This morning I began to analyze a behavior I’ve had for years while working my morning puzzles. I like the letters on the crosswords to be the same size and shape. If one is not, I erase it and “correct” it, as if it were wrong. With Sudoku, I like the numbers I put in the squares to be the same size as the numbers already printed—and the same distance above the line. How very Monkish of me! (Monk is the fictional obsessive/compulsive defective detective on TV.)
Crosswords have been a long-time love for this wordsmith, and I added Sudoku after a major surgery in May 2006 when my brain didn’t seem to want to come back online. I started doing both crosswords and Sudoku every morning in order to develop the new synapses that researchers said would help keep me from a complete brain warp. (I’ll let you know how that’s working in a few years.☺)
I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I like things the way I like them (don’t we all?), but they don’t need to consistently meet too high a standard. Anyone who knows me knows my house is never too clean, my ironing never quite done, my dryer frequently full of clothes that have been there for a few days. Toward the afternoon, one can often find a pile of dirty breakfast and lunch dishes in my sink.
However, if this insistence that all my crossword and Sudoku puzzles be uniform isn’t perfectionism, I don’t know what is! Today, I finally asked myself “Why????” The answer was directly in front of me—perfectionism that is rooted in fear.
I’ve been aware of an underlying fear each time I pick up a pencil or pen or sit in front of my computer and each time I enter my office to write. I’ve been aware of the memories of the abuse in my early childhood when I was beaten for trying to learn to write with a pencil. (I suspect my abusers were afraid I would tell, which I certainly did!) This spilled over into my professional writing. I have also been afraid that I wasn’t “good enough” to be a writer or perhaps couldn’t do it at all. (I understand a lot of authors have to overcome this one daily.)
A friend of mine once asked me how I perceived being an author. I immediately said, “It’s like having a playground on the other side of a high fence, and I often don’t know how to get over it.” The fence is fear, which keeps me from writing—at least temporarily. And the way I keep myself afraid is perfectionism. Each day when I open my office doors, I am challenged to get beyond the fear, to sit myself down and write for my scheduled amount of time, no matter how I feel.
A perfectionist? Me? Yep, I guess so—at least when it comes to picking up a pencil or pen, pecking on a computer or doing word games. Can I overcome the downward pressure rooted in my childhood—or the pressure I place on myself because of expectations and fear I allow to color my present? I haven’t got a clue, but you can be sure I’m going to try. And this effort to reach out and share my dilemma is a good beginning. When I get to the point that I don’t care how big the numbers and letters are in crosswords and Sudoku, and when I no longer think about whether I am good enough as a writer, I will know I am firmly on the path to overcoming my own brand of perfectionism. ☺