By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.
I had a professor in graduate school named Dr. Daniel Melnick who rarely gave student work a full-fledged “A”. He nearly always wrote, “potentially excellent, A-“. Many years later, I am accustomed to imperfection, still happy with an “A-,” still encouraged by the word potentially. Unfortunately, I still make foolish mistakes; take every post I have written for this blog, for example. Even though I have drafted and edited each at least five times, the minute I re-read it online, I spot an error.
I am a ceaseless critic of my students’ work, by necessity, but also of my own work and life, generally. It has a lot to do with the training I received in undergraduate and graduate school, and I am grateful for the capacity to be critical, but I must defend against my proclivity to become overly so (I am sometimes referred to as the “Dream Killer” when rushing to identify problems instead of pausing to provide encouragement). Recently, I did what I too often do: I jumped to the fault. I pointed out the one tiny error in a truly useful info-graphic my friend Hanna made for a class for which she was to be a guest speaker. Only after realizing how ungrateful my behavior was did I retreat and praise her efforts and thank her again for kindly sharing her expertise and advice with my students, devoting both her time and her knowledge without pay. In my haste to correct problems, I must remember not to diminish the larger accomplishment.
Perfection is not attainable, despite what my friend Ian’s mother might say. I share the truth as embodied by baseball batting averages; a phenomenal batting average is .400, or “batting 400”. I discuss the implications of this statistic with my students. In ten attempts, we should expect six failures, hope for no more than four successes. I find this analogy immensely comforting. Nevertheless, I feel foolish when what I write contains errors since I am supposed to know better. Well, I suppose I do know better, I just don’t do better. Fortunately, this realization does not paralyze me with fear because my colleague and fellow turtle member, Paul, has given all who write for this blog the gift of a revolutionary idea: “perfect is the opposite of done.” This motto allows us to accept the inevitability of flaws as part of the larger process of building something that has lasting value.
My friendships are the best example of something spectacular I have built over the years. Coincidentally, friendship provides a different perspective on flaws. The longer a friendship lasts, the more accepting friends are of each other’s foibles. At some point (around about the one decade of friendship mark, it seems), something rather extraordinary happens: the flaws and eccentricities and imperfections become what we love most. When I behave in my peculiar way; lining up M & M’s in color-coded rows, insisting Chris Rock was not in that movie, packing seven scarves for a three-day weekend, or arriving entirely too early for a party, people who have loved me for ten years are charitable enough to view these quirks as part of my charm. Flaws are noticeable, often painfully so, but being loved in spite of, or even because of, our flaws creates a powerful connection established in the understanding that though we are imperfect creatures, we are magnificent, too. Besides, when a thing is flawless, there’s really nothing left to say.