Sunday, December 22, 2019

Paper Cut to the Lip

'Tis the season, licking Christmas cards, of a paper cut to the lip. I'm not complaining. It's an odd little celebration, an acceptance of the small annoyances that can accompany mainly joyful action! And a total coincidence, as I came into my office with Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, which I had just finished reading, to share a few quotations with you, got sidetracked by the current cards, including one to Chief Art Acevedo of Houston Police Department, who spoke up courageously in support of sensible gun legislation, in rage and woe upon losing an officer due to the "boyfriend loophole." "You're either here for women and children and our daughters and our sisters and our aunts, or you're here for the NRA," he said, pressing for legislators to renew the Violence Against Women Act (which, despite the sound of its title is to help prevent violence against women.) Sigh... I am happy to cut my lip licking an envelope for a Christmas card thanking him!

I am aware of the irony of the strong either/or statement above, and Solnit general's support of the understanding that not everything is either/or.

Solnit has noticed, and so have I, how so many people disparage laws or victories as not being enough. Any good thing gets the "yes but" response. In her Afterword to the 3rd edition of her book, she says, "I have found, during my adventures in squandering time on social media, that a lot of people respond to almost any achievement, positive development, or outright victory with 'yes but.'" I have noticed that exact phenomenon over and over again on social media...which means, of course, that I need to squander less time there...but also that such naysayers might want to listen to Solnit and avoid what she terms a "naive cynicism" that reinforces patterns of despair, identification with losing, and dependence upon a self-defeating perfectionism.

"Perfectionists often position themselves on the sidelines, from which they point out that nothing is good enough," says Solnit. And even if they are activists, and I've seen this at the local level, their griping undercuts their own work or the work of others for their own or related causes. In the perfectionist's view, "Everything that's not perfect is failed, disappointing, a betrayal. There's idealism there, but also unrealistic expectations, ones that cannot meet with anything but disappointment."

Solnit's book has been great to encounter at year's end and in midlife, as I review my past and my present. I've realized I grew up in an atmosphere of nothing being quite good enough, and it's taken years to shed habits of perfectionism that can so easily attach to a more reasonable striving for excellence, as in "A thing worth doing is a thing worth doing well." I hope I approach art and life that way but with reasonable expectations and acceptance of my flaws!

Getting back to activism, as Rebecca Solnit points out, "The naively cynical measure a piece of legislation, a victory, a milestone not against the past or the limits of the possible but against their ideas of perfection, and as this book reminds you, perfection is a yardstick by which everything falls short." I'm glad I read it, and glad I have a wrinkly, rolled-up measuring tape instead.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Poinsettias to you, if I am not back here before the day in question! And Happy New Year, likewise!

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