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Playing Tourist

So, no, I haven’t kept up with my 10 minutes of writing a day for the last couple weeks. Buuut, I have a good excuse, honest. My older sister came to visit me for 10 days and, for those of you who don’t think that is a good enough excuse, let me clarify. This was the first time:

  • She’s never visited me
  • We’ve haven’t had sister time in 14 years
  • She’s never gone on vacation
  • She’s never left her 6 children for longer than a few hours (as far as I know)
  • She’s never been to DC

We had such a fun, if very full 10 days. We went on the White House Garden Tour, went to brunch, explored a very cute downtown, spending the most time in an antique store, walked all over Arlington Cemetery, saw the Changing of the Guard as well as a wreath-changing ceremony (which included hearing a guard play Taps), toured the monuments, went to Georgetown cupcakes, bought lots of books at my favorite bookstore in Alexandria, took a boat to Mount Vernon, and I’m pretty sure explored a few other things too, but I lost track. And then, of course, prepping for and hosting Easter, and she left the following morning at 5:30 AM.

So, all in all, not much sleep, no time to write, but so much fun.

This week thus far has mostly been recovery and sleep, and I have a total of 2 more days before I have to leave for a work trip. But, now that I am done playing tourist, I am going to get back to writing now. And I am thinking it might be time to get back to exercising as well . . . it’s been awhile.

(Take a breath. Get a drink. This is a long one. But it’s worth it. I promise think.)

When I think of the perfect business woman, a very specific picture comes to mind. Someone who lives in a city, in a perfect apartment overlooking the city in which she works. She has perfect hair, perfect nails, a perfect figure, a perfectly coordinated outfit. She can walk in high heels for hours, and commands attention immediately when she walks into a room. She walks into meetings and has all the right answers, she sells her clients on whatever she needs to, goes on business trips, and makes enough money that she never has to worry about bills or how much she spends when she goes out with her friends. She is intelligent, witty, and held in respect. And, most important of all, she is confident. She knows who she is, what she is doing, where she is going, and how she is getting there.  She exercises every day, has relaxing evenings, and is always at work in tip top shape with all the energy for the day coursing through her. In essence, she is every white collar business woman displayed on every TV show and movie.

Perfect Woman

I have always wanted to be that woman. I have watched all those TV shows and movies and thought, someday – that will be me.

I am 32 years old. I live in a perfect apartment overlooking the city in which I work. I get up early to go to work, and make more money than even I ever thought I could. I have briefed and run meetings for hundreds of people throughout my career. I go to more meetings than I know what to do with. I travel all over the country to meet with clients. I go out to happy hours. I wear suits and heels. In a fleeting moment, one might think – I have arrived. And you know what? I struggle to exercise because I hate it. I struggle to keep my weight down because I like eating. I am exhausted in the mornings as I trudge into work wishing I could have slept in and trying to smile instead of glower at people. I spend most evenings either preparing food for dinner or cleaning up, trying to catch up on correspondence and social media, trying to catch up on errands, or playing on my phone and watching TV while feeling guilty for not being useful. I always watch the price when I’m out because I still have a budget, and we are saving for a house, and I have financial goals, unlike apparently that woman in the movie. I never make time to do my nails, my hair is rarely perfect, I can handle high heels for only about half an hour at a time, and most of all? I have incredibly low confidence. I never know what to say to people, am always confident I DON’T have the right answer, and have totally lost my vision for where I want to go.

Remember that fleeting moment that I looked like that woman? Well, I’m not. I am nothing like her.

But I’m always striving to be her. And you know why? Because she is perfect. And I so dearly, desperately, want to be perfect. I strive so hard for that and always, always fail, and therefore constantly feel like a failure, and constantly lower my confidence because I cannot seem to make myself disciplined enough to climb up to where that perfect woman is.

I know – well, my brain knows – that that perfect woman? She doesn’t actually exist. That actress is in perfect shape because she is an actress. She has money for drinks because the studio pays for it (and it’s probably water anyway). Her hair and nails and outfit are all perfect because an entire team of people came together to make them perfect and probably worked on it for hours. Every  bit of that is fake and yet somehow, makes us still desire it.

I excuse my desperate drive for perfectionism as a good thing. Aren’t we told to strive to be perfect? Matthew 5:48: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

It was good to strive for perfectionism in all forms of my life. But I knew I was failing. A deep and utter failure. From not graduating with honors at college to not controlling my weight to not finishing writing that book, to not being confident at meetings or stumbling during my briefings. And I’m so rooted in the fact that I’m failing even as I strive desperately, that I am in constant turmoil if I ever pause to think about it. My husband has tried to talk to me about it. Tried to tell me it’s okay not to always succeed. That I have to fail to learn (a concept I’ve always panicked at). That it’s okay to just be who I am. And I know he’s making good points – but that doesn’t mean I can or will implement them. And then a friend said it in a way that turned my thinking completely upside down.

