Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Overcoming Perfectionism

My son was born almost nine years ago and in his first year I took almost 600 photos of him. After carefully dating them, I placed them in a box in chronological order. Every time I stopped at Barnes and Noble, I'd pick up a scrapbooking magazine. Soon, I had a stack of them and a box full of scrapbooking equipment and supplies. One day, I finally had the courage to spread it all out on my dining room table.

I had given a great deal of thought to how I wanted to structure my scrapbook. Maybe a bit too much thought. I created my first page, then a second. I was pleased with the results. The next day, I was at it again. Soon I had a dozen or so pages completed. And then I got stuck. Some of the perfect little categories I had thought up for the scrapbook suddenly didn't mesh with the photos I had. Worse, one of my categories required a two-page spread, leaving a blank page before it. I couldn't bring myself to fill that page with photos that would now be out of chronological order. Heavens to murgatroid. I left the mess on the table for months without touching it. Finally, I packed it all away, along with the photos I had never placed in the scrapbook. I didn't even bother to put them into regular photo albums.

Fast forward 8 years. I've spent my summer working on my third novel and the momentum has got my creative circuits sparking. I sit outside and write in my notebook as I watch my almost 9-year-old son ride his bicycle up and down the block. I realize he hasn't really ever seen his baby pictures. How sad. When I'm ready for a break from the writing, I go inside and pull out the box of photos. I find the photo albums I bought months ago and never used. I sit down and start making piles of my favorite photos. Before long, I have filled an album with 200 photos from the first six months of his life.

While I take a quick break to stretch and get some water, I decide to take a look at the abandoned scrapbook project. I open it to the first page and my breath catches. It is beautiful. So is the second and third. So is the two-page spread that I was never sure I liked way back when. What changed? Why do I suddenly love my scrapbook? Why is it so easy today to put those photos into albums?

Time has given me a fresh perspective and the objectivity I need to identify the good photos and pack away the rest. Back when I was a new, very hormonal mother, every photo might as well have been the baby himself. I couldn't choose one over another. A bit of distance has helped. There's no need to document every waking moment. Yawn. The days I do document mean all the more.

By the time I finish the second album, I realize I have eliminated one third of the photos. No nervous ticks. No feelings of guilt for not including them. My son runs into the room to ask me a question and sees the albums. When I show them to him, he breaks out into a smile and laughs at how cute he was as a baby. It's been a good day. I've managed to locate and extract a festering perfectionism lesion. I'm feeling courageous. I think I have some good scrapbook pages left in me. My son will come to believe he didn't just appear on earth at the age of six.

1 comment:

Miguel de Luis said...

I can relate, I call that the Moleskine syndrome, when the notebook seems "too good" for my writing.

But then, if you had a Shakespeare original, would you mind some blots?
I think not.