I made it in second grade and when it speaks to me, I listen because it has important things to say. It reminds me about secrets and perfectionism and shame.
Are you a perfectionist? It’s one of those faults that we don’t mind sharing. Like on resumes or during job interviews when we’re asked about our weaknesses. “I admit it, I’m a perfectionist,” we say, trying to look disgusted with ourselves, watching the interviewer scribble on his pad, imagining that he’s probably writing, “Ooh yes!” or “Conscientious!” or “Will neglect her own needs to make the company look good!” It’s a humble brag, not really a weakness.
“Not so fast!” says my clay pot.
Allow me to share its story.
The art teacher showed us how to make them. She handed each of us a big lump of clay and within minutes the classroom became a snake factory. Twenty-two seven and eight year olds, rolling out worms and snakes on the tables with the palms of our hands. “Now, take the worms and coil them around and around,” she showed us, turning the worms into a spiral solid circle of worm to form the bottom of the pot, and then around and around, higher and higher to form the sides. Except my worm/snakes wouldn’t behave. They kept sliding off each other and acting all wobbly and uneven. They refused to stack. And when I pinched them together with my thumb and pointer, just like the teacher showed us, they got way out of whack. Some walls places were thin and others some were thick and bulgy. My pot was a mess! A lopsided snake stack!
Twice I got frustrated and squished the pile together and started all over again. Why couldn’t I do it? What was wrong with me?
People were finishing and I was starting over! Then they started cleaning up!
I’d never finish. My face got hot and my eyes got teary. I couldn’t let anybody know. I had to do something.
I balled up my clay and hid it in my fist and told the teacher I needed to go to the bathroom. (Teachers don’t usually say no if you look really uncomfortable and hop around a little.)
Then I locked the door, knelt on the floor, rolled out the clay on the linoleum and traced a circle with the pencil in my pocket. There, that would make the bottom. A smooth rectangle would do for the sides. I could pinch it around the bottom to serve as the cylinder wall. Hey, it didn’t look so bad! It stood up tall and straight. But maybe it looked too good. On everybody else’s pots you could still see the individual coils. The pencil! That’s it! I dragged it around the walls in faux coil lines. Perfect! It was perfect!
I gathered my composure, sneaked in my pot to the table with everyone else’s finished work, and got in line to go to the playground.
I don’t remember the teacher’s face, but looking at my pot today I know it was glaringly obvious. Somehow my second grade self hadn’t noticed how different mine must have looked, a perfect little cylinder with drawn in pencil lines beside everyone else’s wobbly bulgy snake stacks.
Maybe the other kids noticed and maybe they didn’t, but I knew. I knew that I couldn’t get it right and I had to get it right- at least I thought I did. I had to make it look like I knew what I was doing. I had to make it perfect, so I turned it into a completely different thing than it was supposed to be.
I keep my pot on my desk to remember that little girl I was, the one ashamed and so scared to fail. The child willing to hide in the bathroom and cheat to earn approval. Poor little self!
Can you relate to any of this?
Perfectionism isn’t anything to brag about. It’s mean and selfish and binds us from finishing things or starting things or being the whole, people of peace that God calls us to be. Today I want to call it out for what it is, whenever it calls to me to follow. No, I won’t follow you! I will be myself, with all my lopsided faults. Too bad if my snakes are bulgy or the paragraph I’ve rewritten nine times still doesn’t feel exactly right. I will go on and maybe come back to edit later, if I feel like it.
Or I might not. I might just head to the playground.
Wishing you peace to be who you are!