Like many siblings, there are few similarities between my two daughters. One is somewhat quiet and reserved, the other a bit rambunctious. One loves to perform, the other … not so much. One trait they do share, however, is a love of creating art.
From the earliest ages, they both loved to draw and paint — so much so that teachers were amused. For more than a decade now, our house has been filled with crayons, colored pencils, acrylic paint, blank canvases and painted canvases and pastels. For years I’ve bought copy paper in bulk.
And for years I’ve watched another similarity emerge from them both — perfectionism. I’d have never believed that perfectionism was ‘nature’ in the whole ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate, but I watched it bloom almost overnight in each of my girls.
Both involving their art.
Cora will get so angry with herself at times because she can’t draw the perfect puppy or race car or rhinoceros. No amount of comfort in the moment can ease the frustration; it’s “I just can’t do it and I’ll never be able to do it”-type hyperbole. Shannon was the same at that age.
There’s been lots of discussion about growth mindset in our house.
But the girls come by it naturally. I’ve been a perfectionist my entire life (according to my mother) although mine manifests a bit differently. My ability to procrastinate is right on par with the best. I’ve wanted to be a writer since elementary school, a journalist since high school, and in college I developed the tired trope that there’s a reason I chose newspapers … there’s almost no time to procrastinate.
The truth is, I’ve never been able to work well until deadline. My father loves to tell the story from seventh grade when my mother made me enter a state-wide essay contest. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to win that trip to Space Camp. But I put it off … and put it off … until long before sunrise on the morning it had to be mailed.
That next summer I spent a week at Space Camp with a group of kids from Malaysia.
If I happen to write something before deadline, I’m still editing up until the moment it’s submitted. I find something to change every single time I read the draft, because it needs to be perfect. And there’s the key word, right?
I remember reading “Leaves of Grass” in one of my early literature classes. Arguably his most popular work, Walt Whitman revised and republished over and over. He was never satisfied. And although I remember nothing about the poetry itself, that story stuck with me.
Not to mention Harper Lee, who after publishing her first and only book seemed to have decided she would never top … herself.
I don’t want to be Walt or Harper.
When I write something — e.g., a column for an award-winning local news publication — I get up at 4 a.m. and write and read and edit and reread and edit some more. Then when I arrive a few minutes early to work, I reread and edit again — and finally hit ‘send.’
Then I never read it again. Ever. Not when the paper is delivered that weekend. Not when I repost later for others to read.
Because I know I’ll find words I’ll wish I’d have changed and I’m proud (enough) of the work I do. I want to stay proud.
My oldest has now transitioned to official art classes and a sketchpad, and even exhibiting her work when it’s offered. Her perfectionism has changed, as well. She’s the opposite of a procrastinator, with her own quirks and gimmicks to get things done. My youngest still has drawings strewn throughout the house at all times, and likes to sneak and pushpin her drawings into the living room wall for display.
There’s no way to know if they’ll make a career out of their obsession like I did, or if they’ll even continue it as a hobby. No matter what they choose to do one day, however, I hope they’ll always fight the voice that may tell them, “You’re not good enough,” or, “It’s not quite ready yet,” and be brave and proud (enough) to share their art with the world.
* This column first appeared in The Walton Tribune on March 13, 2021 *