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Amy F. Quincy Author/Freelance Writer

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Perfectly Imperfect

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.

On Optimism

Enough has been said about writers and artists being a pessimistic bunch.  In fact, they are so well known for being depressed, addicted and suicidal that many beginning talents think they have to be down and drunk to enjoy any real creative success!  So, I’m here to talk about that supposed anomaly — the happy artist.

Plenty of creators were positive people.  Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Samuel Johnson (considered one of the most important authors of all time for publishing the Dictionary of the English Language) were all optimists.  Paulo Coelho is a positive Brazilian author, famous for his spiritual teachings and best sellers, including The Alchemist.

Political leaders like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi were all eternal optimists, along with inventor, Henry T. Ford, and the man whose name will forever be synonymous with “genius,” Albert Einstein.

Roy Lichtenstein's "Sunrise"

Robert Brault, a well known and frequently quoted writer said it best when he said, “After 5,000 years of recorded human history, you wonder, what part of 2,000,000 sunrises doesn’t a pessimist understand?”

In a Newsweek article on optimism it was reported that “researchers have claimed that a positive outlook motivates us to plan for our future and may even have an effect on our long-term physical health.  It’s increasingly clear that your mental outlook can have a big effect on your physical health.”

I’ve been accused of being a Pollyanna, but I don’t really mind.  I’m the kind of person that doesn’t watch the news.  This drives my activist mother crazy.  She believes it’s important to stay informed and get involved.  CNN is on constantly at her house.  But, I can’t live on a diet of murder and mayhem.  I find out about hurricanes when there’s long lines at the grocery store.

I guess I’m sticking my head in the sand, but I was validated by Dr.Andrew Weil’s book Spontaneous Healing.  He recommends “news fasts” as part of his program to a more efficient healing system.  It’s easy to forget we have a choice as to whether we let negative information into our minds.

And for those beginning talents out there, remember what Helen Keller said, “No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an unchartered land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”


Stocking the Pond

“Did you write today?” a well-meaning, non-writer friend will ask me.  This brings all my neuroses and self-doubt to the surface.  My writing coach and mentor has learned to answer the question with,”You mean, did I type today?”  Brilliant.

You see, typing and writing are two different things.  Typing is sitting down to hit letters on a keyboard.  Writing involves thinking.  It can be done anywhere, even miles from a keyboard.  Most folks are of the opinion that writers should write every day.  That’s why I love this distinction.  I don’t type every day.  When a project I’m working on is going particularly well, I do.  But otherwise, I may be doing any number of things.  Like the laundry, walking the dog or re-organizing my fridge.  But, I’m thinking about my writing all the time.  Mulling over a phrase, searching for a word, dreaming up an ending.  I’m here to say: that counts.

Also, the answer will probably come to you in the shower.  Or driving.  Or washing the dishes.  Doing anything routine or repetitive allows the mind to stop thinking logically, or “how-to,” and start thinking creatively.

And the best way to ensure that the perfect phrase, word or ending comes to you is to stock the pond.  I’m talking about “filling the well,” but that’s might be considered a cliche’ to people working in the creative arts, so I’ll use the less often heard “stocking the pond.”  The idea, as explained by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way (if you’re a regular reader, you know I’m a fan,) is that writers, poets, artists, or creators in general, use images from experience to serve as a muse for their art.  Creating draws on this well of images.  Life experiences fill it up.

Writer Richard Ford, in his New York Times essay, advises that living life comes first.  Writing second.  In fact, he likes to take large chunks of time between projects to recharge his muse.  This can mean anything from watching daytime television to visiting an amusement park.  Personally, I prefer the latter to the former for stocking the pond.  Like Ms. Cameron, I would advise doing something, rather than nothing.

So, if anyone’s counting, that’s about 350 words for today.  Tomorrow, I’m going to the movies.

Ode to Late Bloomers

I was on the far side of thirty-five before I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I had stirrings and dreams, yes, but real commitment?  Not until recently.  And I’m forty-one.  That’s why I love stories about late bloomers.  Don’t tell me about child prodigies like Mozart, composing at the age of five.  I would rather forget that Zadie Smith published White Teeth to critical acclaim before she was twenty-six.  People like that don’t inspire me.  So they had clear callings.  Good for them.

Paul Ce'zanne
Apples and Oranges, 1890s

I’d rather know about the late bloomers.  Those that didn’t know what they wanted from life right away.  Maybe they went back to school for the first time in decades.  Or maybe they toiled away at their craft without much early success.  Like the French Post-Impressionist painter, Paul Ce’zanne.  Though he knew he wanted to be an artist and worked at being a painter at an early age, his work didn’t attract much attention till he was in his fifties. Continue reading “Ode to Late Bloomers”

Sooner Than I Thought

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Amy and I’m currently working on a book, Misadventures of a Happy Heart: A Memoir of Life Beyond Disability. The working title really tells you a lot about this blog and its categories.  There’s On An Adventure (or misadventure as the case may be,) my perspective on life as a recently disabled person (From Down Here,) and my happy heart (or overall positive outlook.) Continue reading “Sooner Than I Thought”

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