What a paint and sip revealed to me about my crippling relationship with perfectionism.


I can’t…

I said, holding my paint brush nursing both my 8 month old son (ask later, motherhood is complex)and a blank canvas.

I just couldn’t.

Or so my brain kept telling me, as it searched for lines, tracings or anything that would dictate whether or not it was “doing a good or bad job”.

Parameters, guidelines, for godsake someone come punish me already for the stroke that I’m just thinking about making because right now I’m already beating myself up for merely thinking about freely moving my hand, guiding that brush around my canvas.

It felt like hours were going by, my partner looked at me, smiling, his hand giddily going back and forth from his plate of paints to his increasingly colorful canvas.

Disgusting.

Look at him, I thought, ripe with envy and dismay. His colors are getting all sullied and mixed, his lines aren’t straight… wait, is he…is he smiling?

Was this…fun for him?

The idea that he could delight in such chaos had me so perplexed that my mind was now challenging myself to find a way, any way, to feel what he was feeling.

“I need help”, I eked out.

Just loud enough for the instructor to hear me, but not loud enough for the disapproving ears of my parents, who, though nowhere near, but whose voices I occasionally have to talk down in my head.

I let him touch my canvas. He made a few quick strokes, “here, I got you going”,

Great. I’ve failed.

My body slumped.

My partner smiled, “you’re doing great. I’m excited to see what you do next”.

Bitch huh?

I hadn’t done anything, in fact. I cheated. I’m a fraud. Had you not just watched that man do it for me.

Asking for help is doing, you deserve to be supported Miriam, a small voice in my head, the one that sounds like a mixture of my therapist and myself.

I swiped my brush into the blue and drug it through the red, a regular renegade I was now, which interestingly enough is the model of car I drive.

I digress.

There I was, I allowed my brush to make contact with the canvas. Then I did it again, and again and again.

Mixing colors, splashing water, going against every convention I once held.

Would it look like the example?

Would there be critiques?

More strokes, less thoughts. The more mess I made, the more I found myself having fun, or what I imagine fun to feel like.

As my canvas filled up, I found myself getting anxious… now what? I wasn’t ready to step out of the stream of whatever emotion I was feeling or not feeling.

I set my brush down to look at what I had created. What I had let go of and unleashed.

My mom used to share this story of how when I was a baby, one of my favorite phrases to repeat was “no mess Miriam, no mess”.

That story used to make me smile, it doesn’t so much anymore… When I speak tenderly now to that sweet little girl, who I can’t help but to wonder if she was really just scared and scolding herself into remembering if you make a mess it could get you hurt, so don’t do it.

Every mess I make is now made proudly in her honor.