The Search For Perfection, and Musing Thereof
This is a two year old blog (April ‘08) that I’ve rescued off of myspace and updated a bit. It’s still very valid, and an important subject.
I’ve been kicking around these thoughts for a while, and my hope is that, by writing them out, I’ll be able to crystallize them a bit. One of my Berklee professors said that we write songs to learn about the subject we choose to write about. That’s paraphrased, of course, but I don’t feel like digging out my notes.
Regardless, that’s a statement I always think about when I write, be it songs or blogs (which basically serve as self-aware journal entries for me anyway). Writing is a catharsis; a pressure valve through which we can safely vent emotion without worrying about blowing the cap off of our emotional well (ah, the drilling metaphor—my engineering background rears its ugly head).
So I’ve been thinking about perfection for the last few years, especially as it relates to live performance. I came to the conclusion long ago (in high school) that it is impossible to play the ’perfect game’. Sporting events are little bounded bits of chaos theory in action—play the same 5 on 5 game of basketball a hundred times and you’ll never get the exact same game. You may get the same score, but never the same game. Play it a thousand times and you still won’t. Play it an infinite number of times and you still won’t. Such is the nature of chaos. In a situation so totally unpredictable (and unrepeatable), perfection is impossible.
However, that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t strive for perfection, anyway. Coming anywhere near perfection is a monumental achievement. So, if you’re an athlete of any level, you have to learn to be satisfied with less than perfect performances or you have to learn to be very unhappy with your efforts every time you step on your particular field of play. I’ve been competing in various things my whole life, and this is a lesson I’ve just recently learned. I moped around for days after every athletic competition from 9th grade on, distraught because I missed a block, missed a shot, missed a steal, missed an open teammate, or whatever. Despite whatever else great I did during the game. And this is a recipe for unhappiness. I learned to lighten up on myself, which was a major step.
But I don’t want to slide too far down that slope, because being too light on yourself is a recipe for failure. On one side is perfectionism, which is an impossibly high ideal (ultimately leading to an unsatisfying existense), and on the other side is low expectations, which is basically just a rationalization for being a failure.
The balance I’m attempting to strike is the neverending pursuit of small moments of perfection*, and the ability to take pleasure and satisfaction in the effort of that pursuit.
This is especially prescient for me, as an artist, because (just as no one will ever play the ’perfect’ basketball game) no artist will ever play a perfect show. Live music is just as chaotic as live sporting events. Really, any unscripted performance is pure chaos. But it’s important not to define the success of your live performances by the quality of your performance; rather, define it by the enjoyment you give to the listener. How involved are they? Did you reach them on a personal level? Did you do your best to make your songs accessible to each particular person in the crowd? Performance is a gift from the artist to the audience, and though you’ll never play a perfect show you can always play a successful show by keeping in mind what you’re there to do.
I have much more to say on perfectionism, specifically as it relates to procrastination. Hopefully I will be able to touch on that in a future blog. Also, how I’m jealous of pigeons.
*perfection on a large scale is unattainable, but I think small moments of perfection are perfectly within reach.