Thursday, June 11, 2015

Perfectionism vs. Clementines: It's not about the feelings or the fruit, it's what you do with them

I've been struggling with an extra dose of crippling perfectionism in the last few weeks.  Acknowledging the reasons why in an email to a trusted friend (but then, you're ALL my trusted friends, right, people of the internet?) I started to have the smallest of anxiety attacks. My chest tightened, I seemed to have forgotten how to swallow, and my temperature went up a couple degrees.  What the hell, mind?  What is it so afraid of?  I say "it," because I'm trying to remember that my true self is a free spirit, limitless.  "It" doesn't feel that way.  I think it is time to re-read The Untethered Soul, one of my go-to guides, a book the above-referenced trusted, smart friend introduced me to. To practice observing my mind, and training it to go along with my free-spirit self more frequently.

What's happening is this:  I sit in front of my computer, trying to compile a collection of essays, to expand on them, to find the cohesive thread to tie them together into a book, and fear gets the best of me, and I stop.  Fear of having nothing to say.  Of not being as good a writer or as intelligent a thinker as Rebecca Solnit, so why try? Of public mocking.

Standing to fill my glass of water and hoping I'd learned how to swallow again by the time I drank it, I remembered a day, years ago, when I went to see my hair stylist at her little bungalow cottage in the middle of Hollywood.  I can't share here why I was feeling so much stress and pain, but it had to do with helping a friend to safety, and it was hard to think about anything else.  Even my hair.  When she asked simply, "How are you?" tears started to well up in my eyes, and I explained briefly my fears. 

She hugged me, beckoned me to follow her to her kitchen, poured me a glass of water, and placed a small, perfect clementine into the center of my palm, bright orange and easy to peel.  "It's important to feed yourself good things when you're feeling stressed," she told me.

My thoughts returned to this week, my physical anxiety having abated a bit.  The friend I was writing to is one who listens when the universe nudges her, and checks in on friends who are in her thoughts.  The universe gave her a nudge in my direction these last two weeks, and her text message was a shot of confidence for me. I met this friend when she "blog-stalked" me (her words), and shared that she had read my writing and felt a connection to me. We had friends in common: she hailed from my grandmother's small church in Portland, and we'd gone to the same small college, a few years (five?) apart, and after a few of those soul-baring e-mails and coffee dates that I love because I have no filter, we became fast friends, and confidantes. 


Anne Lamott writes how she has an inch-sized square picture frame on her writing desk, an icon to remind her to write just what she sees if she looks at the story through that one-inch square. When you get overwhelmed, Annie teaches us all, you take it bird by bird

I plan to frame a photo of a clementine and place it where my eye can catch it.  To remind myself that when I'm feeling overwhelmed, or I'm letting the voice of perfectionism win, it's important to feed myself good things, to hone in on the good thoughts in my head, and hold the fearful ones tenderly.  I mean, my mind is a rough place for those thoughts to live. I feel for them.  The feelings will come and go. What matters is surrounding yourself with friends who check in, who understand, who place a good piece of fruit in your palm.

(Photo credit:  SFGate - where you can learn how to prune your clementine orange tree!)