Twenty: The Me Age

At least, for me it was. Not much was happening. I was studying less (even with a double major in English and Psychology), maintaining great grades, and playing a lot more–dates, parties, football games!

I have not mentioned home much lately. I went home occasionally on weekends, but I had weaned away. I had my own car (a gift from Santa), so I was free to travel back and forth as much as I pleased.

Until I became the mother of adult children, I didn’t fully realize the significance of an incident that happened about this time.

I failed to call my mother on  Mother’s Day until very late in the day. It was obvious by her tone that she was hurt and angry, and at first, I didn’t understand why. Then she told me. I might as well not have called at all, she said, if I was too busy to do it earlier. Was she overly sensitive? Or was I terribly insensitive, too caught up in my own little life? Or maybe she simply felt me pulling away, and it was that sense of loss that hurt her more than the late phone call. She’d had her share of disappointments, after all.

The old house would have to do.

There was the house they didn’t build, even after buying land and hiring an architect. They had the plans and were set to go when my father balked. He was fourteen years older than Mother, and he worried about her being left alone on that hill out in the country. He wanted to be sure that I would be taken care of, too, if something happened to him. So they abandoned my mother’s dream house. She had worked alongside my father for years. They still shared a house with my grandmother.

Wasn’t it time she had something to call her own?

Maybe it seemed to her that I was having all the things she’d dreamed of. I don’t doubt that she was proud of me, though. That was clear, and I was ashamed for neglecting her that day.

We were so mature. We thought swapping sweatshirts was cute.

 

 

Shall I add here that I was in love? That cute boy from the Mississippi Delta, the one with the blue, blue eyes, was turning out to be the one.

I wish I’d been more thoughtful of my mother that day. Is there anything in your young past that you wish you could go back and undo? 

Ah, Thirteen!

Finally, a teenager. What was different? Very little.

I still looked immature. No makeup, no pierced ears. None of that.

One vivid, intimate detail stands out. The summer I was thirteen, my mother finally bought me a bra, a strapless one to wear under sundresses. I didn’t even need it, really, but I was so distressed over nothing happening on that front that she gave in. The worst part was that she made me model it for my dad. I think she saw it as their celebrating a rite of passage with me. I was mortified, and I think he was, too. I believe it was the beginning of a distance between my dad and me.

Daddy/daughter/beach

I love this photograph. Look at what happens to our shadows.

It’s interesting to think about what happens in the dynamic between father and daughter. My dad and I had always been close, but I felt him pulling away. Certainly no more sitting on daddy’s lap at this late stage. There were hugs, good ones, and kisses on the cheek. But he seemed keenly aware of the fact that I was becoming a young woman.

What he and my mother didn’t know was that my best friend and I spent many hours on Saturday mornings watching out her window for the older boy who lived next door. My friend’s upstairs bedroom overlooked his yard. I spent every other Friday night at her house, and we’d be up early, hiding behind her curtains, watching and waiting for him to come out. He was golden: tan, blond hair, blue eyes, a dazzling smile. A high school boy! Usually, he cut the yard on Saturday mornings. We lived for warm days when he would mow without his shirt. We’d be in spasms of giggles, daring to peek out from behind the curtain, living on the edge of being discovered, in many more ways than one.

Did you mature early or late? How did that timing affect relationships with your parents? Your friends?

“Ah, Thirteen!” continues the memoir series prompted by Jane Ann McLachlan’s October Memoir and Backstory Blog Challenge. To access previous posts, see Recent Posts in the right column.

Nobody’s Perfect! Or, The Case of the Ugly Duckling

Perfection? Not even this.

Over at The Artist’s Road, Patrick Ross has a great post today (May 18) entitled “Does Insecurity Drive Creativity”? He started me thinking about perfectionism: a driving force? Or a recipe for failure?

Born a “Pleaser”

I’m not sure where the trait comes from, but I’ve always been a “pleaser.” When I was little, whenever I was disobedient, my mother wielded the switch (for those of you who aren’t Southern, that’s a small branch or twig, not an electrical device), but all my dad had to do was look at me—a look that conveyed his disappointment—and I would crumble in shame and remorse. I had failed to live up to expectations. My growing-up faith played a part in it, too; if I misbehaved, God wouldn’t be happy with me, either. The report card with straight A’s, the flawless piano performance, the honors and awards at school affirmed I was a person worthy of love and acceptance. It was never said; just understood. Later, it was marrying the “right” boy, having children who also measured up, being the “best” teacher. Affirmation was a deep need, and sometimes, it still is.

Recipe for Failure

Perfectionism’s twin is self-doubt. If I set impossible goals for myself—substitute “my writing” here—how will I ever measure up? I’ll never be good enough at what I do to risk putting it “out there,” which is absolutely necessary to succeed. Those countless times I read over a manuscript before I submit it—fiddling with it, putting a word in here, taking a word out there (sometimes the same word), even after major revision is done—are signs of self-doubt that must be overcome if I’m going to succeed on any level.

Granted, none of us should ever throw a story out there without careful thought and attention both to what’s working and to what’s flawed (and that includes a careful proofreading). But obsessing over it and trying to make a “perfect” product will most certainly undermine us. At some point, we have to let the work go. We have to take chances. Hopefully, the successes will come, and we’ll learn from the rejections.

Growing Pains

At some point, too, it’s necessary to give the work over to others whom we trust to bring to it a different context of knowledge of craft and insights. When we do that, we have to be prepared for criticism.

Having my work critiqued has generally been a positive experience, and I value it highly. I had a fine writer/workshop leader tell me once, though, in a private moment outside of the workshop, that I was a terrific writer, but I needed to be more confident. Duh, I thought. But she was right. I never want to be blindly confident in my work. That’s a recipe for disaster, too. But I want to strike a balance between knowing something is good and being open to criticism that might make it better.

Liken the process to Hans Christian Andersen’s fable, “The Ugly Duckling.” That hatchling was an odd bird indeed among the “normal” ducklings. The mother duck looked after him, she defended him, but the cruelty of others led him out into the world time and time again, where he continued to be rejected until he found his proper place: among beautiful swans. Lucky little guy; his growth process was genetically engineered. He wouldn’t stay ugly forever, but he had to get to the beauty not only through the process of growth but also through hardship.

None of us wants to be the brunt of cruel criticism. That has no place in a productive writing community. At its best, feedback nurtures us and nudges us toward better work.

Let’s let go of perfectionism. Let’s not be too hard on ourselves. Let’s choose confidence  over destructive, bottom-skimming self-doubt. Let’s seek out and build a community of readers and writers who know how to be kind and supportive, yet can deliver the kind of insightful help we need.

Is perfectionism a hindrance to your growth as a writer? If so, what strategies do you use to overcome it? I welcome your comments!