Hello, perfection. Have we met?

Hi, my name is Elizabeth. I am a recovering perfectionist. (Hi, Elizabeth!)

It took me years to hit rock bottom. Time was, I would fiddle with a project eight times before it was even 5 p.m. At lunch, I sometimes had two or even three moments of wanting to crumple something up that I’d been working on for days. It was starting to threaten my relationships with deadlines.

I don’t recall quite when the moment of crisis was, but thankfully it happened before I had to turn it that 320-page paper that some call a “dissertation.” If I hadn’t hit bottom before then, who knows what gutter I’d be lying in right now?

I had been recovering really well, thanks largely to the healing power of

  • marriage (to a man whose healthy mantra is “perfect is the enemy of the good”) and
  • genetics (I inherited my mother’s amazingly low blood pressure, which — if treated right — can put you on the path to pushing the “I don’t give a crap” button multiple times daily).

Lately, though, I have discovered a trigger: design. Trying to design something brings out all those old, bad tendencies. What’s more, it rewards those old, bad tendencies. Knitwear design craves meticulousness.

Months ago, I took a stitch design class with one of my knitting heroes, Cat Bordhi. Cat Bordhi is one of those people that makes you realize that there are Really Talented Knitters and then there are Olympic Quality Knitters, people whose minds and bodies do things that you did not think humanly possible. She is also a mathematician, which makes her design work particularly mind-bending.

So, there I am in class with her, and she’s telling us to just experiment. Don’t rip out anything — just go with it for a while — see where it takes you. I love people who talk this way. It makes you think that people who compare knitting to yoga aren’t such putzes after all.

But I couldn’t be that Zen knitter. Not even for Cat Bordhi. I would knit a few rows and then rip. Try another combination of stitches, meticulously sketched out on graph paper, and knit a few more rows. Rip back. My instructor chastised me gently once and — when I clearly was not heeding her words — gave me the most dumbfounded look of pity that I have seen since my final weigh-in at my obstetrician’s office six years ago.

I don’t like that look, but here’s the problem: while gaining 55 pounds during pregnancy does nobody any good, being neurotically meticulous about your design actually has some benefits. There has to be a limit to how many times I knit a swatch for one project, of course — because eventually the thing has to be completed — but you also really, really don’t want to write down K2 in your pattern when you mean K2tog.

What I need to learn is how to separate the two moments in a design’s life — the wild-abandon, creative phase from the accountancy phase wherein all t’s must be crossed. I have a habit of admitting the accountant into the gay abandon party, and she just needs to stay home sipping a seltzer until she’s called for the next morning.

3 thoughts on “Hello, perfection. Have we met?

  1. Again, you are HI-larry-us! I totally respect a dear bean who can turn a seemingly relaxing vo/avocation into an exercise in bipolarity. I live in the gray and have great admiration for your black and white. Keep on blurring the lines!

  2. This would be me. It is completely shameful the number of designs that I have knit and written up, fully graded, some even test knit and tech-edited, with people nagging for them, and still I am procrastinating on the final formatting because OMG then I would have to publish it and what if it isn’t PERFECT?

    Seriously, I would have a flourishing design career by now, if not for this huge stumbling block. If you figure out the magic forumla for overcoming it… do let me know!

  3. Ruth, you may be in a more advanced stage of the disease. If I had already graded a pattern, there is no wild animal that could keep me from sending it out the door. Because grading a pattern is a royal pain in the tookus.

    That said, I would still gladly be in the same wing with you at the Pine Ridge Home for the Nitpickarians.

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