Own Worst Enemy

4 May 2001

When I was little, my mom kept saying to me, "Oh, honey, you're your own worst enemy." This was usually when a project was not turning out as I had hoped -- when a drawing was disproportionate, a new story just didn't sound right, or the revelations from my latest experiment were less than revelatory -- and I was upset about it. She'd pet my hair (she still does this) and tell me that nobody else was as hard on me as I was on myself. And that it would always be true. It was, and it is, even though there was a time in high school when David Cintani was running a close second place for no good reason.

And at the time, it kind of sounded like a bad thing.

But you know, as long as I can manage to be a little less critical of myself than I am at my worst, I am totally okay being my own worst enemy. There are definitely worse things in the world. Would you really want to have somebody else saying, "No, I'm sorry, but that piece is a lot more poorly written than you thought it was?" "You really don't look as good as you think you do in that dress?" "I know you said you liked the garlic in this recipe, but I find it overpowering?" Is that a good thing? I don't think it is. I don't think I want somebody else running around finding lots and lots of stuff wrong with things that I think are perfect. Luckily, I don't think that many things I do are perfect, so I can take criticism (and happily -- if there's anybody out there who wants to read rough drafts for me...).

This shows up as a worry: what if the stories I like best are not the ones I get published first? Actually, this has already happened. I liked "In the Gardens and the Graves" at the time I wrote it, and I still think it's a good story. But I wrote it between my junior and senior years of college. That's coming up on three years ago now. I've moved on since then! I like getting compliments about it, but it makes me want to send new stuff to the people who complimented me, just so that they don't think that's all I am as a writer. Ditto my other web-available story, "Cornflake Girl": I wrote it a year and a half ago, in twenty minutes sitting at the kitchen table. And I don't give myself credit for being very much fun, and that's what that story was going for. So when I get compliments, I'm always surprised. And again, I want to inundate my complimentors with new stuff so that they don't feel like that's my very best thing.

It also gives me something to watch out for with friends and family members who are also perfectionists. I have a tendency to project on them. My mom, for example -- I know that my mom would notice if there was a circle of undustedness on our entertainment stand when she was here. There's just no way she wouldn't. It is in her nature to notice such things. But I have to remind myself that I'm the one who keeps my own little Book O' Mistakes, not her. I have to remind myself that if there are circles of undustedness in my friends' houses, I don't immediately like them a notch less. I don't even usually remember the details, unless they connect to something in my head. And I have to remember that other people don't do that to me, either.

And if they do, screw 'em. I can be plenty harsh on my own; I don't need that kind of help.

Anyway. Yesterday was Space Day, and I missed it. I got the notice in the mail late in the day, and by then it was too late. I'm not sure what I'd do to celebrate, anyway. Scowl darkly at anybody over 40? Well, not anybody...some of them are not personally responsible for the demise of the space program. Lots of the ones I know, even.

My mom was talking about the first Earth Day, when they were out here. She said, "We were so sure we were going to change the world." I said, "You did."

I'm going to figure out lunch. I think. Everything sounds edible, nothing sounds good. Hmm. Timprov told me I needed to relax today, and he was probably right, so I am. I'm going to write relaxedly this afternoon and go on a date with Mark this evening. Perhaps to see animated short films. I don't know. We'll figure it out, and it'll be good. This weekend is the calm before my social butterfly storm, I think. Much good will come of it, I feel reasonably certain.

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