I like a good flaw. It makes us human. Perfection is boring. Kiera Knightley
“It’s fun making books with the kids,” my friend Amber said the other day. Amber and her husband Raja, book-binder poets who lead book-art workshops at Joy Center each month, had just taught a class for kids at the local library, and she was telling me about it. “The kids don’t worry if their folds are perfect and their stitches are lined up just so. They love their books and they love the process.” It’s not like Amber and Raja don’t delight in teaching us, the adults; they do. We all sense their enthusiasm as they cheerfully, patiently guide us through the various techniques for creating a book from piles of paper and cardboard and thread and glue. But I know what she means. When my inner critic pops to the surface and tells me that my books are a lopsided mess, I get so serious about it, voicing my dismay to anyone who cares to listen to my rumblings. And the strange thing is that I always end up loving the finished products and I always have fun at the book-binding workshops and I sense that I could just skip over this step of being hard on myself, skip right into that stage of delight. I sense that I could take a cue from the kids.
It seems that kids are my greatest teachers right now. Specifically toddlers. Two in particular. There’s my grandson Viren whose middle name could be Enthusiasm, who plunges ahead on his daily tasks unaffected by the notion that his results might fall short of perfection. He lets fun be his guide and fun takes him all over the place. A month and a half ago, back when Viren was a mere fourteen months old and not the pro on recreational equipment that he is now, his mother sent us a short e-mail video of an early venture to a shopping mall playground. Viren was full of himself as he climbed up the steps of the mall’s sturdy toddler-friendly slide, as he flew down and plopped diapered-butt first onto the carpeted floor. He was full of himself as he picked himself up, turned himself around, as he shook his head back and forth and chortled a “what a ride!” chortle, full of himself as he toddled back to the ladder for a second go. And it was more of the same, the flying down, the landing with a plop, the picking himself up, the chortling and the head shake. He was having a blast. And I was, too, as I watched this sneak peak into his day. And then there was the third attempt. It started out the same and that’s what I expected, a third otter-like slide, a third plop, a chortle. But something went awry. Perhaps a foot got stuck or fatigue set in because half-way down the slide his toddler body toppled forward into a full-front flip, a somersault through space and a landing on the floor, flat out. The “Oh my God, Viren!” from his mother had a hint of an “everything-is-all-right” laugh in it, so I knew that I could laugh too. And the text sent along with this video shared that Viren was the one who was laughing the hardest.
In Viren’s book this was no mistake. He doesn’t give a rip about the rules of sliding, the whole on-your-butt approach that is encouraged by the outside world of parents and grandparents. This was an interesting variation, a glorious discovery that he just happened upon. I watched that video over and over, felt thrilled by the gusto he displayed to plunge right in, to go for something that excited him, sometimes butt-first, sometimes head-over-heels. And Viren is not the only little tyke I know with that get-go spirit. There’s baby Abagail, daughter of Stephanie, my graphic artist friend at Globe Printing. Abagail’s middle name must be Enthusiasm, too. Even before she had mastered the art of crawling, teen-tiny elfkin Abagail was determined to walk, and walk she did, taking those first tottering steps at eight-months-old. A few weeks ago, Stephanie showed me a video of nine-month-old Abagail on a jaunt across the living room. It almost didn’t seem like it could be true, such a wee one upright, but there she was toddle-scampering across the room. And she wasn’t just walking; she was also nodding her head “up and down, up and down.” It was the two acts together that seemed to be causing Abagail some problems. But that’s not true. That’s the perfectionist in me talking. I don’t think she was considering this a problem at all, this nodding, this stepping — this plunk and plop when she’d topple over. She was like a buoyant bouncy toy that bopped right back up again, each time still nodding her head, “yes!”
Isn’t it the best?!? I want to drink it in, the innate wisdom of these two toddling teachers, and of those kids in Amber and Raja’s library class, too. I want to nod my head, “yes!” I want to plunge in more often to what feels good and worry less about how things might look to the outside world. Yesterday I was involved in a conversation with two friends and somehow we started musing about being president of our own lives. And one of my friends piped up, “When we’re living from the inside out, we’re president of our lives; when we’re caring about what others think, we’re being politicians.” I’m going for the president role, the inside role, to taking a cue from Abagail and nodding my head “yes” to what feels good, to reveling in the ride like Viren, to saying “Who cares what others think?!?” and meaning it more and more often. I’m going for the fun that is sometimes messy and lopsided. So what if we topple over sometimes, if we get glue on our fingers and paint on our noses?!? When you’re living from the inside out we don’t give a rip.