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Another little excerpt from the same project I posted last week.  This is six months after her encounter with the Giant in the road. Which Giant turns out to be named Kellen and very nice.

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Why did Mama have to be so mean when she was being Good Mama? The day was so nice until I went home and then Good Mama was there. So many nice things, I got to make a list. I didn’t get to make a list every day. Most days there wasn’t anything to put on the list, but that day there were lots of things.

Miss DeGrassi thinking Kellen was my father. That was the best thing, because it was so silly, I almost laughed. He didn’t look like Ewan at all. Also getting new boots and a helmet was on the list.

No, Kellen was the best thing. Riding on the bike after that. Then the helmet and new boots. Then Miss Degrassi thinking Kellen was my father. And stolen library books in my backpack.

The problem with Good Mama was how you had to act. You were supposed to want what Good Mama wanted.

You were supposed to be happy that Good Mama was out of bed and cleaning house. Cleaning cleaning cleaning, so that there was dust everywhere that made you sneeze, and chemicals that made your eyes water.

You weren’t supposed to wish Kellen had stayed to play with the baby.

You weren’t supposed to wish that Kellen was there to read library books with you. He didn’t read very fast, but it was better to have him read than to have Mama read. Because he only read what was in the book. He didn’t make up lies that I knew weren’t in the book. I wasn’t a stupid baby. I could read and I knew those things weren’t in my books.

Mommy's Little Helper

Mommy's Little Helper

With Good Mama, you were supposed to run inside and hug her. You weren’t supposed to cross your arms and try to run upstairs with your stolen library books.

You were supposed to say, “Oh, Mama, you made cookies!” You weren’t supposed to look at them until she said, “Why do you do this? Just eat the cookies.”

If Good Mama said, “Wipe your nose,” you were supposed to go into the bathroom and use a tissue. You weren’t supposed to do it on your sleeve. You weren’t supposed to have a runny nose at all, or Good Mama would accuse you of being “germy.”

You weren’t supposed to lie and pretend you didn’t have homework, because you didn’t want Good Mama to sit at the table with you and boss you around while you did it. Good Mama would find out. She would take your homework out and look at it so you knew it wasn’t good enough.

“Wavy? Wavy? Why do all your papers say Wavy?” When good Mama asked that, probably you were supposed to shrug or start writing Vonnie or Wavonna the way you used to.

You weren’t supposed to say, “Kellen calls me Wavy. I like it.”

Because if you did, Good Mama would say, “I’m sure Kellen is a very nice person, but he’s also as dumb as a box of hammers.”

Good Mama was so mean. I hated her.

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Voltaire was right about so many things, but about this above all else.  When you strive for perfection, you will always fall short, not just of perfection, but likely of goodness as well.

I’m thinking about this today as a result of going to see Watchmen last night.  (On IMAX, which I recommend for its size and clarity.  Even if the larger-than-life full frontal blue nudity is a bit more disturbing on IMAX, this is a beautiful film, worthy of the big big big screen.)

Watchmen Franchises

Watchmen Franchises

I’ve not read a lot of detailed reviews of the movie, perhaps an even dozen, but the thing that strikes me about those reviews now that I’ve seen the movie is that they were all written by disappointed people.  Not people disappointed because the movie wasn’t good.  People disappointed because the movie wasn’t perfect.  Either wasn’t perfect in and of itself, or in more cases, wasn’t a perfect adaptation of the comic book.

As a fan of the book, I enjoyed the movie.  I thought it was quite good.  (In its final story arc, I actually thought it was a bit better than the book.  I know: heresy!  Hold off with burning me at the stake, okay?)  It wasn’t perfect, and that’s a blessing.  The pressure for perfection was what kept the film from being made for years.  People described it as “unfilmable,” but only because they were laboring under the notion that the only way to do the book justice would be to create a “perfect adaptation” of it.

In short, the Ghost of Perfect almost killed a perfectly good movie.

I think it frequently happens to writers, too.  We become obsessed with making a particular story or scene or chapter perfect.  Sometimes, it’s a worthy intent: we can see that the scene isn’t right and we work to improve it.  At other times, we use the pursuit of perfection as a way to procrastinate.  Just one more round of revisions.  Just one more draft.  Then we’ll send the story out.  Then we’ll query the book.  Just a few more tweaks and it will be done.  Maybe next month.  Maybe next year.

It’s an understandable fear.  No one likes to be rejected.  Or worse, mocked.  Or worse, burned in literary effigy on the internet.   Consider the glee with which otherwise nice, supportive people are willing to tear Stephenie Meyer and Dan Brown limb from literary limb on writing forums.  Consider that Alan Moore’s attitude toward the Watchmen film is one of pre-emptive disapproval.   Not perfect = not good enough to give it a chance.   He rightly observes that some of the elements of Watchmen are only suited to comic books, but shouldn’t that let the film off the hook for those elements?  Shouldn’t it get to stand on its own for what it is: a movie?

A pretty good movie.

Similarly, if you find yourself bound up in thinking, “I’m never going to be as talented as [fill in the blank with your literary god],” you will always fall short.  No matter what you write, it will never be perfect.  You can never replicate the genius of another writer.  Your writing must stand on its own for what it is, whatever it is.

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