Friday, July 3, 2009

VIVA IMPERFECTION!

“What are you doing?” the woman said, not impolitely. She’d walked over from a narrow path through the half-acre patch of mostly weeds to see what I was photographing. “See for yourself,” I said, pointing. My camera sat atop a sturdy tripod. I’ve added foam padding to the outer tube of each leg, which makes the weight more comfortable when carried atop a shoulder. It also makes them look rather odd, like fat aluminum hotdogs in camouflage buns, since I’ve wrapped each of the three legs with camo duct tape—a bit tattered now after a few months of field work. I saw the woman hesitate, thoughtfully eyeing the setup, and perhaps wondering what such a ratty, makeshift affair said about the trustworthiness of its owner, before bending to peer through the viewfinder. “Oh, my,” she said after a moment. She glanced over her shoulder at me, smiled, then bent for a second, longer look. Then she raised and looked at the small clump of purple coneflower, at which my zoom lens was aimed. The coneflower blooms were just starting, though most were yet in the greenish stage. A few were opened and showed light petals; fewer still had more than a hint of the purple-pink yet to come, or the distinctive rearward thrust of the petals which give the plant its name. I’d focused on a single blossom—one of only two or three showing color. I thought it looked pretty nice, filling the frame, with the dark-shadowed woods blurred in the background, which made the bright but still-immature flower “pop.” Good images often depend on isolation and contrast. “That’s really nice,” the woman said, “but…”—she looked at the clump of conflowers, then at me and smiled apologetically—“…but why did you choose the imperfect one?” Ahh-h-h. I might have known. She was dressed more for a patio than a path—shorts and a tank top, spotless white sneakers now sprinkled with weed seeds and bits of vegetation from her brief foray into the off-trail wilds. Her bare legs and arms were tanned—but bore no old scratches or still-bleeding recent lacerations, so brush busting wasn’t in the usual cards. She did have a nice pair of expensive binoculars around her neck, and a little shoulder bag that might have held a field guide to birds or plants, though I thought it just as likely the book could be a compact dissertation on the wines and cheeses of France, in case her morning amble provoked a sudden desire for a glass of Pinot gris and a bite of brie. I tried to be charitable. “That one seemed to work best in the frame,” I said, “with the light and all.” “Oh,” she said, and looked at my setup again. We chatted amicably for a few minutes. I removed the camera from the tripod and, shielding the viewing screen with my hand to make it easier to see, showed her several of the wildflower shots I’d taken earlier—of course choosing only those which showed the most exemplar perfection. As we talked I couldn’t help but notice her perfect teeth, perfect nails, perfect hair, perfect eyes, perfect makeup…all perfect, perfect, perfect. She doubtless lived in a perfect house on a perfect street. “Thank you,” she said, when leaving, favoring me with a perfect smile. “You take lovely photos. Maybe you’ll find a better coneflower to photograph.” I nodded and thought how small and dull a world it will be when imperfection is no longer to be found, let alone appreciated. When dogs no longer pee on the living room floor. Or you can’t wear a ragged old sweatshirt to the grocery. Or an old man with ill-combed hair and liver spots on his wrists, shuffling along behind a walker with scuffy tennis balls on the legs, is not welcomed at a fancy restaurant because he’s not…perfect. What fun is perfect? Where’s the room for growth or improvement? A smart woman would know there’s mystery and allure in imperfection, endearment, too. As hard as the concept may be to grasp, it is possible to be too flawless! Of course, I say all this, not from the rarified air of that ultimate perfect peak, but from the knee-deep bog of pure commonness—proletarian, unrefined, dinged and dinted, whose imperfections were many to start with and have only multiplied over the years. I like my cheddar sharp and have actually drank and enjoyed wine dispensed from a box. In all my travels, I’ve dined in only two restaurants deemed perfect enough to have been awarded three Michelin stars…but I’ve eaten in country cafés all over the land where the food, if less fancy, was just as tasty. The most interesting and wonderful people I ever met were invariably imperfect—often to degrees nigh unimaginable. Yes, that purple coneflower bloom was rather tatty. Several of its drooping petals had been chewed on, its color was not yet prime, and it tended to lean from the weight of its exuberance. I can understand that, uh, perfectly—my exuberance has caused me to lean, my color is less than prime, I’ve been chewed on a bit…and I droop. But I’d rather live in the thick of life than to sit safe and perfect at the edge. As a friend of mine likes to say, “If you ain’t makin’ a mess purty regular, you shor nuf ain’t havin’ fun!” Amen and amen! I say perfect is long overrated as either an ideal or aiming point. Viva imperfection!

