Today I returned the Target set of hooks I bought to hang in my apartment's makeshift mudroom area. I spent the better portion of yesterday attempting to screw them into my walls, frantically searching Google for instructions on "how to hang hooks on walls." Only then did I learn that my walls were in fact made of plaster, meaning that I would need materials like drill bits and stud finders and goggles--materials I did not own--to accomplish the task. Some semblance of knowledge about home improvement projects or idea of appropriate safety precautions probably would help, too.
When I realized that a measurement even a quarter of an inch off could result in large chunks of the wall falling to the floor, I decided that I would do best to hang up the project. So pictures will now cover the empty wall space and tiny hole that the drill bit-less power drill managed to create. I have lots of hung frames in my apartment since hammering and spray painting constitute the extent of my fix-it skills.
As I drove the requisite twenty minutes to my nearest Target, I, already disgruntled with my failed hook situation fixated on more of life's discontentments. I wished Target were closer, for one. That Nashville had a Supertarget, which is infinitely better than a regular Target. That I lived on the first rather than second floor of my apartment complex so I could work out to Jillian Michaels videos at six in the morning and bounce around to my heart's content instead of remembering that my downstairs neighbor would most likely prefer that I didn't and refraining. That I possessed home improvement know-how or at least lived in an apartment with normal, shoddily constructed and easily manipulated drywall but that still exhibited the charm and character of an older, established home. For that matter, I wanted a space that had a bigger kitchen and bathroom and more storage. Someday. Sigh.
It's funny; when I was younger, I thought that as I grew up, everything in life would begin to fall into place. Watching other adults navigate their worlds made me envious for the time when I could find the job of my dreams, choose my own living space and decor, plan and cook my own meals, and decide where, with whom, and how I would live. My eight-year-old self worried less about my future emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental well-being than about securing the items on the checklist. Just as I had certain criteria for my future husband, I had a specific image of what my life would look like as a twentysomething which was different from life in my thirties which was different from my life at forty.
When I returned to my apartment complex and walked through my front door after completing the Target run, however, I tried to look at my home through an elementary child's eyes. The child would not have noticed or cared how tiny the kitchen was or that the bathroom tile no matter how vigorously scrubbed remained a dingy brownish yellow color. The child would not think about how much time was wasted in Nashville commuting to work and school because of traffic (Actually, even as I child, I probably would have. I believe "efficient" was the first three syllable word I ever spoke.). Nor would the child esteem an adult more or less because she was or was not skilled at home improvement tasks. The eight-year-old me would instead have said that the life I have now was perfect.
I will always invent reasons that justify why my current situation somehow falls shy of perfect. In Texas this summer, I found fault with the apartment sink (which really did leak), the town, the food culture, and, well...Texas itself. Nashville now of course has its own host of problems. Sometimes this tendency to identify and fixate on flaws brings out the best in me: I decide to learn a new skill, adopt a new habit, or make a positive change so that I may closer approximate my ideal; I resist stagnating and continue to grow. And sometimes, like on occasions such as today, my obsession with perfection disfigures me into something self-focused and single-minded, something less than fully human. Ironically, I become less myself by attempting to mold my life into the life I think I want rather than honoring and savoring the life given to me. Merely a shell of Emily--whether it be a sweaty, swearing woman clutching a power drill with a death grip or an agitated student almost late for class shooting angry glares at cars driving below the speed limit--remains.
I once took care of a little girl who stopped me when I told her that her drawing looked perfect. "Nothing can be perfect," she told me gravely. "We're not supposed to use that word." While I sympathize with what I suspect her parents wanted to instill in their daughter--the values acceptance and appreciation over criticism and discontentment--I do not believe that the word need be eliminated from our vocabularies. Perhaps we rather need a more robust conception of what constitutes "perfect."
I still think that the girl's drawing was perfect. And my life right now? Not so shabby either.