Saturday, January 4, 2014

Lists, guilt, labyrinths and extinct volcanoes

At the beginning of 2013, I resolved to worry less about my "to-do" list. 2012 had many accomplishments, many of which I'm proud of, but keeping on top of so many things left me worn down and unable to enjoy the moment. I realized I wanted my life to be more than just a list that I check things off. I know I'm not the only one - I constantly see posts on Facebook from other friends and colleagues as they get caught up in the same pattern. It's addictive.

Yet, this past week, as I prepare to go back to teaching, I found myself getting sucked into a to-do list again. I was trying to complete several project reports and some admin, and I could feel that dopamine satisfaction of being able to say "done!" to myself.

As a means of clearing my head before I return to work full time, I took a hike today in the Sibley Volcanic Preserve - which contains the ten thousand year old remains of a volcano, now known as Round Top. As I walked widdershins around it, I found myself feeling a sense of déjà vu, and realized it felt familiar to another volcanic formation I had circled a few years ago.

I found myself reflecting on my personal brand of perfectionism. When I was last teaching at SF State, I remember a conversation with Gail about perfectionism. She remarked that I was probably a perfectionist in my studio practice. I replied I wasn't.

This isn't to say I don't have high standards for myself. However, I think perfectionism is born of fear - fear of failure, fear of mistakes. And I don't let fear interfere with my studio practice.

I've been working with my hands long enough that I'm pretty damn skilled, where so much of what I do is muscle memory. And, to quote a Judith Schaechter essay that I wish I wrote:
To be highly skilled, is ultimately an advantage, but it’s a very tricky one. It needs to remain a choice rather than a mandate. As artisans, we transition from holy fools to journeyman to master and ultimately into something like a Zen Master. We go from simple play to learning, to knowing how to fix our mistakes to knowing when fixing them is desirable or not. And hopefully, ultimately, how to balance striving for perfection and when to play like a child. To not go through those stages is to deprive one’s self of full actualization as an artist.

Where my perfectionism comes into play is in interpersonal relationships. I am afraid not to be the perfect daughter, sister, friend, spouse...I'm terrified to let someone down. And then, when I fail (or more appropriately, just be human) I feel guilty. (Patti Smith's Book of Neglects could be my life.)

As I was walking today, I also found myself thinking of this etching I saw by Squeak Carnwath and Paulson Bott Press.

Carrying these multiple thoughts along the hike today, I came to my New Year's Resolution. I don't want my life to be a to-do list; I don't want to feel guilty.

Typically, I carry so much guilt, I can't conceive of being free of the weight of it. This holiday season I could just feel it piling on. So, I have given myself permission, and forgiveness, to not feel guilty this year. How I will achieve this, I'm not sure.

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