40 comments:

The Solitary Walker said...

Oh, yes! Indeed. Droop on. May we all be chewed, and spit out, and chewed again, and achieve even more perfect imperfection.(That's going to happen naturally anyway; that's life.)

Those 'perfect' people - surely they they must have bad dreams in which they're rolling in mud, or losing a false eyelash, or a false smile, here and there... and wake up screaming.

I admire the great saints, sages and leaders, and also, equally, the ordinary folk next door, who acknowledge honestly, warmly and openly their mistakes and imperfections. Some examples in the spiritual and Buddhist world. But not many politicians, bankers and businessmen on this list.

Great post.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Wonderful post! I will have to admit, when I first looked at the flower, I though it wasn't perfect, too. But in telling your story, in really hearing your words, I realized the Viva in life is what is important...thanks for making me smile, too.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

This post makes me so happy, Grizzled!

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

Well, if that 'perfect woman' is any example of the women that will line up at your cottage then the "E-Harmony" ad needs to be taken down!!! :-)

I, like you, live in the flaws and imperfections....reveling in the humanity of our uniqueness and varying character traits and physical design. I have been kicked around some, as you know and I get up and stand tall every time. I may droop in places I wish would stay perky forever but oh well, such is life lived.

I love the photo of the cone flower - open and proud, lovely and used - living up to its potential and purpose. And not afraid to "be" in it's natural state of wonder and vulnerability.

If I may, about the woman. I can almost guarantee that her perfection is a 'mask' of something quite imperfect. A part of herself she wish were not true, either that she did or that was done to her. I know this well, I know it is true. She has yet to know that the woundedness-or imperfections are her greatest sources of strength, courage and natural beauty - truths that define her - I could go on but I best not.

Love to you always
Gail
peace.......

Love to you
Gail
peace

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

So often, I've noticed, it's the imperfections which shape and create character; the imperfect people can't bask in their "being," but must seek meaning and solace in their "doing."

I'm sure you know the writings of Colin Fletcher—a man not of perfection but of imperfection, a character, with layers and layers of oddities and quirks and interesting sidelines beneath his prose. The same could be said in spades for Ed Abbey. Or Hemingway, for that matter. None of them even close to perfect on the surface, let alone beneath their make-do facade.

I'm rereading Ray Carver lately. Another imperfect person-cum-writer. In fact, I suspect any good writer could be a poster child for imperfection, no matter what they write about or the form they prefer.

I've fished and hunted, climbed hills and rode the highways with people who would scare the average metro-male half to death by appearance alone. Some of them were as scary and dangerous as they looked, too. But man, they were interesting; they had stories; they had life behind them.

I've also spent a lot of time around folks who were pretty worse-for-wear—some old, some young. And time, of course, makes us all look worse-for-wear, eventually, no matter how we fight it or try and cover up. We have a few stories of our own.

I don't know if you have similar TV shows over there, but several of ours in the genre of "reality TV" are simply shows of watching people work. Not glamor jobs or fancy jobs or particularly interesting jobs, but the plain old blue-collar, sweat-and-grunt hard work jobs. Common people doing common jobs for not much money. It's like that scene in Tom Sawyer of painting the fence. There a weird fascination involved in watching imperfect people do imperfect jobs for what I'm sure they'd say is imperfect compensation.

When faced with a fork in the road—or a path through the field—the imperfect one is apt to be the most interesting. And the same is true of people.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Teri…

Glad I made you smile and think. Life is too much fun to be brainwashed into think everything has to be perfect to make it work.

Richard said...

Griz...good post. Couldn't have said it better myself but then I would probably still be drinking the wine in the box instead of thinking this deeply.

Wanda said...

I believe the torn and tattered petals make the coneflower more interesting...sets it apart...it's individuality shows through...you do have a way with words...hope she doesn't come across your blog...not that you said anything she might take wrong...after all you did say she was perfect...I liked your line about living in the thick of life instead of sitting safe and perfect at the edge...it's more fun to jump in...the water, weeds, or woods!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

Happiness is my goal…but I must admit, you're awfully close to being a perfect giraffe. :-)))

Rebecca said...

