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« On the walk home | Main | Mamika »
Friday
Nov192010

Getting over perfection 

Henry really, really doesn't like to make mistakes. His teachers tell us how carefully he writes, pausing to put a finger between each word to make sure they're evenly spaced. His handwriting is impeccable and his spelling is flawless. He's not finishing any assignments, however, because he's too busy erasing every stray errant line.

I have no idea where he gets that from. (From where he gets that.) No idea.

I've been trying to model anti-perfectionism to him, but it's difficult. I'm not good at being comfortable with mistakes, and I hate doing anything I'm not good at. You see how much of a challenge this presents.

One of the activities Henry always wants to share with me is drawing. I like to draw. I'm a decent artist. With one important catch: I have to be looking at the thing I'm drawing. I mean, I have to. If I can see it, I do okay. Here I am in Paris, sketching a statue. Kind of poorly, in this case, because Scott was taking pictures over my shoulder and I froze.

Nope, I'm just sketching in peace. Can't tell a thing.

If, however, you ask me to draw something from memory, like a dog? Or Scott? Or a ham sandwich? Well, here you go:


All right, not really. But close!

I apparently have no visual memory, because I can't even conjure up an image of one of those things. I get bits and pieces, but they won't come together. I'm pretty sure I've been hit on the head one too many times.

So when Henry and I draw together, I look around and draw whatever I see. This annoys Henry to no end. He wants me to draw something he can incorporate into a story, and how, pray tell, is an eight-year-old boy going to write a comic book using a lovely sketch of a vase and bowl of oranges? No, I have to draw a rabid cougar, or a Civil War soldier riding a farting unicorn. Obviously.

And that's when I hyperventilate. Even if no one else will see the drawing, I resist. I immediately start in. I tell him I can't. I tell him I don't know how. I tell him not to listen to anything I say and to be brave and fearless and not worry about mistakes, and then I shout "look over there!" and when he turns his head I leap out the window.

Henry's teachers told me that they gave him a pen for his writing assignments, so that he couldn't do any more erasing. "I told him something I've never told any of my other students, ever," one of his teachers said. "I told him to be sloppy."

So yesterday I bought a sketch pad, and I got out my Flair pen, and I intend to fill every page of that pad with terrible, terrible drawings. With whatever scrawls I can manage of a dog or a boat, or whatever. I'll even show them to Henry. Hell, maybe I'll even show some of them to you. Because if I want to convince Henry that making mistakes--even being terrible at something--doesn't matter as much as doing it, I'm going to have to follow my own example.

I'm surprised at how much this scares me, which almost certainly indicates that I should do it.



Reader Comments (57)

Ah, but you have a Flair pen.

You will be fine.

November 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren/Chookooloonks

You go girl.

And YES. I will say it AGAIN. Henry. Declan. Twins.

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAimee Giese | Greeblemonkey

You most definitely should do this, because it scares you. And because I kinda want to see what you cone up with. Could I get a copy of the soldier riding the farting unicorn? It'll go smashingly with my drawing of a narwhal eating tulips on a rainbow, next to a puppy party...obviously...

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTricia

I meant "coMe up with"...too much excitement over the unicorn farts.

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTricia

Oh how I can relate. The need for perfection has overcome my life. It affected me in school. It now affects me in the workplace. It's so encouraging to see you setting a positive example for Henry so he knows it's okay to be less than perfect.

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterOlivia

I don't have that problem, mine a messy, sloppy, and can't wait to finish whatever assignment they are working on. There has to be some middleground?!

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMama Sweet Pea

shiver.

This happened to my son this past year, but it actually began in 2nd grade. In art class. He tore up a self portrait b/c he couldn't get it perfect.

NOw, in 7th grade, it's started to happen again. He smashed down a pottery vase he was making b/c it looked lopsided on one side.

I don't know what to do.....

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteralexandra

Try drinking while drawing. With every drink, I care less and less about perfection :)

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWiz

I also find drawing with my daughter (4.5) a challenge to my determination to model anti-perfectionism. I have modest drawing skills - once in a while I really like what I've done, but only once in a while. Still. The requests: princesses, unicorns, tigers, cats, cats doing ridiculous things, spiderman for gods sake.

Still, I've come to enjoy it. Having an audience who loves what you draw, no matter how misshapen, helps an awful lot. Good luck, Alice! Practice makes...you more comfortable with practicing. :)

November 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermek

Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way completely unclogged my suppressed writing ability about 10 years ago...her exercises forced me to confront my unconscious demons, and it was great fun to do. I still write my morning pages, go on artist dates, and generally trip up and bump into artistic ventures. Allowing yourself to do that makes life an adventure...Shitty first drafts, Lamott's mantra, is also stuck in me. My son is no perfectionist, thank goodness...

