Sunday, April 15, 2012

Inventory (Getting a Handle On Not Having A Handle)

Well, I found it - the picture of me among my old books, pondering what the h to do. What to keep, what to toss, what to let go to welcoming friends. And behind me all the while, my beloved old red bookcase (back when it was purple) which currently lives in my parents garage, a couple thousand miles away.

I went hunting for the picture this week, when I found myself in front of a shelf of what I have come to think of as my "spiritual" books. There sometimes seems to be no other way to think of these sorts of books. But most books are spiritual, really, and I guess that's why I'm ready to pare down this shelf.

I was a little shocked at the urge I had, though, when standing in front of the awkward shelf, wondering how to organize it better. I honestly thought it was the shelf's fault that things were bothering me so much.  It's the books, a voice inside said. They have to go.

Really? I thought, panicking.

These books nurtured me through graduate school, and helped me stay sane for most of the past seven years of my life.  I have piled them next to my pillow at night, their presence like a childhood blanky.

But for the last six months or more, they have been annoying the crap out of me, leering like angry hangnails from the corner of our living room. It is time to say goodbye.

This week, I also dug up an article I printed out a while ago, when I first started at the company I work for. The article is titled (hilariously?) Handling Your Perfectionism, and I don't remember now how I happened upon it. But I have been stressing out lately, for some good reasons, for some illegitimate, and I pulled out the article to - what else? Get a handle on my obsession with getting a handle on things.

It is my experience that what lurks behind the perfectionist urge is actually terror.  Certainly, some components are aesthetics, and a desire to perform well. But I believe that perfectionism is really an expression of fear - fear of failure, fear of being wrong, and most importantly, fear of being seen.

This fear of being seen is really a fear of being vulnerable. But, the skill of becoming vulnerable is one of the most powerful ones we can cultivate as sentient beings.  Because, as Robin Williams says in Good Will Hunting, that's where the good stuff is. And it's true.  It isn't easy to do - to stand fully within yourself and let yourself be seen as your whole, flawed, perfectly imperfect being.  But that's what courage is.  And radiance and authenticity.

It is a sleepy Sunday night over here, and my eyes are getting droopy. I wish I had a story to illustrate my point, but I thought it more important to simply write and say hello, and try my darnedest to write an imperfect post.

Lastly, I want to post these pictures of my old office during graduate school, when I felt like the worst writer on the planet.  I felt like the office was claustrophobic, and dumpy, and lame.  It looks so beautiful to me now.  And the books look so perfectly selected, clear and muscular on the shelves. 

I prefer to work with dead dogs nearby.

Eternally listening to the Avett Brothers.

The red bookshelf.  Now in red.

At the same time, the lack of confidence I had then took me deeper into myself, to find out where grace and comfort live, because the alternative - of living within the critical voices that stormed my mind and gave me migraines - was unbearable.  Pain and hope for its utter alleviation led me to the yoga studio, and to my meditation practice, and to the play of handstands and back bends, and twisting philosophy books.  It is tempting to feel shame for the mistakes we make, but what if they truly are invitations to grace?

I have heard that compassion's root is a broken heart.  This I believe - it is our healing that births our strength.

As I go, I want to say - let us all learn to be truly good to ourselves, for we teach others how to treat us when we know how to treat ourselves.  And in those teachings are the light of our hearts.  May we hold them high for one another.

With tenderness,



  1. I have recently come to believe that maybe mistakes as we conceive of them are not even available to us on our colour palette of options...all just various shades of what we needed.

    And I'm working (*very hard*) to understand that the fallen-shorts, the less-than-expected, the outright holes that I *do not* like to talk about in my armor serve as the place where people are able to connect with me; that which serves me by weeding out from the get go who won't ultimately appreciate what I have to offer.

    Can you believe I hadn't read this when I sent you that email? x

  2. Yes! CAN believe...

    It's so true, about the shades of what we need. Ahh, why is this step so hard???


  3. Did Tim take these photos? I love them! I love your face in the second one. SO serious! Also love your line at the end there about we're teaching others how to treat us when we know how to treat ourselves. Really makes me think...

  4. SO serious! yes, Tim took them. he basically takes every photo you see of me. all my pictures look like the blurry one of the triptych above

  5. So grateful for your beautiful heart. The idea of perfectionism being related to terror really resonated with me and I think is such an apt expression of the holding back, the resistance. Thank you for that. I remember your grad school office as feeling like such a playful and sacred space, but I think you create sacred spaces wherever you go.

  6. Aww Corinne! Making my day over here. Thanks, girl.

  7. Fear of being seen--oh, wow, yes, my goodness you are exactly right. I have honestly never thought of it that way before, but it's so true. I think I've struggled with that almost my whole life, this fear that if I were truly seen for who I really was, I would be a disappointment. (Not sure where that came from.) And I've turned that fear into perfectionism and image management.

    Wow. I feel like I just went to therapy or something! I should pay you--therapy would have been way more expensive! :)

  8. Hi Erin! You DID pay me - I love comments here! So thanks for dropping by.

    Yes, the more I think about it, being seen is exactly what I fear the most. In some ways, I bet most people fear this (and probably lots of writers, eh?). I think we all carry around this fear of not being enough. When we really are seen, we add up to a million times the sum of our parts, but fear keeps us from shining fully in our natural states.

    It occurs to me as I write this that every time I write, I am basically talking about 3 things over and over again: a. the perfect inside the imperfect, b. finding a home inside one's spirit, c. my love for/my delinquent little dog.

    Delighted to find you here! Love, k

    1. I love a., b., and c. (except in my own case I just swap "dog" for "cat"). This is why I love your writing!

    2. Dog/Cat = totally interchangeable! :)


I love to hear your thoughts!