Monday, July 12, 2010

How Perfectionism is both my anchor and my albatross.

I have often been called a perfectionist in my life. Most of the time it has been said by people attempting to find a polite way of saying I am hard headed and opinionated. Every time I hear this it reinforces the notion in my head that I haven't been trying hard enough. The thing is. most of the things I do often come naturally to me. I have an inate ability to adapt and adopt just about anything I put my mind to. I've held a lot of jobs in my life. None of them have been difficult to me. That's not to say that others have done the same job without struggle. It just means I've found them quite easy. But sometimes when faced with a simple task, I want more. I want to do something that transcends the ordinary. Even if it's something as simple as cutting out a cardboard box to sit atop a copier at Kinko's that streamlined their printing or a reinvisioning of an HTML design on my company's website that just simplified things to an almost spartan elegance. There lives within me a spark that flares up at odd times and insists that I do more. It's when I want to take things one step further that the perfectionist in me takes over. I see this spark in me as both a blessing and a curse. It helps me achieve more with the limited skills I posess, but it cuts my achilles heel when it comes to just getting it done.

How does this translate into the real world from this hastily typed page? Simple. Take my comics for example. I am a creator of comics. That alone sentences me to a life of creative chaos; constantly bombarded by deadlines imposed by myself and others, and of criticism; often given by people with limited understanding and the best intentions. Because drawing and writing comes so easily to me, I could write and draw several comics in the time it takes another artist to draw a single one. It's not that I am better, it's just the ease of familiarity allows me to breeze through steps that slog others down. Other artists are better at drawing. Other writers are better at writing. But my comfort with them both allows me to meld the two and opens the possibility for me to churn out comics like a grinder spews out ground sausage. I don't do that though. And this has confused some people.

"Jack Kirby did it."

"Stan Lee did it."

First off, When it comes to humility, I have it. But when it comes to arrogance, I have that too. Sometimes I have more of the former than the latter, but often vice versa. Regardless. I don't see someone comparing me to those two as the stretch that someone who doesn't know me does. It's not that I am now great. It's that I recognize that I have the POTENTIAL to be great. That is precisely WHY I don't churn out comics like alley cats have kittens. The perfectionist in me will not allow that.

The perfectionist in me thinks that only "Hacks" (How I hate that term and what it implies) churn. The perfectionist in me tells me that I must focus. I must do what no one else has done before. The perfectionist tells me that if I miss the mark, my attempt will end in failure. I don't argue with him. In fact, I agree wholeheartedly. I understand that putting forth anything less than 100% of my best effort all the time will allow me to rise to the upper echelon. Failure to bring 'it' will only result in my continued application of comics as a hobby. But the perfectionist isn't happy with this victory. He wants more. The perfectionsist sees my willingness to give everything I have and dangles the dreaded "Yeah, but..." with everything I do. Others tell me they never see this in my work. They tell me my writing is good. They say that my art is good. The perfectionist tells me they are lying...or they don't know any better. When the people who DO know better tell me that they like what I am doing, the perfectionist tells me they are lying, or they are jealous. It's envy guiding their words.

I'm not paranoid. I know that envy exists. I feel it personally anytime I lay eyes on the artwork of those I admire. I see the way these guys handled that particular issue and wonder how I would have done it. The perfectionist in me tells me I can do better.

He inspires me at the same time as he buries the seeds of self doubt.

Sometimes I shut him out entirely and just slam the keys or scratch the pencil. Often when I finish, I sit there and admire my handiwork as if I were watching the smoke clear, sometimes unaware of what I was even doing. The perfectionist in me simply says "Why can't you do that all the time?" It's almost as if I can never win with that guy. He constantly pushes me to improve at the same time as he reminds me I'll never be as good as THAT guy or THAT guy.

I told him to go fuck himself once. I took my pencils and my notebooks and I locked them away. I focused on being a proper adult, with a proper job and a proper outlook on life. I even got a proper girlfriend and almost got married. But that didn't shut up the perfectionist. He was always there telling me "But if you do it THIS way.....". There was no pleasing him.

I found myself pulling the pad out and doodling at first. He told me "You can do better than that."

I started drawing the panels and writing the books. He told me "What took you so long?"

It's not a big stretch to say that my inner perfectionist is my muse. He inspires me to take everything I do one rung up the ladder from where I was. Browning wrote "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what else is a heaven for?" That sounds like something he tells me when he sees me put in a substandard effort. This keeps me going at the same time as it acts as a limiter on my output. My perfectionist will not allow me to put out something with no redeeming quality. This is NOT to say that I haven't laid a few turds. I have. But I can look back on even the worst effort I have put out and find something it that made my perfectionist happy hidden among all the other stuff that makes me cringe.

I have this recurring fear. It's not a dream (I have managed through practice to weed those out for the most part). The fear starts out as a simple glance across all the folders that lie in my studio. These folders represent a volume of work that would stagger the average person from the sheer workload involved. If I ever got that golden ticket and was able to make a living sharing the derranged musings I have with like-minded people, I could work from those folders and never have to come up with an new thought for at least a dozen years. My fear is that something will happen to me that will keep me from getting TO that pile of folders. I've always had this far back as I can remember. "What would happen if I lost my hand?" "What would happen if I went blind?" When I shoved a broken bar glass into my wrist in 1998 during my time as a bouncer in Dallas' busiest bar, severing the tendon and almost paralyzing my fingers in the process, this fear looked like it was manifest. This was a very dark period for me, and I shared this with noone. Who would understand? I could tell someone "I may never be able to draw again." and how could they be expected to understand the implications of what that meant? Nah. Better to keep that inside and will myself to find a way. When I eventually sawed my cast off 2 weeks before the doctor was due to remove it, the first thing I did was pick up a pencil and draw Daredevil. I still have that drawing and yes...after 5 weeks in a cast, it sucked. But this time the perfectionist told me something that I will always remember. "It could be a LOT worse." That one thing set me at an ease that filled me with a reason to get started and get this done. The following 3 year period was one of my most productive (Till recently). The fear was still there, but I was operating on what I saw as borrowed time.

I had a wreck back in 2003 that by all rights should have punched my card. Head on collision on a wet highway at +60mph with a driver that was going the wrong way. I walked away without a scratch, but this only spurred the fear into action again. It is the perfectionist that keeps me from that pile though. He is the gatekeeper. He tells me the time isn't right for that pile. He's right, I think...but his reasons are sketchy. he tells me that once I jump into that pile, I will lose whatever momentum I have built up to this point. He stands off in the distance, just out of sight but within earshot and says one thing to me when I reach for that pile. "Hack." That is all it takes to keep my hands to themselves for now.

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