I think you’ve let perfectionism become an idol.

My entire world reeled at that statement. It’s taken me weeks to process it enough to even write this. Because at that instant, the absolute millisecond I read those words, I knew it was so. But Oh, I didn’t want it to be. No! I wanted, I NEEDED my perfectionism. It is WHO I AM. I am an ISTJ – I do things right. I am an Enneagram 1 – the perfectionist. I am a Green over Blue E-Color – I don’t just do things right – I do them right the first time. 

To take away my drive to perfectionism would be like – not being me anymore. And everyone kept telling me to be me. So how would that work?

Perfectionist identity

But. Striving to be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect . . . is a far cry from striving to be perfect so I can meet my idea of the person I need to be in order for people to admire me and think of me as a success. Because I know that, deep down, my current pursuit of perfection stems from the need to be admired. To be praised. To be looked up to as the example. And above all, oh shudder, above all, so I am not laughed at or derided or looked down upon, or any of the other horrible things that all those who are afraid of  what people think fear the most.

I pursue perfectionism like it is all there is in the world. Most of my thoughts revolve around what I could be doing better. I even criticize my handwriting WHILE I’m writing anything. It’s a constant voice while I’m writing those notes or that story, or a phone number: Why is your handwriting so sloppy? Why haven’t you finished that calligraphy course? People can see you writing, you know. You know what they are thinking right now. They are thinking about how awful your handwriting is. Oh gosh, what if someone sees that word you just wrote? Do even YOU know what you just wrote? What a failure.

Yesterday, I was part of a panel of presenters to a group of over 400 people on a webinar. I was in a room with two senior level people also giving a briefing. We all did our briefings, the webinar ended, and guess what happened? The other two people smiled at me, said goodbye, and went back to work. I sat there, almost stunned. You know why? Because they didn’t look at me and say, “Great job!”. My mind immediately went from Hey, I didn’t mess up!  To Oh, man. The analysis I presented must have been awful. It should have been way deeper. It was definitely too short. Did you see the terminology the other panelists used? Why didn’t you use fancier words? You should have run this by someone – someone other than your manager and the other person who used to do this because they obviously didn’t know what they were talking about. Oh, gosh, I just did a HORRIBLE JOB. I was trembling, I messed up a couple words, no one asked me questions – that wasn’t what they wanted at all! 

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. It wasn’t until I mustered up the courage to actually ask one of the other senior people if I had done all right and they were like, “Oh, yeah – you were fine! You did a good job.” that I finally stopped the running dialogue (although the term fine came with its own dialogue, of course).

The-Perfectionists-Guide-to-Results

And I knew I had a problem. Technically I’ve sort of known this all along. And technically, I sort of knew it a lot more when I began to think of perfectionism as an idol. But this forced me to face it head on. I need to be perfect so I can be admired. I need to be perfect to elevate myself. And that is where the issue comes in. Because you and I, ladies and gents? You and I are supposed to be elevating God. We are supposed to be striving to do things better to send praises His way, not our way. We are supposed to be praising him, not ourselves.

I am trapped under a burden that will never release me until I allow God to take it from me. Perfectionism is going to choke the life out of me – every bit of joy I have – everything I do and think and strive for – it is waiting to grab that cup of joy I took a sip of and drink the rest. Always thirsty but never full, no matter how hard I try. But that isn’t my job. That’s God’s job. All I have to do is hand this joy-sucker over to him – because He is the only one who can actually fill that empty chasm. Nothing I do will ever fill it up . Only He is large enough to do that. All I am large enough to do is my best with who He has made me – and then let Him fill up everything that I thought perfectionism would take care of.

800px-Water_drop_001

Oh, I’m not saying everything is fixed. I’m not even saying that I’m not sitting here alternately condemning what I wrote and then imagining someone publishing it worldwide and turning me into a star and then condemning it again. No, this is an ongoing struggle and one I am only just beginning to face. I have a feeling it is going to be a difficult time getting these clutches off of me. But I suppose recognizing it enough to write about it is the first step. And hopefully I won’t just bury it away again, thinking this was good enough.

