Pam's Musings

My writing nook at my house in Laramie, WY.

My writing nook at my house in Laramie, WY.

A long time ago or once upon a time, stifled by the desire to get everything right on paper, rendered immobile by my inner and nasty critic, I was encouraged to read Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott.  I have read it numerous times and often wish I could commit it to memory.  Ah, the perfection that comes from the memorized verse.  Lamott strikes out at the need and desire for perfection.  Instead, she pushes me to embrace the messiness of writing, to muse.  She tells me to let go and not worry about destination or the big picture.  She set before me the creed by which my musings are written, by which my inner wild woman craves to live:  “Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right.  Just dance.”  When I muse, and this is a necessary part of my writing process, I don’t look.  I just write.  I hope you enjoy these musings.  I hope you muse as well.  

Imperfection’s Perfection, October 2019

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I was probably four years old when my grandparents gave me Brownie, a furry brown teddy bear.  In future years, I would receive other stuffed animals, all of whom possessed—in my opinion—the traits of a caring, cuddly, loving, living being. I adored them, and they adored me.  I counted them every night and protected them like a mother in the wild by pushing them far under the covers of my bed.  Brownie, however, was the most precious.  He outlived all the other stuffed animals.  He went to college with me and to my marriage.  He is with me still.

Several years after Brownie came to live with me, the stitching in his neck frayed and soon broke.  One morning, perhaps after a rough night of the nightmares that plagued me much too frequently, I awoke to find Brownie’s head at a strange angle.  His cloth and cotton stuffing lay exposed.  I started screaming, one long undulant howl that could have dissolved the chrome off the family Chrysler.  My mother raced from wherever into the bedroom.  I thrust Brownie at her.  She said some very bad words and phrases, all of which pointed to the fact that she believed I was over-reacting.  By this time, I had moved into that drowning sob that renders one mute.  Mother took Brownie from me, and by that night, Brownie no longer had a neck, but his head was secure atop his shoulders.  I couldn’t even see Mother’s stitching, she did that great a job.   

It took a while to get used to my neckless little friend.  In the stores, all the teddy bears had necks.  My friends’ teddy bears’ heads bent to and fro.  My teddy bear was broken.  After a while, though, “broken” softened to “different.”  Then, “different” turned to “unique.”  Finally, Brownie was unlike any other stuffed bear.  He was special, and he was all mine. 

Countless times I read to my toddlers the story of Corduroy the Bear, who waited in the department store for someone to buy him and take him home.  No one, though, wanted a little bear whose button was missing from the strap of his green overalls.  No one, until Emily Elizabeth came along.  She thought nothing of the missing button, of the message it broadcast to the shoppers that this little fellow had always been unloved, had always been neglected.  Why would any discerning shopper want to break that pattern in Corduroy’s life?  Heaven forbid!  Once a missing button, always a missing button!  

Emily Elizabeth was different.  She saw the worth in the imperfect little bear.  Reader, she bought Corduroy!  With the tiny bit of change in the bottom of the pocket of her ill-fitting coat. 

How kind of Emily Elizabeth.

How many Corduroys have I experienced in my life?  Even a car, my first car, a ’68 Plymouth Barracuda:  I purchased it without a title (oh, how we learn from our own imperfections!), and I spent my years in ownership pouring water into a leaky radiator and replacing critical parts that broke or fell off.  I named the car Emerson, and it was Emerson, coughing and wheezing, who brought me to Wyoming, which offered me home and family.

The nuns who taught me maintained that none of us could receive a 100% score on our papers or tests.  “Only God is perfect,” they insisted.  We nodded our heads in agreement, but some of us could not be convinced that we couldn’t write a perfect paper or answer every question correctly.  The nuns’ faith-based dictum in fact forced some of us to try harder and harder, to become obsessive, to nastily compete and condescend.

The nuns didn’t tell us of the stress that comes with the desire to achieve perfection, or with possession of what we perceive to be perfect—something material, or even looks or life.  They didn’t tell us that possessing what we perceive to be perfect can bring forth fear:  If there is perfection, then inevitably there comes a flaw, an injury, a loss.

A sense of relaxation settles in when a possession finally rips, or chips, or stains.  Worry dissipates.  The new car’s fender is now askew; we no longer have to fear “the first dent.”  Darning a tear in a favorite blouse brings a smile of contentment.  And yes, I survived those moments when I found my beautiful toddlers eating dirt…and other things.       

Perhaps my beloved nuns were on to something more worldly.  It is our imperfections that make us interesting.  It is our imperfections that compel us to continue the task, the process, the journey.  It is imperfection that helps us to see more clearly, more carefully.  That helps us to embrace and employ our creative bent.  

It is imperfection that endears us to others.  Here, I consider two Labradors of days gone by, Michael and Calvin.  Michael had ears like Yoda, of Star Wars fame.  Calvin could not accept that he was finally safe; he shredded my house plants if left alone.  Neither dog ever really trained.  Yet, we loved them, and Calvin in particular knew that if he stole into one of the boys’ beds on a night when they were troubled, he would not be ushered out.  Michael and Calvin both took excellent care of those who needed care, even as they shed over the furniture and threw up on the rug just as company arrived.   

I knew a broken little boy, Harold.  His father had abandoned him and his mother.  His mother found a day care for the days she needed to be alone, a baby sitter for the nights she needed the bars.  She dropped Harold off at 6:30 in the morning, when I opened the day care center, and arrived past closing.  Harold ripped books, broke toys.  One morning, while helping me ready the day care for the day’s events, he put his hands in the goldfish aquarium.  A bit later, I noticed the aquarium was empty.  “I ate them.” he told me.  To this day, Harold is the only child whose name and face I remember from the center, the only child at the center whose life I still wonder—and worry—about.     

A client of mine at the writing center where I once worked asked for help on a paper in which he argued that mistakes made during a live classical performance should not be removed during the editing of the recorded performance.  He maintained that the tiny errors, heard only by professionals, gave uniqueness and life to the piece.  Some Japanese artists adhere to Wabi Sabi, an ancient philosophy that sees beauty in imperfection.  These artists allow accidental flaws to remain in their creations and will often deliberately insert a flaw. The piece whispers “Broken!” and in that whisper, the work of art soars in uniqueness, loveliness, and even value.  In a way, the artist becomes a living part of the work, which itself lives.  Creator and creation cannot be separated.  

The hymn that Cat Stevens brought to a broader audience begins, “Morning has broken, like the first morning.”  That hymn was sung at my mother-in-law’s memorial service.  This past June 9th, the anniversary of her death, the hymn was sung at a church service my husband and I were attending.  For the first time, I heard the strange message: that morning breaks.  Every single dawn, morning neither softly flows or hurls itself into our lives.  It breaks, like an egg, exposing its yolk of protein.  Like a falling glass, the shards tinkling and reflecting as a rainbow.  It breaks, like bread is broken over a meal of soup and wine.  Morning breaks, and in the shards of dawn, it opens wide and offers goodness and troubles.  It offers pain and balm.  It offers light and shadow.  It offers birth and death.  No day is like another.  Wabi Sabi.  It is unique.  It lives.