Up until yesterday afternoon, I hadn’t been out of the country in almost three months. More notably, I hadn’t had a reason to speak Spanish with another human being since leaving Peru this spring. When I left I was just beginning to be able to form a sentence that slightly resembled a coherent thought in a language that seems to sound beautiful from every mouth but mine.
Today I’m in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I arrived a day ago, and am taking a writing break on this balcony:
This is a rooftop where one simply cannot sit without composing something, effortless in a way where I wonder if words are instead composing me. In the same way the ivy has snuck up the bricks, syllables weave themselves into sentences and I am just here to admire whatever story is growing.
As I skim over a few articles I need to finish writing as well as a couple poems I’ve been meaning to submit the person I’m here visiting is taking a Spanish lesson upstairs. I told him I didn’t want to join because, “My Spanish is too terrible.” Which of course is exactly why I should take a Spanish lesson, but oh NOOO… I don’t want to stumble over my words in front of humans! That would be awful.
Hmmm… so either the Spanish learning I was cramming into every moment before I left was some special kind of Spanish that one only speaks to themselves, or I’m doing a silly thing where I base my actions on avoiding embarrassment. This is fairly illogical, because if barely speaking Spanish is embarrassing, it would follow that I might be equally embarrassed at the fact that I become nearly mute when in Spanish speaking countries, and don’t even say the words I do know for fear I’m pronouncing them all wrong and will sound like one of those asshole Americans who listened to one lesson of Rosetta Stone and now thinks I speak the whole language. Instead, at present I’m someone who doesn’t speak at all or lets someone speak for me, which it turns out is far more uncomfortable than the alternative of stumbling through my handful of Spanish words in public.
Maybe I would just let it go if it was just speaking Spanish that I was pulling this crazy illogical behavior with. However, it strikes me in this moment that there are a lot of things I don’t do because I’m either bad at them or haven’t perfected them, and that the reason I haven’t improved has a lot to do with… the fact that I’m not doing them. The logic is incredibly flawed, it’s the equivalent of trying to learn how to swim without going into the water, and the result of my fear of looking or acting foolishly is that I limit myself. Cringe.
The true weight of this behavior is that I realize I’ve at times applied this backward logic to sharing my passions including writing. The first few items I published this year were in my mind mediocre, things that came from a heart space, but I hadn’t put a lot of time into polishing, and had hit the send button with a trigger happy impulsiveness. There was lot going on in my life, so maybe mind was too preoccupied to worry about run-on sentences or sentence rhythm, or maybe my words were so crammed full of all that I’d been holding back that they simply exploded into existence. And while I submitted some work that upon reflection could have been improved on, the beneficial result of my lack of perfectionism was that I was writing daily, and I was sharing it, no matter how imperfect it felt.
Maybe because there was so much of me contained in those spontaneous explosions of sentences and phrases I’d put in a public space, I had what can only be described as an exposure hangover. I pulled back with the same force I had revealed myself. Suddenly as much as I’d needed to put my words out there, I needed them back. I needed that raw pile of words I’d felt so compelled to publish to not be out in the open.
In fact it felt so itchy having my messes out there floating around that at one point I almost asked an editor to pull a poem I’d submitted. I decided it would hinder my chances at being published on that particular site in the future, so I refrained… and I’m glad that despite my resistance, I left this piece where it was, in all its messy-human-still-learning-to-write gloriousness. Getting comfortable with sharing the messy stuff is so necessary, because writing is never perfect, nor is anything we aspire to do well but are growing into.
No matter how long I spend editing it, there will always be something that could have been worded more gracefully, something I could have rearranged. I will make mistakes, and I will make lots of them. Really, if any of us wish to share what we create with the world, at some point we have to pick a point where we are willing to let go and just say, “Okay, it’s good enough. Here it is.”
So today as I pull up the article I’m working on, I realize the folder of unsubmitted articles and unpublished blog posts I’ve felt unwilling to share have a lot in common with my Spanish language skills. They are rough, some of the word choices are not ideal, and a year or so from now I will laugh at the roughness of my attempt to communicate. And while I’m always going to be growing into a better version of a writer looking back at my writing from two years ago, I already feel the same way. But I wrote anyway, and I shared. Because this is how one stops sucking… they do the thing, flail, stumble, and in the case of writing suck out loud for others to witness. And it’s not only okay, it’s necessary. In fact the whole process has a name… learning.
The way I see it, with almost everything in our lives, we can choose perfectionism or we can choose growth. We can’t have both, because whether it be writing, learning a new language, playing an instrument, or shifting into a new way of being, growing is messy stuff. It sometimes even requires being willing to be terrible at things, knowing we may look like a fool, and acting anyway.
Fortunately my life seems to offer an almost infinite amount of opportunity to step into itchy imperfection… I’m off to go flail, stumble, and be a mess in public, just for fun. Maybe I’ll accidentally learn a little too 😉
All love, Jen