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February 15, 2012

your perfectionism is crippling you.

“you will go nowhere as a writer.”

this is what my professor said to me at 9:20 last night in a classroom with yellow-green walls and lighting designed to make sure no one ever falls asleep. every week, i feel transported back to my pediatrician's office. 

"why is the grade important to you?" she said.

"because i want an A. i've been trained my whole life that As are the goal and i can't turn that off just because this is graduate school and i'm here for writing as opposed to mathematics," i said.

"but why is an A the goal?" she said.

because that means i did a good job, the best possible job. anything less than an A is failure, why can't you see that? why do i have to justify wanting to do well?

"writing is for you, nobody else," she said.

either she said the words, "your perfectionism is crippling you" or i thought them as she politely informed me that i'm doing a lot of self-harm. it's ridiculous that i can't remember. most of my energy was spent on trying not to cry in front of her.

"you need to stop writing to please other people. it's not about giving the teacher what she wants.  do you have bird by bird by anne lamott?" she said.

"i've read parts; it's one of the books in an ever-growing stack next to my bed," i said.

"have you read it? go home and read it. read all of it tonight. bring it on the train with you.  you have this great internal conductor, but you cut yourself off at the quick every time," she said.

i stood in front of her. i drank my coffee. i looked at the lights, at her, at the energetic walls.

i thank her and i leave. i let myself cry for half a block. i miss my bus. i walk into the student center to kill twenty minutes. i sit amongst loud undergraduates and for a second, i wish i have more than a cat to go home to. i allow myself five minutes to wish i had someone waiting for me when i get off my bus, someone’s arms to crawl into so all of it will feel a bit less, just for a little while. someone who will look at my face and know to give me a minute. someone who will know i'm lying any time i say i'm fine. someone who knows to hold me, just hold me after i admit that i'm scared. and my professor is right. and i don't know how to stop. 

i walk the four blocks to my bus. the bus is late. i wait twenty minutes at the corner and see the word FORGIVE is painted on the pavement. i've seen this before; it's been there at least a year. i walk to this corner so i'm not near mcdonald's. i don't want temptation, not after a conversation like the one i just had.

forgive. i think about the word for a second. jim, molly, anna, my mother, everyone tells me i'm too hard on myself. everyone. people i've known for an hour tell me this. i'm not a closed book and i have a horrible poker face. if i'm mad, there's nothing i can do to hide it. if i don't like you, it's obvious. but some people never pay attention.

i should forgive myself.

i should do a lot of things.

i should forgive myself for wanting everything to be perfect, for needing everything to be perfect: my writing, work, friendships. if it's perfect then i have stability. i crave neatness. i crave organization. i grew up in a house of chaos. i escaped into structure that i found in school, in being vice president of this and editor of that. i escaped into controlling how much food i ate, how much i fed myself. it was a lot.

i should forgive myself for staying in things for too long, staying in things i couldn’t make work. it was never my job to make them work; life is not a series of jobs. friendships and relationships should never feel like jobs. ever. things that feel like this bring no joy.

i want joy in my life. i deserve that much.

i should forgive myself for worrying and obsessing over not remembering everything my professor said to me on tuesday night. i worry that if i don’t write it all down, i’ll forget it. it will be a long time before i forget how i felt as she spoke to me. i do the same thing with jim. all of their words, i carry them and remember them at random times. i never forget the big things.

i want peace in my life. i deserve that much.

i want the peace i felt when i emailed molly tuesday and said, "i feel calm about things, more peaceful." i want the feeling i had before going to my professor's office before class and got knocked on my ass. i want the feeling i had before she knocked me down again after class. she wasn't mean about anything; she was honest. i like her. i respect her. i want to impress her. she doesn't need me to impress her. she doesn't care about it. write, just write. you are here to write and if you cannot learn now how to write for you and please yourself, you're in trouble, rhi. big trouble. and no one will dig you out of that hole but yourself.

and you don't ever plan on needing anyone's help. 

how's that working out for you?

it's ironic to tell a perfectionist not to try so hard to be perfect, like it’s a switch. that then becomes something else i MUST do, another job. i'm going to try extra hard to stop trying so hard.  

i get on the bus and i cry. i have a good cry i didn't realize i needed. monday was a great day. tuesday was better and then i met with my professor who cut the shit and was honest with me. she called me on my crap. i sit on a crowded bus at 10:30 at night and feel every part of my body tighten. i feel sadness, worry, fear everywhere.

i get home at 11:00. i feed ruby. i put on pajamas and collapse into bed. everything feels heavy.

"write for yourself. you will go nowhere as a writer if you don't stop comparing your writing to other people and if you don't stop writing for other people," she said.

things fall into our laps when we need them, i truly believe this. i needed to miss that bus so i could walk to a corner, look down, and see this:

life rule #1: pay attention.
life rule #2: go from there.

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