So, my recent and unexpected travel combined with disruptions to my dietary regimen knocked me on my ass for about a week. Longer than I’d hoped/expected, even though the disruption was expected. I’m back in the saddle and will be starting the next book of Tales of MU this week or the next.
One thing I have really struggled with over the years is finding a healthy balance in terms of my self-image. At my most productive, I feel invincible and feel like a creative demigod who can do no wrong. At my least productive, I feel like a fraud and a sham who is incapable of anything. In my attempts to work past this, I vacillate between trying to find a way to ride the feelings of omnipotence or remove my reliance on them.
There’s a saying that perfect is the enemy of good; i.e., as long as you believe that no imperfection is acceptable, you will never accomplish anything and so deeds or works or acts that would otherwise be good fall by the wayside, abandoned or repudiated because they aren’t perfect.
I think this saying is appropriate when talking about how we deal with other people. It’s possible to idealize others, which leaves us in the position where we can be disappointed and even betrayed by something very small; the proverbial fly in the ointment.
But when it comes to ourselves, I believe it’s not the quest for perfection that’s the problem, exactly. I think a better maxim would be that acceptable is the enemy of good. There’s nothing wrong with striving for perfection, it’s the idea that there’s a minimum standard of acceptability that’s the problem. Absent this, you can try for perfect, you can try for better, but still be satisfied with good, or even good enough, or even the best you can do at the moment.
Actually, I used the phrase “good enough” in that last sentence, but I think that’s the whole problem right there. What’s enough? How do you know when it’s enough? If you don’t know if something is enough, the only thing you can really do is ask yourself, “Could there be more?” As long as the answer is yes, you can try to do more, raising the chances that you’ll hit that invisible and unknowable benchmark of sufficiency for which you’re striving.
The solution is not to throw out any concept of good or perfect or better (which is my favorite target/goal, not to do it right or to do it perfectly or do it well but do it better), but to throw out the idea of enough.
I’m intermittently paralyzed by the feeling that I haven’t done enough, that I haven’t written enough or inspired enough or done enough to help the people in my life or been there enough, and if this motivated me to do better, it would be fine, but it doesn’t, it just sends me into an endless spiral of trying to figure out how to begin to make up the imagined deficit.
I keep thinking of 2015 as being a ghost year or wasted year for me, a stand-out year among wasted years in a wasted life. I know this isn’t true, intellectually. 2015 was the year I became a published poet, and the year for which I received my first two Rhysling nominations. 2015 was the year I wrote two short stories that I think are the best I’ve ever written (“Walk Briskly” and “Inside, Looking Out”, which is in Angels of the Meanwhile.) It was the year of Sad Puppies Review Books and my improbable collaboration with John Scalzi. It was the year for which I made the Hugo longlist, and if I didn’t make it onto the ballot, it’s not for any reason having anything to do with me.
But fear of measuring up to some chimerical notion of “enough” still halts me in my tracks. Sometimes it keeps me from starting things. Sometimes it keeps me from finishing them. Sometimes it just keeps me from telling anyone about them.
Despite the circumstances, seeing my family the other week helped me put some of this into perspective and gave me the shot in the arm (it’s a mind-arm, I guess) that I needed. It’s just taken me a while to regain my physical equilibrium.