Viva imperfection! Viva authenticity! I share your view and enjoy the way you expressed it.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

I've kept diligent watch of the riverbank today—no lines!

But seriously, I think you're probably right about a lot of seemingly "perfect" people. Most of us have imperfections, visible or not, inside or out. It's the recognition and admitting that occasionally gets lost in there in the psyche. Ego can be a terrible master, too.

But enough! Enough!

We're blessedly imperfect and know it…and the truth has set us free! We shall laugh at those who look like Greek gods and goddesses, mock their superiority, snicker at their money and talent and fame, take great consolation in knowing that somewhere in there lurks an Achilles heel, a flaw, a weakness, a beetle in the honey; an imperfection.

Hey, have fun on the Fourth. Eat a hot dog. Watch fireworks. Celebrate the freedom to be imperfect!

bobbie said...

I agree wholeheartedly! "Perfect" always makes me suspicious. And it's never much fun. It's deadly dull. It always annoys me when people tell me my photos are so nice - but shouldn't that be better centered in the picture?

KGMom said...

I enjoyed this post as much as anything you have recently written. I am reminded of Nathaniel Hawthorne's story "The Birthmark" wherein the main character, a scientist, has a lovely young wife who is perfect in every way, excepting a small birthmark on her face. He is obsessed with this tiny imperfection. And eventually, he persuades her to let him operate. As soon as he does remove the birthmark--and proclaims her perfection--she dies. Hawthorne was most suspicious of the claims of science, hence the rather heavy handed morality lesson in the story.
Anyway--imperfection is a condition of life.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Richard…

That box wine will have you writing things you never thought you could—or might want to—express! And you often end up thinking about as deep as the box.

But thank you. And I'm still envious of your indigo buntings! :-)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

I think so, too. It's our imperfections that make us individuals and human. Or good-looking coneflowers.

And I'd hope that lady—and she was really nice, in a perfectly contained sort of way—would see this and see herself and the limitations it puts on her life.

When you're perfect, you can only go downhill. I, on the other hand, can awake each morning knowing there are miles and miles of road ahead for me to travel. And therein lies the adventure!

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-

Yes, all those seemingly rich-beautiful-perky-happy-energized-talented people - we all know better!!! :-)

Happy 4th of July to you my friend. My son is home which is delightful and my Mom will be coming over. Skipp has to work. :-(

Anyway, we will have hot dogs and hamburgers w/all the fixins and I made sauteed zucchini and squash with spanish onions as our side dish. And we are having strawberry rhubarb pie for dessert!!!! mmmmmmmmmmmm. And then, we are going to watch Madeia Goes To Jail- a new Tyler Perry Movie. Have you seen any of his movies. Amazing and SO funny with a serious message as well.


What are you doing for the 4th??

Love and freedom

Gail
peace.......

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rebecca…

It is the imperfections, the flaws and idiosyncrasies that give us worth, make us valuable—to ourselves, to other, to God and country and life.

I love coming across a person who's mind just plain works differently than mine; who thinks on another plane, from an odd angle. There are writers I read who I can imitate well. I can slip into their style and syntax, construct a sentence that rings true as coming from their hand.

But sometimes I find a writer whose sentence structure and word choice, viewpoint and way of approaching something is just wonderfully bizarre, and I know that no matter how hard I tried, I could never ever write one single sentence that even came close to resembling theirs.

Individuality is what enriches the world; and that depends on individuality, when relies on imperfections. If we were all hardwired the same, we'd be a line of Oreo cookies zipping along.

Viva imperfection!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bobbie…

I'm not much taken with perfection, either—in photos or music or people. It's that little imperfection that creates energy and interest. The spark; the mystery. Imperfection can catch your eye and melt your heart.

I don't want to be bored; I want to be interested.

There's a Jimmy Buffett song entitled "Fruitcakes." Not the food, but the strange folks. My kind of people! Not a perfect one in the bunch…and in fact, they can't even see perfect from where they are. I can identify with them.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

Imperfection is indeed a way of life. But it just occurred to me that most of this discussion has been about that, while part of the point I was attempting to make is my concern that more and more, imperfections in each of us—if easily discerned—are less and less tolerated.

