High Expectations and Second-Best

January 18th, 2005 · No Comments · Writing

I’m kind of a perfectionist. I try to keep that particular quality of mine on the down-low, preferring to project a more laid-back persona. Ah, yeah, I’m a bit behind on my work, I might say, casting the impression of relaxed loose-jointedness, an I’ll-get-to-it-when-I-get-to-it attitude. But what I really mean by that is that I hold myself to impossible standards of accomplishment, standards that I would never dream of holding anyone else responsible for fulfilling.

Lately, Murray and I have been talking about the virtue of being second-best. Letting someone else kill themselves to win the gold medal, yet still working hard enough to merit the silver. It’s a tough thing to find this balance. How do I lighten up enough to release my unreasonable, not to mention unhealthy, expectations, while not lightening up so much that I lose focus of my goals completely?

Bee Season, Myla Goldberg’s debut novel, explores these very ideas of perfectionism, over-achievement, duty and spiritual calling in such a comprehensive manner that you fall immediately under the spell of someone who knows what they’re taking about, who knows every crack and hill in this complex terrain. She spells out the mysteries, graces and stresses of a life spent pursuing what her character Miriam Naumann deems “Perfectimundo.”

Saul finds a rubber ball, palm-sized and bubblegum pink. Saul puts the ball to his nose, inhales a scent from his childhood. He drops the ball to the floor. For a moment it appears that it may return to Saul’s waiting hand despite the laws of physics. Saul is ready to believe that this can happen, sits absolutely still, his hand outspread, waiting for the ball to come back to him. When it doesn’t, Saul picks it up and tries again. It’s a matter of effort and will, he decides, and he for one is willing to keep at it until the ball lands where it should have landed to begin with. He knows, if he tries hard enough, that he can make things right. –Bee Season, Myla Goldberg

Category: Writing

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