Volume 2, Issue 17: On "Perfect"

Hi friends! In a startling turn of events, I did some yoga this week. This may come as no surprise to many of you, but I’ve historically been very anti-yoga, at least, American yoga. It has major cultural appropriation vibes and even if it didn’t, getting me to move slowly and deliberately and focus my thoughts instead of doing 10,000 things and thinking 10,000 thoughts all at once is a chore, to say the least. Well, in May I read Yoke: My Yoga of Self-Acceptance by Jessamyn Stanley and I was so inspired that I downloaded her yoga mobile app, The Underbelly. Of course, it has taken me 3 months to get up the nerve (and be sick of my own bullshit) enough to give it a whirl. Granted, I have only done it twice this week but so far I don’t hate it. Well, not completely. Okay, fine, I posted this on Twitter:

Also this week, Ijeoma Oluo posted a video on her Instagram about “Healing even when it keeps happening.” The yoga, this video, and my recent conversations with my therapist have had perfectionism weighing heavy on my mind so I want to talk a bit about it today.

In her video, Oluo mentions how it is impossible to fully heal from trauma when the trauma is ongoing. I agree. There is no amount of self-care, self-help books (or newsletters!), or therapy that will heal the ongoing traumas of white supremacy, capitalism, colonization, and the current pandemic. We’re putting band-aids on bullet wounds. Oluo also talks about how she would tell herself that she would seek out a therapist when “all this is over.” But the police violence is unending. The pandemic is still going. And I realize I, and so many of us, do this same kind of postponement of care, joy, and rest:

“I’ll do [thing] when work slows down” or “I’ll use my vacation days when work slows down.”

“Everything will be better after I [find a new job, start dating, come out of the closet, lose some weight].”

“I’ll start [self-care routine] next week/next month/next full moon]”

“I’ll do this joyful thing only after I complete my to-do list of things that mysteriously seems to never end.”

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

“I will have joy/rest/care only when the perfect opportunity arises and that opportunity is totally an arbitrary thing I have made up for myself.”

Friends. Why do we do this? Why do we lie to ourselves like this? Work is never going to slow down. Capitalism is designed specifically so that it does not slow down, so that we are always emotionally and physically exhausted and all we can do is focus on our grinds, either our main hustles or side hustles. There are no awards for denying yourself joy, rest, care, etc. If I burst into a flurry of bats, no one is going to say during my eulogy, “Well, she certainly left all kinds of unused vacation time so hooray for her! Guess she wins!”

What if you’re waiting for “life to slow down?” It’s your life! Slow it the fuck down! Remember, you are in control here. I know it feels impossible, but I want you to look at all of your “shoulds,” all of your imposed timelines, and ask 1) who is this timeline for?, 2) why does this timeline matter?, and 3) what would happen if you said, “fuck it” and rebuked the timeline? 

Perfectionism is an illusion. There is no perfect weight or perfect time to start a hobby or yoga routine (this week, we started on a Tuesday because why not?). There is no perfect time that exists that is the-time-after-I-have-done-every-necessary-thing-and-now-I-can-do-only-fun-things. The only thing that exists is what is right for me, right now.

Perfectionism is internalized white supremacy. If we are perfect, if what we do is perfect, if how we look is perfect, if our timing is perfect, then we can transcend above… what? What are we trying to avoid by getting everything just right? Systemic oppression doesn’t give a shit about you doing things just right, but it does convince you that sure, if you do, then you can get by unharmed. If you are the hardest worker. If you are the perfect size of clothing. If you time everything just right, then maybe you will get by unscathed. All lies.

Perfectionism is a trauma response. Maybe not for everyone, but there are some of us very familiar with this. Maybe you grew up in poverty. Or in an abusive home. Or a home where there was substance abuse. But you knew that if you showed up to school and got perfect grades and were class president and excelled in sports or extracurriculars, then you could hide within the armor of perfection. No one ever worries about high-achievers.

Finally, as is often said, Perfect is the enemy of good. It doesn’t matter if something is done perfectly if you don’t even try it at all. Perfect is not only the enemy of good, but so often, Perfect is the enemy of done. I know that perfection has kept me responding to personal emails or snail mail in a timely manner because there is something in me that feels like I need to write the perfect response and then suddenly it’s A YEAR since I responded (yes, I am ashamed and feel like shit at the amount this has happened). I could avoid feeling like shit by just… replying to things in an imperfect, but DONE way.

Life is hard enough. We don't need to make things harder on ourselves. White supremacy already does that. Capitalism already does that. Colonization already does that. This pandemic already does that. Maybe if we stop trying to force the perfect timing or the perfect state of being, we can make room for tiny, perfect moments.

That perfect bite of cookie out of the batch of three dozen you just baked.

That perfect way the sun shines through your window at a particular time, that you would have missed had you not slowed down.

That perfect, comfortable quiet you have while sitting in bed and reading next to your partner or spouse or children.

That perfect sunset you witnessed, because you decided to take the long way home.

I would rather have many likely, small, perfect moments that add up rather than a vacation day two years from now when I’m too burned out to do anything other than sleep through the day.

Do that thing you’ve been putting off. Take those vacation days. Start writing or painting or making videos or whatever creative thing you’ve been avoiding.

That’s it for this week!

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