for the elder male cat and other other, a female, had run away. Guilt-racked, we posted notices all around the village, called the local animal shelters and went out looking. But as anyone who has ever known a feline will attest, cats do not come when called. And when they’ve decided to go into hiding, they cannot be found.

The winter was cold last year with a ton of snow. I sometimes pictured Bianca having graced herself into a new home, or alternatively I imagined her hanging out in a barn with a whole herd of cats. At worst I assumed she’d been hit by a car. Sometimes I dreamed about her, feeling like I’d abandoned a child. After several months, I gave up worrying. We got rid of all the cat accoutrements.

You feel it coming, right? Out of the blue last week I got a call from a German-speaking woman, who fortunately also spoke English.

“Mrs. Lewis? This is the Tierheim Allenwinden. We found your cat.”

Shock. Silence. Brain scrambles. “Which one?”

“You do have a cat?”

“Yes. I mean no. That is, I did have a cat, two in fact. The female ran away over a year ago.”

“A year? That’s amazing. When are you coming to get her?”

I went that afternoon. She was dirty and matted but in pretty good shape, all things considered. We decided somebody in the area must have been feeding her. She had been turned in by a woman who apparently found her just a block away from where she disappeared.

The vet shaved a big wide stripe down her back to remove the worst of the mats. They were amazed at how well she had survived as a feral cat all those 14 months.

She has forgiven us and we have decided she deserves to stay. How’s that for redemption?

Happy December!

Update January 2022: We ended up contacting the woman who had turned in Bianca to the shelter to thank her. It turned out she was the granddaughter of a 90-year-old woman who had been feeding our cat for the better part of last year. As the grandmother had to move into a nursing home, she had not wanted to just abandon Bianca. We sent her a bouquet of white roses and a photo of Bianca just before Christmas. Yesterday we heard that the grandmother sadly passed away. 💔

Schön

There is something magical that happens when the clocks go back. Don’t get me wrong — I’m no fan of the switch, whether to winter or summertime (although if I had to choose, it would be winter, which feels somehow more natural to me).

But since we moved here, I’ve noticed that the late fall season has something special to the light, and the time change somehow moves me to get outside just as darkness falls in all its splendour.

I experience a secret thrill in walking outside and seeing all the lit up windows. They are like tableaux vivants, welcoming frames of life seen from the street. I see a lamp or a screen or shelf with books. A coat on a hook or silhouettes of people in a kitchen. It gives me a feeling of being welcomed and warm. Perhaps it is close to the Danish idea of ‘hygge’.

So out and about I’ve strolled in our little town for an hour or so twice this week just as the sun set. The moon and the sky do some amazing things this time of year. I wish my camera could capture all the nuances.

I have a recent iPhone but haven’t really figured out how to do all the fancy stuff with the camera. I tried time lapse but that was just a blurry video. Then somehow I lucked into a night mode that worked.

There is something almost eerie about the fact that the dry leaves still cling to the trees in the light of the streetlamps. Nature hasn’t yet fully battened down its hatches; the grass is still green. I know it won’t last long. Soon it will be too bitterly cold and wet to be out for a walk at the end of the day.

Plus, there’s all the magic of living in a very Swiss town with its safe street life and painted façades. I still struggle with the language and doubt I’ll ever be fluent but I am picking up and decoding more words. One easy one inspired the title of this post: schön. Lovely, beautiful, good.

And that is how I’m feeling now. How are things with you?

Die Nachbarn

Our neighbours are back. Noisy, nosey and oh, how we missed them! Not sure where they disappeared to early last summer, or even whether the herd that have come back to graze on the grassy slope just beyond our apartment are the same. I do know that life with sheep as neighbours is never dull.

The cling of their bells, which worried me as a source of noise when we first moved here, is now a welcome sign of life. It’s never loud enough to wake us up, especially now that the days are colder and the windows mostly closed. Instead, the music of the sheep bells is a reassuring presence.

I noticed when I got up the other morning that their silhouettes were visible on the dark hill just outside the office window. In the early morning with the lights on in our apartment, I suppose we are sheep TV. I went to the window and saw them just a couple of metres above, looking down on us in curiosity as I fed the dogs. There is something comical about how they stare at me with interest while chewing their cud.

And drama! Who would have thought the lives of sheep were so filled with sensation? On a sunny afternoon while working studiously in the office, I had the window open, and suddenly there was a commotion of bells. I went outside to check and saw all 18 of the sheep huddled together in the middle of the hill. Their eyes were all fixed at the top of the hill, where I spied an unusual visitor. At first I thought it was a big dog, with pointy ears like a Doberman, but then I realized: it was a red doe. While it clearly posed no threat to the sheep, the poor thing had somehow found its way into the sheep’s electric fenced enclosure and was looking for a way out. Panicked, the deer jumped the fence too close and fell, its legs entangled in the mesh. Thankfully, after thrashing around for a few seconds, it freed itself and high-tailed it towards the woods. The sheep watched it run off and soon returned to chomping their grass. What a life.

But it made me realize why these animals are so curious. They are vulnerable to predators. The herd mentality that made them all stick together in the face of an intruder is the same one that makes them stare at any by passer to make sure they’re not in any danger.

The other night I could hear one of the sheep baying in the wee hours. It was unusual: they’re generally fairly quiet other than their constantly ringing bells. But it was cold out and they’d recently been shorn. My daughter the vet who knows how to do things like tip sheep explained that they need to graze a lot to get enough calories to sustain them. Maybe they’d worn the grass down?

The next day I heard the bells ringing like crazy again and went out to check what was going on. Sure enough, the farm woman who looks after them had come to move them from one field to another. I watched from afar as she rolled back the fence. The sheep knew the drill: they lined up right away and shuffled through the space to the higher slope. Except one was left behind.

It was too small to go up the hill on its own, so the woman reached down and lifted it up to the mother. That’s when I realized just how small it was — it looked like a baby. I’d never seen it before and, putting two and two together, it occurred to me that this was what all the baying had been about. One of the sheep had given birth, right there on the hill in the middle of the night. Already the little one was scampering to follow her and nurse.

Ain’t life grand?