Tuesday, May 31, 2005

PERILS OF PERFECTIONISM

OR LOSING CONTROL TO GAIN YOUR SOUL: on how my poem
BECOMING (THAT MOST HOPED FOR) I was composed


During late March and early April of 2000, I spent a month writing and tweaking a single poem. That was the first time I spent more than a day or two on any one poem. Usually they come to me nearly complete, almost like automatic writing. I think that’s because I had been thinking hard about a certain theme and a phrase or two will attach itself it and won’t leave me alone. Somewhat like a phrase of music that keeps playing in your head for hours after you listened to the song. Then over the next several days or weeks or months that phrase starts to collect images, emotions, words and phrases that expand on the theme until something swells inside me and I feel like it will pop if I don’t start writing.

But this time it was different. This was also the first time I had composed a poem entirely via keyboard on the computer, watching the words flow across the screen. I wrote the first two lines for no reason except I needed two short lines to experiment with centering a poem on a page in the word processor. I was on the phone with my Dad who needed my help to figure out how to do this for a poem my Mom had written for her brother’s birthday card. I needed to go through the motions to be able to explain the steps to him. When we finished, I walked away from the computer, leaving that unsaved document sitting there. It confronted me when I came back later that night to do my journal and I started to kill the document but something stopped me. Those lines had been meaningless as I manipulated them earlier but as I looked at them now they became loaded with meaning from the spiritual path I’d been on for several years by then. So I left the document alone. It sat there unsaved for several days before I added a couple more lines. I didn’t save it until I had six or seven lines. And only then because it had started to matter to me enough that the specter of a loss of power or one of my cats stepping on the keyboard began to haunt me. It was for want of a viable title that I had not saved before. I hated to lock myself into a title too early and it bugs me for some reason to create files with throw away names. But I did that time and have many times since. (I learned the magic of renaming files in the computer’s file management window)

I finally did save the unfinished poem but I did not close the file. I had no idea where it was going. Which was unnerving for me as usually the last line of a poem is among the first phrases I write down. I didn’t find out where I was going this time until I got there and recognized it as the Truth my Self was trying to tell me. This was the first of my poems to tell a plotted story. It taught me to trust the process and expect a miracle and to show that confidence by starting something even if I don’t know where it is going. I’m planning to try that on a short story or novel next.

It is that perfectionist’s need to know exactly what a thing is going to look like, be like, work like before I take the first step toward the goal which has caused most of my projects to fizzle in the planning stage. Not just writing projects either. Now, releasing control does not imply abdicating responsibility. For the creative process consists of a series of reciprocal responses between the art and the artist. Each response both effects and affects the response it is soliciting in a back and forth interweaving of responses. Warp and weft. So, to relinquish control is to give up the need to dominate the process and dictate all parameters of the finished product, refusing all input and fearing all deviation from the pattern. Such a product could only be a pale copy of a true creation anyway.. It might be artifact but it would not be art. An insistence on control insures the still-birth of all your creative endeavors whether the products of your art or the products of your heart. Giving up control activates the principle of creativity which is the heart of all art, including the art of becoming.

Now that I’ve teased you with all of that, here it is:
(Well, I was going to include the poem here, but I can't figure out how to get the line formatting right and since presentation is important to poetry and for this particular poem especially so, I gave the link to it's page on my Joywrite site. The title of this post is a link to an earlier version of this essay posted as a Reflections essay on Joywrite. One of a series of occasional musings on the art and craft of writing and living a writer's life.)

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