Friday, November 03, 2006

I'm Not Martha

by Rebecca Drake

I have a love-hate relationship with Martha Stewart and her magazine.

On the one hand, I really wish I could create a 12-course meal complete with truffle-stuffed turkey and individual cups of home-grown pumpkin flan while wearing a linen dress I sewed myself from flax harvested in my own garden.

On the other hand, I have a life.

Martha and I share one very big thing in common: We’re both perfectionists. Only I’m in recovery.

I didn’t know I was a perfectionist until I had children because as every parent knows the job of kids is to strip you of all illusions about yourself before you die. I also didn’t realize I qualified for this particular delusion because I thought perfectionists were people who were, well, perfect.

I started to get a clue when I was about to have a coronary because I’d dressed up two toddlers in expensive Christmas finery and expected them to hold still for photo number 50 so I could get just the right pose. It solidified after I spent hours making 20 individual, tea-aged treasure maps for my then 5-year-old’s pirate party. And when I couldn’t finish writing a novel because the opening paragraph never, ever sounded just right I suddenly realized that this was a major character flaw.

Can you imagine my disappointment? I mean, here I really thought I was going to be able to be this perfect woman and have these perfect kids and the perfect house and the perfect career and instead I discovered that not only wasn’t this ever going to happen, but that I was going to have to retrain my own brain so it would stop thinking this was really possible.

So now I’m in recovery. I have neither the time nor the money to live like Martha Stewart even though a big part of me still very much wants to. Today I caught myself fantasizing about the built-in-bookshelves I could somehow make in between writing the book due in January, figuring out the next plot, feeding husband and children, marketing, and keeping my house in some semblance of order.

I imagine that there are lots of people out there far more successful with their lives than I am, but my envy is tempered by the knowledge that some of these people are also driving themselves slowly insane.

I replaced Martha’s “It’s a good thing” mantra with “Good enough.” I sit in my messy house, writing my sloppy draft and pause occasionally to throw another hastily assembled load of laundry into the wash.

Some days I might even drop a sock.


Kristine said...

Becky, you're here!!

Your post resonated with me BIG TIME. I always feel as if I have two sides of my personality fighting inside of me: the side that wants to be the perfectionist with everything in order and the side who is content to let it go and live in a comfortable state of chaos.

Joyce said...

I have that same problem! Even though I have to go to work too, I still make Jerry's breakfast and pack his lunch everyday. And I can't write until everything else is in order. If nothing else it gives me something to look forward to!

I'm trying to recover, really I am.

Rebecca Drake said...

Oh, you both make me feel much better about myself!

I think it's probably very common for writers (and anyone in the arts) to wrestle with perfectionism, but it certainly hasn't helped my work.

Chaos is a scary word to me, but it is the natural state of things. I'm trying to accept that this is reality.

Oh, and I make Joe's lunch every day, too, but he does breakfast!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Is it possible to pick and choose your perfectionism? I don't do "good enough" when it comes to writing (or most else), but when it comes to the house, clean and in a semblance of order that doesn't embarrass me works just fine. After all, people LIVE here. What's so horrid about having the house look like it? Why do we have to have this perfect showplace of a home?

Tory said...

I know what you mean about the "love-hate" relationship, Becky. There's this book called _Self-Esteem: A Family Affair_ that makes healthy relationships sound SO SIMPLE. I'd love for what they say to work every time, and then I hate them for making me feel like an idiot when my relationships are messy and I don't always say the right thing.

Rebecca Drake said...

Oh, I agree with you, Susan! With writing, I apply "good enough" to get the first draft done, because otherwise I will tinker endlessly, and then I apply it after I've slaved as hard as I can over the second draft so that I can relax about sending it out the door.

As for my house, well it's so, so far from a showplace that I can't even comment. I should give names to the dustbunnies.

And Tory, I'm with you on books like that. I especially love parenting books filled with advice on how to raise perfect kids.

Gina said...

Personally, I follow the 3M method of house cleaning: it if isn't growing mold, mildew or maggots, it is clean enough.

Anonymous said...

Sad! Very sad! Sometimes I find myself yelling at my husband: Martha Stewart didn't become successful by settling for good enough! But then I remind myself that Martha Stewart also ended up d-i-v-o-r-c-e-d! Looked at a new house over the weekend - brand new construction - professionally decorated - Everything matched to perfection. Ah! Talked to husband about trading lifestyles. I could give up gardening and focus on getting a regular manicure to fit into our new perfect house with perfect decorations, but then we'd have to trade in the dog for one that isn't so dog-like and inclined to sleep on the sofa or the bed. And trade in the cat for one that doesn't like to bring dead chipmunks into the house. Sounds like life would be a little boring in Perfectville. Oh, well, instead I'm back to focusing on getting chickens in the spring - that will really throw a chicken wrench into my perfect garden!