Killian McDonnell’s poem “Perfection, Perfection“ starts out, “I have had it with perfection. I have packed my bags, I’m out of here. Gone.” It ends, “Hints I could have taken: Even the perfect chiseled form of Michelangelo’s radiant David squints, the Venus De Milo has no arms, the Liberty Bell is cracked.”
I love that. And it’s a good lesson. I’ve known perfectionists, myself included, who agonize over each word, each comma, each turn of phrase. I know a writer who tinkers with her work until she worries she’s tinkered the clever right out of it. I know an artist who’d prefer to hang her paintings herself lest they not receive proper placement for optimal appreciation. I, myself, read my words over so many times that I know them by heart. It’s an illness, this perfectionism. I think about that sculptor laying awake at night fretting over the Venus De Milo’s arms. Maybe their shape wasn’t coming out quite right. And those sleepless nights. What were they all for?
I give you the serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. A very wise woman (my mother) once asked me “why worry about what you can’t control?” If I may put it into my own words: do your best work (like the sculptor,) but then let it go. Don’t lose sleep over it. The arms may fall off anyway. It’s probably still a masterpiece.