29 October 2015

The Enemy of Good

After the 2015 Episcopal Church's General Convention I wrote about how "perfect" can be the enemy of "good" and how the desire to cover everything in one project, build, or legislative action can kill a good idea.

Over the past month, I have had a different experience with the same idea. I've been sick with bronchitis.  Not just feeling a bit rundown, but the stuck on the couch, moving a little as possible to keep from coughing, sleeping whenever I can, blues. 

October is usually my favorite month of the year. It marks the return of my favorite season, fall, and my all time favorite holiday: Halloween. October is my birth month and, while I have very ambivalent feelings about my birthday, I love dressing up for Halloween. My mother made me endless tin-foil crowns and even though sewing wasn't her thing, made me an awesome pink bunny costume when I was around 6 (I kept the hood-with-ears until my costuming loving nieces came along). Now I make my own costumes and go to our local science fiction convention just to have a place to wear them at and show them off.

When I was in my twenties, a friend brought a piñata he made to my impromptu birthday. It looked like an avocado and was still damp with green paint when he arrived. We ran a line from our second floor balcony to an evergreen tree and had a grand time taking whacks at it. That piñata was the start of a household tradition that we have kept nearly every year since. The household Halloween costume party & potluck has survived a move to Texas, several years in a rental house, and now 18 years in our current house. It became even more fun when our son arrived and by his second year was participating by designing his own costumes. 

Our parties* always have a theme and we design invitations, decorate the house, and make games that reflect that theme. All of which (in addition to the costumes) takes time. As the stay-at-home mom, I usually have the most time (though I am the least skilled of the three adults) so a lot of the underlying work is my responsibility. I always look forward to doing it-- the process of making things can be frustrating by it is also fun.

Being sick for the past month has put a serious crimp in my plans to Get Party Projects Done. My housemate got the the invitations designed and copied before she had to leave on a business trip-- but to do any good they would need to be mailed.

This is a long way to get to my point, but on Sunday, still hacking and coughing (but starting to feel better thanks to antibiotics), I worked my way slowly through the process of creating the address labels, folding & sealing the invitations, and affixing the stamps. Normally, I love finding the most efficient way of doing things. I will batch process and time test myself just for the fun of it. I like putting labels on straight and am not above sorting mail by zip code in advance of it going out (a left over-habit from doing church and non-profit mailings). This time, just sitting up and doing one invitation at a time was work.

This time it wasn't "perfect is the enemy of good" it was "doing anything was better than nothing". I realized that, with my health the way it was, there was no way I could do things the way I usually did. Even though I could see the prospect of being well on the horizon, I wasn't well yet. My choice this time was between done slowly and somewhat sloppily or not done at all. I not only let go of perfect (which honestly I've never been that into) but I let go of my expectation of being able to do the job a certain way within a certain time frame.

I'm not sure where this leaves me. Since getting the invitations in the mail, I've managed to hem my husband's costume and figure out what needs to be done on mine. I haven't started the piñata or on decorating the inside of the house and I'm still lying on the couch most of the day.

I think it all comes back to that first, imperfect piñata that my friend made on a whim for my birthday. It was slightly soggy from not having quite enough time to dry. It was a strange green color because that was what he had in the house when he realized a piñata could use a coat of paint to liven it up a bit. It squished when we hit it with the stick, but we still had a grand time getting at the candy inside. We enjoyed the process of the piñata and the idea of the piñata. It was delightful because of it's imperfections rather than in-spite of them. It was a symbol of thoughtfulness and caring, of creativity and spontaneity and, above all, of the impulse to make art that is at the heart of many of our friendships.

So this year, I'm giving myself permission to find a way forward that lets me have fun with the energy I have. I really am feeling a lot better, but I am going to hold on to the fact that I got the invitations out; that my friends have the amazing ability to create fun out of tissue paper, paint and imagination; and that the joy comes as much from the process as from the final product. 

There is little that is less permanent than a purpose-built piñata and it gives joy (and a little cussin') in both its creation and destruction.

Our basement T.A.R.D.I.S
* We learned the hard way not to skip our party if we can help it. Two years ago we canceled our Halloween party because our stove caught fire. We decided that meant it was time to finally remodel our 40 year old kitchen. So we built a storage cabinet in our laundry room so our it could be our temporary kitchen. We were constitutionally unable to just paint it white. Our son looked at it and said that the new cabinet looked like a T.A.R.D.I.S. Two weeks later we had a bright blue police call box, complete with flashing light (but so far no sound effects), in our laundry room. Apparently, trompe-l'œil manifests spontaneously at our house if we don't channel it into a party.

This essay was originally published at the Episcopal Cafe: Speaking to the Soul on 28 October 2015.

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