This week brought to you by the letter P

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.

Jigsaw puzzle in progress, with image of an autumn scene.

10 thoughts on “This week brought to you by the letter P

  1. Kate says:

    Alliteration is one of my favorite literary devices and I love how you play with that in your post and then the onomatopoeia in your poem. It’s a great juxtaposition whether intentional or a happy coincidence!

    I’m so glad you finished the house! I can’t tell what stitch you used, but the texture of the roof is so pleasing and the door is adorable. The practice of finishing things when they aren’t perfect or novel is always something I’m working on which is just one way hobbies help me heal my perfectionism. Maybe that is why I have adopted so many. Or if at the core – learning is just my favorite one.

    Finally, I’m so impressed with your daughter on the Zamboni!! The doing it with people watching would definitely be the most intimidating part.

    • Rita says:

      Oh, you’ve nailed it: Learning is my favorite hobby, too. Especially learning how to make things.

      As a person who struggled to learn how to load boats on ramps (something I know you know about), YES. The people watching is the hardest part. I could never get that trailer backed up when there was a line and I knew people were watching. So I am very impressed with her ability to drive that hulking thing.

      And thank you for noticing my poetic devices. Always on purpose. 🙂

      • Kate says:

        Yes to the people-y boat ramps!! I was thinking that as I was typing my comment!! I figured it was on purpose (because good writing usually is) but I always feel weird about assuming writer’s purposes.

        • Rita says:

          I think I remember us talking about boat ramps before. 🙂 And I forgot to tell you the stitch for the roof: chain stitch.

  2. Ally Bean says:

    I like to learn new things– and learning more nuanced aspects of what I know. I find it fun. However as a former perfectionist I sometimes stumble when doing things, finishing things. I get hung up on doing things right. I’m glad you finished your patch and that you can share the lesson you took from it.

    Also I do like a post that includes a Zamboni. There is never a time when I see one that I don’t think of Snoopy, my spirit animal. Your daughter has some mad skillz there. I am impressed.
    Ally Bean recently posted…Tea For Two: Talking About A Retirement Side Hustle + 2 Story UpdatesMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      I did not realize there was a Snoopy-Zamboni connection, and I just had a good bit of fun googling and watching. Thank you 🙂 Knowing you through your writing, I can see how you might feel kinship with Snoopy. Very much.

  3. Kari says:

    I’m sitting here crying as I read your post.  Tears of joy!
    What got me was your daughter driving the Zamboni and my oldest daughter working for a hockey team and wanting to drive the Zamboni, among other coincidences. Because we’re both perfectionists with chronic pain… But what really made me sob was when your coach indicated you were a perfectionist, but not in a complimentary way. Perfectionism is a trauma response in me. It’s also a coping mechanism for me, and I can’t live without it. Cue the water works again…

    I’m so grateful to have you in my life. 💕

    • Rita says:

      Aw, Kari. I know. I had a total meltdown (in the silent way some of us do) in my first pain management class, in which we learned about “the neuroscience of pain” and connections between pain and our fight/flight/freeze response. There’s a lot to unpack here, and I think a blog post comment is probably not the best place to do it. So just know: I get it.

      I’m glad we have the daughters we do. Isn’t it great to see them being strong and tackling challenges and doing cool things?

  4. Marian says:

    I love the little house you embroidered, Rita! And that your daughter drives a Zamboni. My daughter is similarly capable. She often drives a large truck with a boat trailer for work—and drives the boat too, and travels around the country, and and and . . . which always makes me wonder how on earth is she *my* daughter? (I can barely walk across a crowded room.) Perfectionism is something I’d like to get over too, although Kari nailed it when she said perfectionism is both a trauma response and a coping mechanism. That is me too.

    • Rita says:

      And me, too.
      She’s your daughter because there are lots of different ways to be and model strength, and I know you are a strong person. I’ve joked more than once that I am a perfectionist in recovery. I don’t know that we ever get over it. I think we just learn better ways to manage it. Like so many things. (And, walking across a crowded room is over-rated. Speaking up–as I know you do, even though it tortures you–is far more valuable.)

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