On beauty, and ‘perfection,’ and the elusiveness of words
Sometimes I think it’s my mother’s fault I started writing.
When I was young, long before I could read, she got me books-on-tape and because I’m ADHD (read: ‘can’t fall sleep’) I’d listen to stories long into the night. The earliest books I remember are full of magic and beauty, of hope, love, and loss, of longing and good-versus-evil and the gray in between.
I think that built up who I am inside. I’d like to imagine I’d be me without it—that without those words I’d still be who I am. But I think, in a way, I wouldn’t exist. Because those words not only taught me to think as I do, they made me crave a ‘moreness’ I could only half see—a sort of pocket of truth hovering just out of reach. And they reminded me writers can reach out and touch it, bring back an echo of truth to those who read their work.
I also blame my mother for the misguided notion that I couldn’t write myself because the industry was closed—a notion I warped not to mean I couldn’t get in but that the story I told needed to open doors through its utter perfection.
Now I don’t mean perfection in the strictest sense.
I’m not sure I ever thought what I read was flawless, but I saw in stories an undeniable truth, something the author could see in a way I couldn’t.
It took me to age fourteen to realize I was wrong.
I’d been visiting my grandparents and was bored out of my mind because I’d finished all my books and their TV lacked channels, so I’d finally picked up a novel my mother had packed. (You see a theme developing? It was her book not mine.) But the book was—well—boring, quite appallingly bad. The characters hung flat. The plotline ran dull. There was no magic, no spark, just an excellent idea that had died under poor writing. And I realized in that minute, I could do that too.
Because if that story was published then why shouldn’t mine be?
I know, I know—that’s awful, right? Never say, “Well, if that book…” and expect logic like that to justify your own poor writing, but as a teenager dreaming that wasn’t the point.
I didn’t need to know how not to write.
I just needed to know I had permission—to write, to dream, to find a ‘moreness’ of my own. And I needed to realize ‘perfection’ wasn’t perfect. Which was an immense relief: I’d never wanted to be perfect.
Well, time went by and I got some degrees, first in journalism, then in history, all the while writing and studying and working myself so I could finally get there.
You all know what I mean: to that nebulous ‘there’.
I think we, as writers, all define our ‘there’ differently.
My ‘there’ held two meanings, one I’ve realized, one I’ve not. The first was a ‘there’ that surrounded my concept of beauty—of darkness slashed with light, of hope rising from sorrow—so my first attempt at ‘there’ was simply writing that story, that one in my heart that held beauty for me.
My second ‘there’ is something I haven’t accomplished, and I know beyond doubt I never will because my second ‘there’ isn’t a thing or a place I can get to—it’s finding utter perfection in the strictest sense, that one perfect story that will answer all of my questions and fulfill all of my hopes. And that’s far too big a thing for me to ever reach, which means, practically speaking, I’ll always be challenged, always have something to learn, always have better stories to write.
I suppose, in a way, that’s how I like things. Just a little beyond me. Just a little too big.
So maybe I would have become a writer after all.
Because I needed a career that would always somehow elude me.
That’s one of the paradoxes of being a writer: the inability to catch what we see in our eyes. That dream—that story—may be as solid as anything, but when we approach it turns to an elusive mist. I think what I saw as perfection as a child was really that mist—someone else’s ‘there’ or ‘moreness’. And I suppose that’s part of why we writers write: there’s this shadow of potential encased in our words, but that shadow is never the same book by book. My ‘moreness’ isn’t your ‘moreness’; our perfections are different, yet we’re all on a quest to create beauty and worth.
My second ‘there’—that goal of getting to utter perfection—is so much less a thing or a place I can reach and so much more a part of my deepest longings because while I don’t want to be perfect, I do want to find it. I want to reach into that ‘moreness’ and hold onto that mist, which means as long as my grasp falls frustratingly short, that ‘there’ will always elude me, and there’s beauty in that.