Consider, in a worst-case example, how peer pressure and an unrelenting lack of group acceptance has played a part in school shootings. Or similar acts by adults who felt ostracized in the workplace. Being "different" is not as easy as it once was.

The sad part is, the different, the imperfect, can teach us things. Teenagers have a terrible time if they can't fit in and conform, if they don't follow the herd and emulate the latest rock stars or video queens.

Michael Jackson was not the star he became because he was perfect or the expected Motown norm…but because he took his amazing and wonderful talent and went his own way, setting the path, not following it. He didn't try to be perfect, he tried to be Michael.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Well, as it's 12:01 a.m., I'm apparently sitting here in the dark, with dogs at my feet, gazing at a computer screen and answering comments!

Actually, no plans at the moment. There are all sorts of events around. Things I could do if I wanted to. But a lot will depend on weather…and inclination. You meal sounds like fun, though. Especially the pie!

Happy Fourth!

Bernie said...

Oh Griz, don't you know that no one or nothing is perfect....some are just better at covering their flaws, hiding them is a way of hiding their insecurities. They fool no one, not even themselves. I do give them credit for trying to pull it off though. Life and experience has taught me to love the imperfected "perfects" of the world....you know the Golden Rule.
Loved reading your insight very much...Happy Fourth of July.
Your neighbor to the South..Bernie

Jayne said...

Boy, this struck a nerve with me today... I sadly have a significant other in my life who is so very concerned with everything being "just so" that I know it has shaped me to a degree over the years as well. It's sad really. And, it stems at its root from the fear of being judged as inadequate. Not enough. Needing to portray an image. As long as everything LOOKS perfect...

I suppose I could go on and on, but there's no need really. As I said in a meme earlier this week, love is a decision. But, it still makes me so very sad that I can't change that need for him. But I can appreciate imperfection in all its glory, and appreciate your bringing this beautiful coneflower my way today.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

I'll tell you the really funny part about all this pontificating I've been doing…and that is I'm a serious perfectionist by nature!

Whether it's taking a photo, baking a loaf of hobo bread, playing a tune on the piano, setting up a camp, building a bookshelf—regardless, I always try and do things to perfection. No matter if that bookshelf is going in a shed or front-and-center in my living room, I build it to perfection—or as close to that ideal as I can come.

My father built guitars, among other things. He taught me early on the importance of detail as I watched him add exquisite inlays, saw the exactitude of his fitting and measuring. He took the same care in tying a trout fly or folding a shirt.

Perfection became my way, too—and God help me, I taught it to my daughter. When she graduated from college, she stood right up there on the podium in front of a huge auditorium stuffed with people—she had a 4.0 grade average in high school, a 4.0 grade average in college which she had finished in 3-1/2 years, was valedictorian, a member of the National Honor Society, on the Dean's List, had been inducted into Psych High (an invitation-only organization for psychology majors) and was graduating summa cum laude—and she told the entire room that old dad and his perfectionism was to blame and thanked me!

OH MY GOD! It's like a generational curse! :-)

Of course, I tend to hit way shy of the mark most of the time; but I understand the urge and attitude. Luckily, however, I grew up just down the street from a guy named Verbie who drove a lawnmower instead of a car. Verbie wasn't exactly a Rhodes scholar. He was twitchy and cut his own hair with scissors, and wore nothing by green, except for his shoes. And, of course, his mode of transportation was that riding lawnmower.

Verbie was not perfect. All the makeovers in the world were not going to make him perfect, either. But Verbie was real, and honest, and you could count on him. He had an amazing way of looking at things and seeing life in an entirely new and different way. A skewed insight, to be sure—but an insight.

More than anyone , Verbie taught me the wonderful gift of imperfection. This world simply won't be worth living in when the Verbies aren't welcome…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

As I just told Bernie, I know the urge quite well, and practice it, too. Fortunately, I also have this slap-dash slob/redneck/goat-roper attitude which tends to override or at least countermand my perfectionism.

I'm so quirky and imperfect that I amuse and frustrate myself constantly—often accomplishing both at the same time. But I've never taken myself very seriously, either, which is a big help—otherwise I'd be insufferable.

giggles said...

D'accord!! Viva la difference!!

