The Arrogance of Perfection
Supposedly this week I’m on staycaytion, but that didn’t keep me from digging into the newest installment in my severe case of Shiny Online Workshop Syndrome. I’m two-thirds of the way through an 8-week course on Persian Illuminate Carpet Pages from the Timurid period. This week I’m working my way through learning to repeat tiny motifs and arabesques that comprise the mind bogglingly intricate design borders.
Normally, I’m all over anything that involves a mechanical pencil, tracing paper, and spirals, but learning how to lay out the full designs involves (gasp!) a compass. Can I just say it’s been 40 years since high school geometry class? Circles within circles within circles within rectangles with repeating weaves of spirals and onion domes – It’s partly my happy place, and partly kicking my ass.
There was a moment a couple of weeks ago that I was ready to hurl my compass through the studio window. What was I thinking? I hate math! I hate measuring! I’m practically famous, or certainly at least notorious, for the second of those realities. Did I really need more stress in my life right now? Another thing over which I have no control? Couldn’t in the midst of world anxiety I just stick to things I’m good at already?
In short: no. Truthfully, I’d find that boring.
As I slugged through thinking I was the only one in class struggling to keep up with which radii were determined by which arcs, I thought, it’s probably not just me. Then I realized I’m probably the only person in the class who is a victim of 1970s/80s systemically bad, Southern, math education, so perhaps it really is just me. I did what I would tell my own students to do: breathe and just watch for a bit. I gave up trying to keep pace with the incredibly talented instructor Anahita Alavi, and watched as she worked her magic while I sipped a consoling cup of tea.
As the cup of Countess Gray soothed, it hit me that I was trying to achieve in one Saturday morning what took master artists and mathematicians centuries to invent and evolve. Maybe time to cut myself some slack?!? Maybe geometry is perfect, but maybe I don’t have to be.
On another day with yet another cup of tea and armed with print outs of the instructor’s photos, I drew alongside the recording, starting and stopping as needed.
I managed to replicate it!
Well…give or take a millimeter or two.
I felt relieved and a tiny but smug, but mostly what I felt was humbled by my own crumbling perfectionism. In my assumption that being gifted in some areas automatically predisposed me to being good in others, I discovered just how absurdly arrogant my expectation was.
The first few weeks of class, when we were learning to draw the Islimis, Persian for the paisley, acanthus-like scrolls, also known in Turkish as Rumis, I could draw them well within a couple of tries. The onion domed closed forms and medallions were relatively easy. That’s because I’d been drawing a looser form of these shapes for decades; learning the formal structures just made a giant lightbulb go on and gave me a giant advantage.
When we are quick on the uptake or see others who appear to become instantly brilliant at something, we forget that sometimes there were years of other training before encountering the instruction that propels us several levels up all at once. It’s fantastically awesome when this happens, but expecting that everything we learn will come so easily is ridiculous; it sets us up for a huge letdown, and all too often, a big dent in our self-esteem.
I can’t speak for other cultures, but Americans seem hard wired to be so afraid of failure that when we’re not instantly good at something, too often, we give up trying to improve. We compare our inner challenges and the need to work at learning something new with others’ look-what-I-did-fabulously, Instagram styled posts. While most people, me included, wouldn’t consider themselves arrogant, believing that we should be instantly good at whatever we wish to learn is, well, absurdly arrogant.
If we realized instead that “This is new and will take some serious practice to get good at,” perhaps that roller coaster feeling of disappointment and failure would ebb if not totally disappear. In it’s place would be the joys of learning, persisting, and improving, however slowly, that let us enjoy the journey, making way for us to learn fully and freely without judgement.
And In Other news from Lake Victoria*
If you’re shaking your head at the news of the abysmal vaccination rates and the bursting hospital capacity here in the American South, you’re not alone. Although I’m vaccinated, I have returned to near 2020 hermit status, opting for delivery or curbside pickup wherever possible. That didn’t really work for my 3-part root canal nor the core build up of that tooth’s previous crown, but I was double masked whenever someone’s hands weren’t in my mouth. So far, so good.
Thankfully, both our regular vet and our emergency vet insist on curbside pet drop off and pick up since right after my root canal, once again we needed them urgently.
Lizzie, the smaller, more delicate of our Sheltie sisters, who believes she’s really a huge, affectionate Akita, either caught herself on some invisible sharp object in the backyard or, and much more likely, she pushed her long suffering, good natured, bigger sister Boudica over the edge yet again.
Whatever the cause, I discovered the blood-matted gash on Lizzie’s chest at least 12 hours after it happened. This is the 4th such incident, total cost more than my Nomad CNC mill. We’ve since bought pet insurance that is only slightly cheaper than my son’s medical insurance, but at least it probably covers more.
This whole sibling rivalry thing is just a mystery to me, and my bewilderment is a never ending source of amusement for my husband. I’m one of one who raised one of one. My husband is the oldest of three in his adoptive family, and the oldest of four in his birth family. Needless to say he’s far better versed than I about what keeps adults, be they dogs or people, holding resentments that go back to day one.
Lizzie got the drain out last week (which ended my bouts of near fainting queasiness at having to clean it), got her stitches out this week, and is fully back to her rough and tumble ways. Yesterday I caught her perpendicular to Bou, standing with her front paws in the middle of Bou’s back like a goat on a mountain top. Usually Bou just sits down, letting Lizzie unceremoniously slide off sideways.
This time Bou just sighed and stood there. I could see the speech ballon over her head that said, “Ah, my sister is feeling better now.” Previously, I was a serial, single pet mom. Getting two litter sisters was my own nutty idea. No regrets, but definitely some eye rolls as we joke, “What was I thinking???”
Even with Lizzie’s extra costs, their picky princess attitudes toward dry dog food, and their determination to be up with the sun, they bring unbelievable joy to our lives. Their antics keep us busy and distracted from the ever present, pandemic induced anxiety. More often than not though, I’m exceedingly grateful to be an only child.
*”Lake Victoria” is the 10×12 ft fish pond that I dug in my backyard 22 years ago to enhance the view from my studio. It’s name is a nod to Australopithecus afarensis aka “Lucy” and my slight anthropology nerdiness and also to the pond’s would-be landscape architect…what can I say but that I’m dangerous with a shovel?
For a time, the fish were so inbred across generations that I named it “_[anon]_ Mountain Pond” for the place near where I grew up that is so infamous for monied, Southern inbreeding that the 7 families there just keep recycling the same names, bestowing posh sounding mothers’ maiden names as first names for their darling sons so often that they now come numbered, the III, the IV, etc. like European monarchs.
No surprise, inbreeding is not a long term success plan. Later generations weren’t so good at avoiding the other urban wildlife and ended up becoming predator sushi, so we’ve reverted to the pond’s original name.