Sunday, March 2, 2014

Miss Imperfect

          When I was in eighth grade, my family adopted a black schnauzer we named Cinder.  From the moment he arrived in our home until the day he passed, Cinder was an incredible animal.  Part canine, part human, part angel, he was loyal, lighthearted and above all, lovable.  During his puppy-hood, Cinder earned the nickname "Mr. Perfect" and it stuck with him all of his life.   How lucky was I to adopt a black, male kitten in 2009 who instantly seemed like Cinder in a cat suit.  Having lived with the feline version of "Mr. Perfect" all these years, it's been a joy to watch Forest welcome friends and yoga students.  To appreciate the care he's given Aditi during her often tumultuous first six months.  And just a few days ago when I brought Jhoti home from her annual visit to the vet, Forest immediately started grooming her to comfort and calm her after a long, arduous ride home.
          Perfection is in the eye of the beholder and I have spent a lifetime meandering through the multitude of lessons that have taught me to embrace flawless moments while also accepting the imperfections in myself and others.  As a former elementary school teacher, I was faced with countless facts, figures and textbooks filled with just the right answer.  The correct response.  The logical choice.  I asked questions with the expectation that at least a few of my students would know the proper answer.  And while I compassionately encouraged the kids to move beyond their mistakes, I often had a lot of trouble applying that example in my own life. 
          It took years before I was able to admit that I didn't have all the answers.  That I didn't know how to work through difficult challenges on my own.  That I needed to ask for help.  In the meantime I kept an immaculate house.  I spent incredible amounts of time in my classroom creating just the right display, the eye-catching attention-getter, the most efficient environment in which my students could learn and grow.  
         And then I found myself in the mud and mire of a health crisis that instantly made my life a murky mess. 
          My life wasn't perfect. 
          I didn't have the perfect husband.  The perfect children.  The perfect house.
          I didn't have the financial stability needed to overcome the potential illness that might materialize.
          And so the night before I went in for diagnostic surgery, I made myself the promise that if I had full-blown cancer, I would stay in teaching for the constancy and the benefits.  If I didn't, I would make plans to unearth my life in search of something better.  Something less stressful.  More enduring.
          Two weeks later the test results were in and I was going to be fine.
          A year later I left the classroom and skidded headlong into a life that was far from perfect.  That had no template or logic.  That forced me to stay present with what was happening in the moment instead of blindly counting on the status quo.
          Fifteen years later, I'm still immersed in a life far from the perfect one I had imaged, but closer to the heart of who I truly am.  Closer to my integrity.  To who and what I am becoming day by day.  It doesn't always feel comfortable or safe.  It's not a life I had wanted to personify when I left teaching, but it's the best life imaginable now.

          As a writer, I am constantly editing my work.  I search for typos.  Glean the prose and cut the extraneous.  Strive to put my best work forward.  In preparing my memoir for digital release, I spent so much time in front of the computer screen, my vision eventually blurred and I opted out of wearing contacts for nearly three weeks until my eyes healed.   Formatting drove me nearly insane, but I learned some shortcuts along the way and that is making all the difference as I prepare my novels for publication this spring and summer. 
          That said, in the past month I have been horrified to discover numerous typos in the manuscript.  Embarrassed and hoping my readers don't think I'm a dumb box of rocks, I'm infinitely grateful that I can easily log on to KINDLE and NOOK to make the changes so that the next time they open the book, a cleaner version will be available.  One of my eagle-eye editors is currently reading the memoir and sending me corrections along the way.  At first she was cautious about letting me know about the errors.  But I spoke with her last night and reiterated how thankful I am that she's been able to find them when, after ten re-reads, I was unable to recognize the imperfections.
          "You know what you want to say, Katie," she replied.  "And when you read it, the words in your mind were the words you read on the page."
          "True," I admitted.  "But I'm still glad you're helping me clean up that book."
          Many of my friends say readers will blip over the mistakes.  Others say that comes with the territory of online publishing.  Still, I imagine I will always strive to "get it right."  To "do it properly."  But I've come to recognize that imperfections in my life often reveal those tender parts of me that need more compassion.  Forgiveness.  Understanding.

          And so it is with my own "Mr. Perfect." 
          Last night I caught Forest on the kitchen counters crying for a toy I had put into the cupboard.  When he saw me, he immediately jumped down, but not without giving me the business about how I had taken away his plaything.  It's easy to forgive my sweet little fella and understand there's a reason why he sometimes breaks the rules.
          Not so much with my inner perfectionist. 
          And yet, without our flaws, we would be much less lovable.  Without stumbling and getting back up again, how would we ever learn endurance and grace?
          How would we begin to accept our imperfections in the hope that we might someday transform them into something softer.  Something more genuine.
          Something beyond the outer experience that gently encourages us to embrace the healing spaces deep within.