Thursday, June 17, 2010

Perfectionism and Progress

I've heard it said that "Perfection is the enemy of the good." Now, one could argue from a theological standpoint that in light of God's perfection, this is not true, since God is perfect and perfectly good. But I'm speaking of human perfection at the moment, so humor me awhile as I digress into two recent discoveries.

I'm finding that perfectionism hinders one from truly enjoying the process. A simple process of cooking delectable hamburger patties on a grill can easily shift from enjoying the aroma of the smoke coming off of the coals and melding with the meat to the incessant inner monologue saying, "Oh my gosh, these stupid, stupid flames are burning my meat! Why didn't I wait 'til the fire died down so I could cook these suckers to PERFECTION like I know I can!" First, that's missing the point. Second, it's prideful and a bit presumptuous. "Perfection like I know I can?" Wow. And if that were actually true, that I could grill the meat to perfection (or perform any such task to perfection), who's to say that I am capable of reaching perfection every time I attempt such a task? It's a big set-up for failure, and I find that one misses a lot along the way. The meat turned out quite yummy, by the way, a little greasy though some of it may have been.

What does this have to do with the Revolution of Chai and my time here in Chicago? Precisely this: There are many things that I set out to accomplish when I moved here two years ago (and as of last Friday it has been exactly two years, thank you very much and thank you God!). And many of those things haven't happened yet, or else they have but are taking place on a very miniscule, hard-to-see-by-the-naked-eye level. Some examples? Becoming a better writer and theatre artist for one. What progress have I made in that regard? Since highschool, no---middle school--I have been acting in at least one show per semester (that's a minimum of two shows per year) and kept my acting chops fresh, growing, expanding. Since moving to Chicago I have been in only 1, yes 1, show (and that was almost two years ago now). That's okay though. I didn't come here so much to act as to write and produce/direct new theatre. And in that way, I have improved. So the actor in me feels neglected but the writer/creator of new theatre in me is growing. I have written more short plays in my two years here and seen more of my original writing acted out in some form or another (workshop, table reading, informal or staged reading at Show and Tells, etc.) than I ever have in my prior 24 years of life in Houston. And as for producing? Well, I actually haven't produced very much original work on a large scale, but I have been able to gather other artists and promote the exposure of their work to some degree, particularly through the Show and Tells we've been doing over the past 6 months or so. I have also seen more theatre here than perhaps in my entire lifetime (not sure about that one, but it seems close nonetheless). And I'm a much better theatre educator than I was before moving here, having compiled more lesson plans and taught more classes than I ever had before living in this city. I have even made significant progress on a play about my namesake that may soon become my first production to be fully produced and performed professionally, impacting paying (and perhaps a few non-paying) audiences. That's HUGE!

This leaves me two choices. I can lament the fact that I have been in Chicago for two years and still haven't seen any large scale fruition of what I came here hoping to do, thus holding to a perfectionistic, performance-based ideal...OR I can take a step back from it all and admire this ever bubbling pot of Chai that God is still brewing, yes, even stewing over with great patience and delight, saying, "Mmm....Smell that ginger, look at that cardamom float on the surface, see how these spices are swimming together to make a harmonious whole that's going to make the whole earth's mouth water for more of me and my goodness." (God speaking, of course.) Process. Option 1 is Perfectionism and self-judgment. Option 2 is about Enjoying the Process and becoming free to take in an albeit non-perfect, day by day picture that's a bit different from how I thought things ought to play out. Am I going to breathe in the aroma of the Chai with Jesus or stress over the fact that it's not completely Chai yet, becoming though it may be?

I'll end with this. About two weeks ago, my friend Brian, co-collaborator of the Show and Tell parties and all-around fun guy to hang with, encouraged me with something reflecting the following: "You know, David, you should be really pleased with yourself. You've done good here, accomplished quite a bit. These Show and Tells have been helping a lot of people and have been a great success. And they've provided me and some others the platform to develop some of our work from one level to the next, such that a few of us are actually putting on a house concert and getting our stuff out there. And that was one of the original goals you set out with in the beginning, wasn't it? To promote different artists towards realizing their artistic talents in a more full expression?" Okay, so perhaps I elaborated while quoting, but this is the gist of what he said, or what I heard. And suddenly, like Lucy telling the always down and out Charlie Brown something so simple yet revealing about his positive effect in the world, I felt as if some of my dreams and goals were being realized and this revolution of Chai had indeed begun to take place. I hadn't failed. I haven't.

So thank you, Brian Stark, and thank you Lord for encouraging me with what is instead of what isn't. And thank you that what isn't may yet be, when the time is ripe and the water has boiled out of the milk (you Chai makers will understand me on this).

Perfectionism or Process? Perfection can denote a stopping point. Process implies proceeding. I'd rather proceed. And that I will.

(In the spirit of proceeding, did you know that I have edited this post about 3 or 4 times before finally just letting it be? Perfectionism once again? Or process? I suppose it has to do with my attitude in the midst of it.)

"12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." -Philippians 3:12-14