Most Friday mornings, I start my day at an early morning patch session at the ice rink. “Patch” is something most rinks don’t offer any more, as it is a time to practice figures, which have not been a part of international singles skating competitions since 1991. The US eliminated them from their national championships in 1999, and so most young skaters do not learn or practice figures. I was a young skater in the 1970s, so figures and patch were part of my skating practice back in the day, as they were for most of my current, fellow Friday-morning patch skaters.
(If you’d like to learn more/get historical, this video segment from 1976 Olympic coverage dives into what figures are/were. They are so, so much harder than Dorothy Hamill made them look. I wish they were still part of competition.)
As we were ending last week, a fellow skater and I were commiserating about our mutual difficulty with figures. “I have a love-hate relationship with patch,” I said. “I love how quiet it is. I love the focus and precision it requires. I appreciate the core workout. I hate how frustrated I get.”
“That’s because you’re a perfectionist,” our patch coach said, who was standing near us.
The words did not feel like a compliment, and the slight sting I felt from them is part of why I’ve been paying attention to perfectionism (and its impacts) and experimenting with practice and play over the past week.
We’ve been having a bit of a discussion here about creative practices, particularly about the issue of a singular creative focus vs. engaging in multiple kinds of creative play/work. I’m pretty firmly in the camp of favoring a multi-faceted approach. That’s probably because it justifies my desire to dabble in so many different things, but it’s also because, like others who’ve commented here, I think creativity in one area contributes to progress in others. That’s something I definitely saw this week.
I finished my little embroidery exercise, even though there are things about it I don’t like and couldn’t/wasn’t willing to fix, and even though doing so required me to stick with it long after the fun, discovery part of it was gone. I love a steep learning curve, but I got to experience a different kind of pleasure by seeing some subtle things about technique that I likely wouldn’t have if I’d quit and moved on. (A good insight to apply to both skating and writing.) Honestly, I don’t know if I would have finished it (I’m itching to start a new one) if it weren’t for Kate telling me she wanted to see how the rain chain would look when it was done. I discovered in new ways this week how peers or partners are another important P when it comes to creative work.
One of the great joys of life with my daughter back home is the time we spend skating together, and I realized this week that I don’t do nearly as well when I skate alone. On Thursday, I went to skate while she finished her work shift at the rink. My plan was to practice what I’d worked on in class and my private lesson, and then give her a ride home. I lasted only about 40 minutes on my own, and then I took myself off to Starbucks with a book and hot chocolate. (I stand by that choice, btw.)
Instead of going home after she was done working, though, we decided to skate together. Nearly two hours later, I’d had a breakthrough on an element that I’d been struggling with, and I’d laughed a lot. It’s just so much more fun (and more productive for me) to have someone else tell me what they’re seeing, and to learn from watching them. I don’t have any photos or videos of us skating, but I did catch this shot of her driving the Zamboni right at the end of her shift. (I am so in awe. When I was a kid the Zamboni seemed like a magic machine, and now I know it’s actually a pretty complicated one. And it’s huge, too! And you have to drive it with so many people watching you.)
Because I’ve been focusing/thinking about practice and play and letting go of perfectionism, I signed up at the last minute for Jena Schwartz’s Dive into Poetry, a month-long guided poetry writing group. I’ll let Jena’s words explain what the experience is about:
“This is not a class; we’re not here to study the difference between a villanelle and a sonnet or to deconstruct the Romantics or to compare Beat poets to contemporary giants of the spoken word. We’re here to practice, to play, to enjoy the gifts certain poems may have for us, to discover our own voices in surprising ways, and to revel in the ways that poetry is everywhere and everything.”
See all the P’s in there? Practice and play and poems. My perfectionism has played a major role in my not writing poems for many years. (So has my chronic pain, which I’m realizing from the pain management class I’ve been taking–but I’ll save that P for another time.) Jena’s groups are incredibly supportive and generative, and so I decided to sign up for this. (I did the Dive a few years back, but I wrote only prose. No poems.) For the month of November, I’ll get three prompts a week, each of which is an invitation into writing poetry. There is a Facebook group, where we can share our work and engage with other Divers about it.
The whole thing is about playing and experimenting and exploring. To be an active participant (which I think is important, especially given my recent thoughts about the value of creatively playing with others), I have to get over myself and share work that I haven’t had time to perfect. (My writing process requires germination. Even these blog posts are rarely a one-off creation.) Because we get assignments, I feel more freedom to play than I would if I were generating poems on my own, with a goal of publication. I have no big expectations around what I will write; they are just exercises, explorations. (Like my little embroidery houses. Like my doodles on ice.) I just want to play, and so that’s what I did for our first assignment. One of our options was to write a poem about why we like writing poetry, which I chose because my first, gut-level response was: I don’t.
Why do I like to write poetry?
I mostly don’t, because it so often fails
to live up to my expectations, does not flay
a story to its core, my language a finger
pulling the skin of an experience’s tunicate bulb
down to its perfect, pearly heart.
Sometimes, I get a little lost
because it feels so good to run my mind
over the fabric of words,
some coarse as burlap or soft as flannel,
others a taffeta crinkle, a gauzy whisper,
a velvet caress, or a flour-sack smile.
I gather them like some Midas with his gold,
touching every line into gaudy shine.
Sometimes, all I do is splash around
in sound, damming my juddering glottals up,
zhuzhing a line with exuberant sibilants,
wooing my readers with strings of labials and liquids.
Those times, it becomes too easy to let
fricatives ssssh-ssssh-ssssh over whole stanzas
in waves, washing complicated truths away.
Too often, I tumble down Google holes–
delving into, say, the differences between
sibilants and fricatives, or various varieties of bulbs–
which is its own kind of pleasure, sure, but
not the kind I’m really looking for.
I want to get lost in language only if it shows me the way.
I want a poetry that takes me deeper in as the words spool out.
So, that’s what’s been doing around here. Looking forward to another week of progressing through play. Oh, and puzzling. That’s a P to please my inner perfectionist. So satisfying when the pieces fit precisely where they are supposed to go.