• Brooke Thomas

Perfect Memories

Updated: Apr 9

I never thought I was a true perfectionist. I turned in papers to teachers that were borderline illegible, with smeared pencil and eraser markings. My closet is truly where I hide any messiness that is in my life—there are no color-coded clothes or shoes stacked by type. I hate ironing so much that I would rather look mildly disheveled than try to make my clothes wrinkle-free.

But, in a lot of areas I have been terrified to do things imperfectly. Perfect is getting things right the first time. It’s thinking if I make enough plans and contingencies that things will turn out okay and I won’t experience the hot shame of being less than. Perfection is keeping myself in check and safe and making me worthy of others.

Working on Living Unglossed has been a challenge in my desire for perfection. I want to write each piece as if it were a final draft. I want people to read and love each blog and share it far and wide. I’m back to wanting to be a success versus a failure. Back to the black and white, instead of allowing for some shades of gray and growth. Perfectionism, like expectations for what success looks like, is a killer of finding unexpected treasures. Anne Lamott* talks about how perfectionism is the ruin of writing, but it also applies to how we experience life. She talks about it being the “voice of the oppressor” that keeps us from “standing back or backing away from life, [from] experiencing life in a naked and immediate way”. Perfectionism keeps us frozen and caged. Jumping in and doing (living) is what makes a life.

Writing this blog makes me live in the immediate. No matter how strong the pull is each week to plan and set “goals” (expectations), I am very begrudgingly forced away from that kind of structure and make myself just sit down and write. It’s like walking in the woods at night with a headlamp. While I am doing it, I can see just in front of me. Generally, I’ve uncovered some pleasant findings (i.e. I really like the practice of writing. I am thrilled when people connect to it.) but on occasion I come across something that is unpleasant and needs to be dealt with (i.e. I want to hold onto the outcome and my expectations with an iron grip, and I can be kind of judgmental.). If I tried to force the experience I anticipated in my mind, I would’ve missed out on coming to some deeper understandings of myself and others.

I certainly never expected to write so much about learning my writing process. One of the unexpected joys that has come from the last couple of months of this blog has been meeting new people (virtually). I’ve joined a networking group and made some great acquaintances (and found an exercise barre class I actually enjoy), and I began working with a writing collective. I am completely a beginner in this group, and it is humbling at times to listen to women who’ve already published or at the very least, written much, much more than me. Also, the course is all freewriting (which means no editing and just getting words and ideas on paper). This feels like another sign that I need to chill out and see what unfolds as I write (and live).

So, this week, I have decided to post the first freewriting exercise I shared with my workshop. It is unpolished and imperfect. But there are still some things in it that I am proud of. I began writing about “best and worst memories” and if I hadn’t just started this piece, seeing where it would take me, it wouldn’t have reminded me of the many experiences that have made me who I am—on this imperfect, impossibly messy, delightfully surprising journey of life.

(*Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)

Workshop Freewriting Response: Best memory…

I really dislike choosing a best or worst of anything. I find it impossible to decide which experience (or film or book or song or item) should be the standard by which I judge all others. There are too many “bests” which depend upon my mood at the time the question is asked. I also, sometimes, just plain forget something that did have an impact but happens to just be jumbled with all the other “bests” and “worsts” in my head. These “bests” are so woven into my mind and behavior—they are part of who I am.

I remember, for instance, that my dad on cold nights would put me to bed and babble shushed sounds---saying it was cold and I needed to get warm. It sounds mundane but even 40-some years later, it’s a special language that we can speak –a warm blanket of care and affection.

I also recall being in the car. It’s evening and we were just coming from the store. My mom is singing old Girl Scout songs as we weave down the dusty back roads. The songs aren’t silly or fun but melancholy tunes filled with words about betrayal and fights for justice (I suppose this was the Girl Scouts of the 1960s). I feel a tinge of sadness, but the mood envelops the car in a warm hug. We are cozy and together.

Remembering childhood is a mixed experience. There are so many bests and worsts that shade the time. There are things that seemed worst and sparked anxiety—fighting, lack of money, fear over the hold of certain vices. But there is also joy. Trips to the store that ended with ice cream or Happy Meals. The walks in the woods where my dad would scope the best places for a fire. We would cook our food (for fun) even in the cold, using the snow to keep our Pepsi chilled. There was blackberry picking in the summer, my sister and I in long pants and shirts to protect us from brambles and jiggers, causing us to sweat in the late July heat while we gorged on more berries than we gathered.

It's much too hard to choose one best (or worst) memory. All of them, good and bad, weaved a tapestry that colors my life to this day—a hodgepodge quilt that grows and covers my experiences as I age.

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