Eastern peewee the other day, I believe, upon further investigation....no "tail-bobbing." Quite a surprise for me to see in the backyard.... Either they've been around and I haven't been paying attention, (quite possible, even probable!) or new to the backyard.... Dunno.

Have to share, I think we've got a bluebird nest in one of our boxes.... The fledglings are around today and dad is flitting about, too. What fun!!

Happy Fourth!!

Kelly said...

...loved reading this post. It's beautiful and lovely...and made me feel good!

Hundewanderer said...

Nice post. I often photograph the imperfect thing myself. I sometimes think it is a reflection of myself. As for Ms. Perfect Path Walker, nothing is truly perfect, I have met many women like her, while they are pleasant to look at, I'd rather be playing in the dirt with my dog any day.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Congrats on the peewee. Isn't it amazing what turns up in our yards occasionally? Especially when we look!

I'm regularly astonished by "discoveries" that were probably there all along—or at least fairly often. The new stuff is great, too.

And I hope you do have bluebird's in your box—that will be neat to watch.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Kelly…

Thank you for reading and your nice comments…and I'm really glad you enjoyed the post and that it made you happy.

That's the best compliment of all!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Hundewanderer…

I find myself drawn to imperfection in many ways. And I really like what you said, your thoughts…because I can see how it very well may be because I see in other imperfect things my own imperfect self.

That's really so…possible.

Re. Ms. Perfect Path Walker (love the name!) she really did seems like a nice enough lady, just someone caught up in perfectionism, a true-believer of her own fantasy. What she needs a lot more of (or, more likely, a first ever experience of) is what you like to do with your dog and I like to do with mine…playing in the dirt.

She needs to dig a few fence post holes. Muck out a stall. Hoe a row of corn. Sweat, get dirty, fall in the creek…get down and get real. There is just so much life and fun and excitement and drama and adventure out there if you'll just step off the bank and get wet, y'know?

Anyway, thanks for commenting. Whether you've just stumbled onto this blog from somewhere else, or have been reading silently for awhile—you're always welcome here on the riverbank.

Bernie said...

Griz your daughter sounds wonderful and already I love Verbie and can vizualize him riding his lawnmower....I know you do everything in a meticulous way and that is great, you have to be true to yourself.....me - now I would find it hard to do everything so perfect.....It's fun and funny sometimes when the dog won't eat my biscuits....just sayin....:-) Hugs

Val said...

Dear Grizzled,
This is hands down my most favorite post of any you have ever written. I absolutely love it. I don't know what else to say than that.

Wanda said...

Could you please visit my blog when possible...something awaits you there.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

Hey, I'm glad you said that…it sounds a lot better to describe myself as meticulous rather than perfectionist. Less quirky.

And speaking of biscuits, I baked some yesterday morning. I can't equal my mother's biscuits by a long shot, but my dogs (I have Moon the dog, but right now I'm also dogsitting Will the granddog while my daughter is in Africa) will eat them—which isn't actually saying all that much since they're both gourmands rather than gourmets.

One of these days I intend to write something here regarding my Great Biscuit Quest. I would say that upon reading and then baking my biscuits, your dogs might reconsider—except I suspect it's not the quality of your biscuits, but the pickiness of your pooches that's at the heart of their spurning.

However, I'm meticulous about my biscuits…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Val…

Such praise from someone whose love of words and life has always been apparent, and whose heart lies in finding the adventure beyond…well, I take that as high praise indeed. And I don't know what else to say in return except a deep and humble Thank You.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

I did, and I'll use my next posting to say so.

The Solitary Walker said...

I really appreciated your reply to my comment - thanks.

I agree with Val - it's such an inspiring post!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Solitary…

Hey, I'm kinda relieved you wrote and said that…I'd decided my reply was on the order of prattle overkill! I do blather, God knows.

I've enjoyed your last couple of posts, by the way…and will yet get around to commenting.

Delwyn said...

Hi there

I imagine the insect that nibbled this flower thought it was perfect...

Happy Days

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Delwyn…

Ha! Good point—and I'll bet you're right. That coneflower looked like a perfectly good breakfast to whatever hungry bug made those nibble marks.

Perfection, like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder.

By the way…I just made a mad dash through several of your postings on your lovely blog, and was amused by the shelf blank journals—amused because in my very first posting here, I mentioned my own blank (or almost blank) journals. Of course YOU have a stack of filled journals, which is something I can't claim!