Thursday, September 20, 2012

Finding perfect joy in the process

I like things to be perfect. If they can't be perfect, I like them to be as close to perfect as possible.

There. I admitted it. I like perfect.

I want my towels to hang straight on the rack and the pillows to be lined up on my bed. I want my cookies to be the same size after they are baked and my petunias to bloom evenly. I match up the lines when I'm sewing plaid things. I turn the hangers in my children's closets so that all of their clothes face the same direction. I get irritated when my 4 year old son rearranges the carefully arranged adhesive polka dots on his walls and lines them up like the planets.

Is that so wrong? Any other lovers-of-perfect among us?

If you are like me, the fear of having something turn out badly can stand in the way of trying new things. We see all kinds of new project ideas on Pinterest, which can be inspiring...but they all look so amazingly beautiful that it can be intimidating to try them.

The philosophy behind Process Art in early childhood classrooms is that it can be just as worthwhile to focus on the process of creation as the end product. Instead of worrying whether the children are putting the windows in the "right" places on their house pictures or telling them that we are going to make jack o' lanterns, we just make the materials available to them and let them create on their own. This gives kids permission to be creative and to play through art. It's great for their developing brains. Most importantly, it's a lot of fun.

Over the years of watching how a Process Art approach helps children create more freely, I've begun trying to think of my own creating as more process than product. Concentrating on what I enjoy about each step as I go along has made my crafting more fun and has helped me shake the fear that things will not turn out perfectly. Along the way, I have made many imperfect items: the quilt with a different border fabric (because I estimated incorrectly and bought too little of my original fabric), the curtain in my bathroom that hangs at a slight angle (still not sure if I sewed it crooked or hung the rod crooked, but it's definitely slanted!), the baptismal cross I painted for my daughter where the lilies turned out looking more like dogwoods, the first baby blanket I knitted where I ran out of yarn while I was binding off and had to crochet back around the edge in another color to be sure it wouldn't come apart.

The thing is, all of these items bring me joy in their own ways, even though they didn't turn out exactly as I had intended. The process of creating them was worthwhile.

I'm reminded of a quilt I had as my childhood bedspread. One square had a pair of diamonds reversed - a slight mistake in the pattern. When I pointed it out to my mother, she told me that Amish quilters often made a mistake in the quilt on purpose, just to remind themselves that only God was perfect and that they never could be.

Perfectionism is the worst enemy of creativity. It makes us think that if we can't do something perfectly, we shouldn't do it at all. This is so wrong. Each of us gains something different from the creative process, and we can enjoy creating even things that are "imperfect." Often the things that make our creations imperfect are exactly the things that set them apart and make them special.

Crafting and making something out of nothing should make us happy. If it doesn't make us happy, why are we doing it? How can we bring more happiness to the process of making things?

Here are my 5 personal rules for creating with joy:

1. Use whatever colors, fabric and materials make your heart light and bring a smile to your face. If gray and yellow isn't your favorite combination, pick something else. Worry less about what is "in" and what you have seen on decorating blogs. Please yourself first with your choices if you want to enjoy what you are making. The project will be more fun if you love the materials you are using.

2. Let go of the fear that your creation will be imperfect. It will be, and that's okay. Part of what makes your creative work unique is that it is yours. You don't need it to look like anyone else's. It will reflect you - the creator - and that is how it should be.

3. Be aware of your feelings as you are crafting. If you find yourself frustrated and irritated while you are working, maybe that isn't the project for you at this moment. Why not put it aside for a while and try something else? You can always come back to it later. Let go of the idea that you must see everything through from start to finish in order to get any benefit from it.

4. Don't be afraid to change plans mid-stream. Maybe the strawberry you started out to paint looks more like a slice of watermelon. Maybe you don't have enough of the fabric you bought to make tiebacks for the curtains and you have to use something else. Be open to changing your original vision - you might come up with something even better than you imagined!

5.  Be willing to try something new. Just because you have never crocheted doesn't mean you won't like it. There are so many different media in which to create - try working with clay, or painting with watercolors, or decorating cupcakes, or weaving. Try a tutorial (like the ones on burlap + blue) or watch a video on YouTube. You might have an undiscovered talent. And without the worry that your efforts need to be perfect, you might have a lot of fun, too.

This quote came across my desk last year, and it inspires me to try new things without being afraid of imperfection:

Best wishes as you craft with joy!