Because – how would it feel, I wonder – to step outside, stretch out my arms, breathe the incredible air, look at the view – and NOT be wondering way deep down inside if people were watching me and what they were thinking and whether I should be better dressed and why I wasn’t skinnier?

It’s my goal to find out what that’s like.

dancing (2)

Photo Credit: Jennifer Regnier on Unsplash

Yeah, so I didn’t write Saturday and Sunday. I thought that I would have energy after cleaning to write for 10 minutes, but I was mistaken. I am sure that had nothing to do with scrubbing the kitchen floor until 3:00 AM Saturday night. But I wrote for a longer amount of time Monday and Tuesday – I don’t know if I quite made it up, but at least a little. I am really enjoying recreating this scene and I think it is going to be better this time. We are getting more of Keith’s perspective this time round, which I think will be more refreshing and help us get to know him a little more.

This is taking a lot more time than I expected, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I want to hurry the process now that I am determined to get this done and submit it, but I need to remind myself that it is better to get it done right or I am just going to rewrite it again anyway.

write without fear

Okay, I failed – mostly. I did not write yesterday. But I did write today! For 20 minutes instead of 10 to make up for yesterday. I’m becoming rather pleased with the progress in the rewrite and am beginning to have rather high hopes for it. But I am sure you are curious as to why I didn’t write yesterday.

Well, I actually had a pretty good excuse. I was in meetings most of the day and then we started spring cleaning! We were cleaning right up until we fell into bed with exhaustion – and only completed one room.

For those of you who don’t know, spring cleaning is a far bigger event than most people realize. At least, PROPER spring cleaning is. Because it involves moving all furniture and scrubbing or vacuuming behind it, wiping all baseboards, washing all walls (and using Mr. Clean sponges on the stubborn marks), unloading all cupboards and pantries to wipe them out and re-load them, and, the most important part, scrubbing all hard floors on hands and knees. Yes, hands and knees. I’m sorry, but no matter how good modern mops are, they still do not do what scrubbing with your own two hands will do. My husband didn’t believe me until the first time we did it. Ever since he saw the water after scrubbing a supposedly clean floor, he’s a huge advocate of proper scrubbing twice a year. And of course, washing all curtains and dust ruffles and rugs.

And if you don’t believe me, you should try it – just once – do proper spring cleaning and you will be stunned by how much dirt you actually get up, how much work it is, and how much you love the feeling once it is all done. It’s all that gets us through that 4 or so days of cleaning – the memory of how it feels once it is done. Of course, having a pitcher of margaritas on hand for last night while cleaning also helped, but that is neither here nor there.

Good luck to all of you who are also conducting spring cleaning!

Spring-Cleaning-Posted-500

I did actually do my 10 minutes yesterday, but didn’t get a chance to do a post. And I did them again today (just now!) So far, I am not super far in rewriting that scene, since I am doing it really in 10 minute increments, but it is interesting to me to see the different turns it is already taking. Like, so far the essence has remained the same, but the characters are behaving differently. My pen insisted on looking at Keith’s point of view instead of Josie’s when Josie went to check on her mother, and they ended up sitting awkwardly in the living room right after he arrived instead of him watching her attempt to cook in the kitchen. I am trying not to think too much about what I have already written in hopes this comes out more naturally than that one did and so far I think it is succeeding, since it seems much more natural for Josie to send him to the living room than invite him into the kitchen. Also, it’s fun to create again instead of just editing.

'It was a last-minute change, but a good one.'

So, I worked on the book during lunch today – but rather than continuing the normal editing process, I decided, particularly after discussing it with a friend, that I just don’t like this section as it is. So I am going to try actually re-writing it as opposed to editing it, and then comparing the two sections and seeing if I can make something out of that. So I began rewriting it – by hand. Sometimes I think that writing by hand really helps with creativity. You can’t easily see the previous words – especially if your handwriting is as awful as mine – and it is a lot more difficult to go back and erase and rewrite and rewrite again. So sometimes when I am having creativity issues I’ll try writing by hand for a little bit and that helps significantly. Since this section needs a lot of help, hopefully it will do the same.

Writing stages

I am on page 51 of 104. Sometimes I think that, rather than editing this entire section where Keith is snowed in at Josie’s house I need to just push aside what I have and write it again. There is so much that just seems awkwardly phrased. But then again, the part is supposed to be rather awkward, so maybe it is just the situation and no matter how I write it, I will be unhappy. So I will struggle forward and see what happens. And also Josie’s mom is kind of whiny. But then again, she is sick, and who isn’t whiny when they are sick? Being a writer is so hard. Sigh.

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