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSheilah

Wow, I relate to you and Henry! When I was in fourth grade, I'm pretty sure that I was the only one in class that had to take home art homework! For our first assignment (something about drawing your summer vacation) I turned it in a week late because I felt the need to draw trees, and I decided it would be a good idea to make them 'realistic' and draw actual leaves on all of the trees...yeesh.
What a great idea to have a 'sloppy' sketchbook. You're such a good mom! I will have to try something like that. I hope you update us on how everything is going :)

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJenni

I am the same kind of artist as you. I consider myself quite excellent as long as I can "copy" something but not so much when I have to just draw something out of my head. Now I'm a graphic designer who just "borrows" a lot of ideas from everywhere else. Shhhh, don't tell anyone.

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCass

Oh, I was that kid! I would write out every letter to perfection, even if it took all day. Which sometimes it did, so I was not completing my assignments. This got to the point where my teachers were convinced there was something wrong with me - perhaps I had a learning disability? So they had me tested. I tested into the gifted program. Turns out I'm just a perfectionist! Years later I also had a talk with my guidance counselor in high school, where they proceeded to tell me to stop trying so hard and relax a little, fergodssake.

The good news is that I have relaxed a little with age and time. I still need some things to be just so and I want to be The Best at some things and I really hate making mistakes, but for the most part I can act normal. Or at least fool people into thinking that I'm normal. Same thing.

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergeeky

Well I can't quite relate to the drawing issue because, hello, I draw worse than my kids. But that teacher sounds great...my son's teacher got a little excited when my son got in trouble, actually fell a few rungs on the "behavior color chart" for being silly. I loved that about her. Of course my son had to explain in great detail how it was not really his fault, but it's a start. Being neat and behaving well are all good, overdoing it can make life tough, or something like that.

I just read a book about Education where the author proposes we celebrate mistakes and failures in school, and ignore when things are done "right" - or by the book.

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole

I'm very similar when it comes to drawing. I can do a decent job if something is in front of me, but can't draw anything well otherwise. I've often wondered about that, and figured it was similar to how I could play the piano with sheet music in front of me, but not without. I have no ear for music and couldn't play the simiplest melody by ear.

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

I am going through this with my 8th grade daughter. Tears every night when we send her to bed without finishing because she's been working for five hours. Then she asks us to wake her up an hour early so she can finish. And Jenni, she has art homework over Thanksgiving because she is so far behind all the others in this drawing section. Any suggestions that she slack off a little are met with horror. I think we'll start rewarding sloppiness and celebrating mistakes at home. She'll get Wreck This Journal for Christmas, too.

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterelisabeth

Haven't even finished reading your post but have to comment because YES!!! I'm the same way with drawing!!! People think I'm some sort of Bob Ross because I draw so well but then they ask me to draw something for them on the spot and I turn into Picasso! (And yes, I did just basically say that Bob Ross was a better painter than Picasso- but you know what I mean!)
I thought I was the only one who had to pull up a picture of a whale in order to draw it- and a whale isn't even difficult! and I do get asked to draw things often as I am a mother of 3 and a preschool teacher. Various children/other teachers are always asking me to draw Seuss characters, Dora, Blue, etc.
Your statue picture is beautiful. Bob Ross is eating his heart out ;)

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

I remember being a teenager and being crazy obsessed with my handwriting. I would practice writing my name in cursive over & over. And as an adult I still do. I hate making mistakes on paper or crossing things out so if I ever do I rip that page up and try again.

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandria

I have the opposite problem with my son. He can barely write legibly and he just does not care. No matter how much I tried to get him to see the importance of having the ability to write nicely, he just didn't care. EVER. And now he just can't do it, and he gets frustrated that he doesn't have the skill, but doesn't want to spend the time to practice - because he's a teenager and has SO MANY important things to do every day.

November 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkaylen

Absolutely! My three-year-old boy is the same way; he won't do things that he's not automatically perfect at, he throws his Magna-Doodle away from him when he can't write or draw something perfectly. Sigh. It's a constant struggle. He gets it from both of his parents, so we're also working on trying to SHOW that it's important to do things even if -- or especially if -- you aren't so great at them, and practice makes perfect, and all that good stuff, rather than just saying it. Practicing what you preach ain't always easy.

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November 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterUGG Ultra Short Boots

My daughter has the worst. handwriting. ever. It's like a caterpillar vomited while it was being eaten by a sparrow, and then the sparrow tracked some caterpillar vomit all over the page. I don't know. Can caterpillars vomit?

November 26, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermotheroad

I'm the same way with music. Put some sheet music in front of me and I can bumble through just about anything on violin, sometimes even pretty well on the first read-through. But put me in a roomful of good friends and amateur, improvisational music, and I clam right up. Oh, how I wish I could just pick up my violin and play.

November 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

This reminds me of Lynda J. Barry, who I love love love. She has a new workbook out for adults to get back in the habit of drawing again. She points out that for kids drawing is a destination--a different world they go and visit while they draw.

As a recovering perfectionist I especially enjoy picking new hobbies I can suck extra hard at. Maybe I'll get that workbook.

November 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnn's Rants

That drawing of the "guy"? It is the EXACT self portrait my 5 year old draws right now. Only he adds a third little "leg" in the middle since he wants to be realistic.

Seriously - was that one of Henry's old pics or did you channel Charlie???

November 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

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