Sunday, June 14, 2009

On Perfection and Pink Socks

I just this morning finished listening to Tal Ben-Shahar's excellent book, The Pursuit of Perfect, and have been thinking a lot about it over the past week, listening or not. Partly because it's a great book, partly because I definitely fit Ben-Shahar's definition of "perfectionist" in many areas of my life, and partly because of my friend at work.

My friend is an extraordinary woman, and the very best part of my day job. She is whip-smart, a great writer, funny, thoughtful and compassionate to a fault. We share a love of language, a history of nerd-hood, a bit of hyper-sensitivity and a tendency to get distracted. She is my sounding board, my email editor, my giggle-time-out when I can't possibly stare at my computer for one...more...second. I miss her when she's on holidays or when we're both on deadline and unable to see each other.

My friend also functions as the office psychiatrist: hers is the office people flee to to cry, to vent, to bitch about their teenagers, to seek advice on office politics, to look for chocolate. And whenever these little dramas surface (large or small), whether she has the time or not, she stops what she's doing and gives the crisis of the moment her full attention, her advice, her kleenex, her macaroons.

Her day doesn't end there either: she's also wife to a busy man who adores her, and a mom to two of the most well-behaved and well-spoken children I have ever had the privilege of meeting - at 3 and 5, they call me "Miss", give me hugs when I look sad, and ask nicely before playing with the polka-dot bird/pen on my desk that they both love. She keeps a garden, owns a home, and feeds a family. Like I said. Extraordinary.

But my friend doesn't see it this way, and that's why I've been thinking about her, as well as myself, as I listened to Ben-Shahar's book. She's been sad lately, because with all the balls she has in the air, her focus is on those that occasionally fall - or perhaps more accurately, don't arc quite as beautifully when they fly through the air - rather than all of the ones that are zipping along quite nicely, thank you. "Good enough" is the same as "bare minimum" in her mind, and she's beating herself up because - even though all are full-time jobs - she is struggling with the fact that it may be beyond the reasonable limits of time and energy to deliver at work (at an exceptional standard and three days early), keep an immaculate house, be the full-time mom who volunteers at the school, have a Martha-Stewart-quality garden, and have dinner on the table on time.
I understand this, because I too struggle with this idea of the "good enough" life being anything short of the "perfect" life.

I recently finished some socks, and I look at them differently because of all of this. They're Rick from Cookie A.'s book Sock Innovation, made from two skeins of Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock in the Tuscany colourway.

The second sock took me too long to get started, the gauge was off because I didn't swatch, there are a couple of times where I missed a yarn-over and had to fudge in the next round, or knit through the front of the stitch instead of the back. My ribbing is a bit sloppy in places, and probably should have made the heel flap a bit longer. In total, being generous, I would say there are about 25 mistakes in these socks.

Breaking with well-established practice, I gave these socks to my friend at work in spite of all of these little disasters, because a knitterly instinct is to wrap those hurting in the work of our hands. She was a wonderful recipient, proclaiming them to be comfortable and squishy, and even going so far as to bring them back to work the next day to wear while she wrote and show off to those who visited.

Usually, I keep socks that aren't "good enough" to give away, only gifting those that I deem 100% successful and keeping the lumpy ones for "just me". But this time, thanks in part to the book, I allowed the love I have for my friend to make the decision, rather than my perfectionist ideals. There are many mistakes in these socks, but, as hard as it is to concede, there are also literally tens of thousands of stitches that are right. The colours are still breath-taking, the pattern is a brilliant design of form and function, they fit like only hand-knit socks do, they are a tangible representation of hours of my time, my love, and my good intentions.

They are beautiful. And they are good enough. Just like her.

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