Good Enough

When I was in high school, my AP English class always had one or two projects going on at once. I kept finding myself thinking, “I’ll be able to do X when I get this project done,” only to get a new assignment before the current one is due. It eventually dawned on me that it was never going to end. There would always be another obligation. If there were X’s I wanted to do, I’d have to find a way to do them in spite of other obligations, because they weren’t ever going to go away. This was a struggle for me, because I felt obligated to “do my best” on my school work, or any other obligations. It occurred to me that perhaps I had to refine my understanding of what “doing my best” actually means. Maybe it doesn’t mean doing what I could do if I had unlimited time and no distractions. Maybe it means doing what I can while keeping up with my other obligations, my own needs, and maybe even my personal life.

This redefinition helped me get through college sanely. If I felt the need to take a walk, or wanted to call a friend or answer a letter, or draw or write something, I would do those things first, then do my homework. If I did my homework first, there would never be time for anything else. I wasn’t so much procrastinating, as keeping my priorities straight. Not shirking obligations, but not letting them completely dominate me either.

This approach to schoolwork was, I suppose, my first attempt to fight my perfectionism with a “good enough” philosophy. It’s logical to expand the approach to other kinds of work, like my music business…

Is there “good enough” for me as a musician? I’ve chosen an instrument that is difficult to get perfectly in tune, especially if you’re trying to tune quickly. Sometimes I hit wrong notes, even in performance. There’s also questions of expression, dynamics, rhythm, etc. Because of budget and time constraints, I’ve used editing and other studio techniques to make my recordings better than they would be if I recorded “live.” I think I’ve made good progress on developing a reasonable “good enough” standard for my music work. I recognize that I’ll always have room to improve, and that it’s silly to wait to record or perform or teach until I’ve reached some goal. I practice a lot, but I’m not obsessive about it (except sometimes when recording, or when a performance is especially important to me). So now I am overwhelmed less often by the hugeness of what I need to do to grow as a musician; it usually hits me hardest in January, when I have a break from the holiday season and many gigless weeks to pursue my own musical goals.

It’s more difficult to try to understand “good enough” for relational obligations…

Is there “good enough” for me as a daughter, a friend, a wife, a Christian, a neighbor? I’m obligated to love my neighbor as myself. I’m supposed to honor my parents. These obligations are frighteningly huge to me. I don’t see how I can balance all the people I have to love; love can’t be divided and parceled out like time for work can. Somehow I’ve gotten the idea that “love your neighbor” combined with the Golden Rule means that I need to be the perfect ideal intimate friend and helper of everyone, as if everyone is as insatiable as I am. I can rarely think about world hunger or peace or even poverty in our own nation, because it’s too overwhelmingly huge. (And maybe Jesus really meant it when he told the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor; sometimes the sense of that obligation terrifies me.) What I can (barely) handle is trying to keep the husband a priority, trying to write good letters to the child we sponsor through Compassion Int’l, and being as good a friend as I can be to the few friends I have, although I fail miserably at loving even these few people. Everyone else — hungry, poor, homeless, war-torn, or just sitting next to me in church — sort of scares me to death.

It’s funny; people I meet through my business scare me a little less. I like talking to people who come up to me when I’m playing at the Farmers Market. I like when someone emails me to tell me they liked the CD they recently ordered. I like getting hired for gigs. Maybe because I know how temporary all these “relationships” are. The Farmers Market people will move on to buy vegetables and then go home. The gig will happen and be over. If the CD purchaser emails me again — I start to get scared again.

Maybe one reason I have so few friends is that I’m so terrified of my obligation to them, which I think usually comes across as selfishness.


6 thoughts on “Good Enough

  1. (Wow. You’ve been writing a bit, eh?)

    Thinking specifically about your question about your loving obligation to, basically, everyone, and how overwhelming it is in the context of poverty or hunger or war, etc., it occurs to me what a different context early Christians–or Christians for many centuries, for that matter–lived in. They lived in a much smaller world, far less aware of what was going on in the larger world beyond their community or region. It was more or less impossible to put their beliefs about right action into the kind of framework that freaks you out. And, for that matter, their communities were tiny compared to ours: our towns/cities/neighborhoods are huge and we’re part of so many different communities.

    Also, on your penultimate paragraph, I think there’s something more intimidating about people in the abstract than there is about particular individuals. As an educator, “parents” can seem a bit scary… but when you actually meet them one-on-one with an open mind, they’re good people. Same with administrators.

  2. Notice the date? I used to blog anonymously as “The Irksome Girl,” and when I opened this blog and closed that one, I laboriously saved all my old posts in notepad. In preparation for reinstalling Windows, I’m decluttering all my files, including publishing all those old writings that I want to publish, and deleting the rest. I’m sorry that it’s cluttering the feed readers — I didn’t think they would count as new posts because of the dates, but I guess technically they are because they’re published here for the first time, instead of being imported.

    But thank you for your response! You make an excellent point about the extent of one’s world / community / sphere of action. Even a small community can be overwhelming, though, if you think you are obligated to be best intimate pals with everyone regardless of any natural affinity. I think I have learned / metabolized quite a bit since 2005, and this issue doesn’t freak me out quite so much, but it does crop up again from time to time. One thing my dear late therapist taught was that love does depend on context — showing love to the cashier is not the same as showing love to one’s child or to one’s teacher or to one’s hired hand, etc.

    What I mentioned as funny is really an in-between — real people, direct contact, but in a context where continuing involvement is unlikely.

  3. No, I didn’t notice the date, but I’m not terribly surprised to find that that’s the case. I’m going to have to laboriously save all my blog posts and decide which ones make the cut to migrate to my new blog (my old host is closing). Maybe I’ll go the opposite direction, from blogging under my real name to blogging anonymously. 🙂

    I guess I’m inclined to think that, even accepting that there are different sorts of love, that really loving “everyone” is impossible and probably not worth the effort.

    I’m also reminded of an idea Neil Postman had about education, to the effect that a very productive curriculum could be based around the meanings of the most difficult words in the language, which aren’t the long, polysyllabic words that may be unfamiliar (those are easy, because they have one particular definition); instead, the most difficult words are the most common ones that are used to mean many different things: words like love, patriotism, God, liberty… and so forth.

  4. One of the things I’ve noticed about the parable of The Good Samaritan — the Samaritan was going about his own business, and merely stopped to help someone he met along the way. He didn’t go out of his way seeking people to help.

    That Postman idea is similar to the way one of my cooperating teachers organized her below average juniors English class — she showed some movie (I want to say “Legend” — some fantasy piece with a devil-like creature) and chose two or three words as common themes throughout literature, and returned to those themes throughout the year.

    And the AP teacher I wrote about in this post started the year by having us write an essay answering the question “What is good?”

    I bet you could export your blog posts, eliminating the laborious part. I don’t remember why I didn’t go that route, whether it wasn’t possible at the time or I didn’t understand how to go about it.

  5. Yeah, but he was just one of those lousy Samaritans! Not a good Jew! (Much less a Christian!)

    I can export my blog posts, but it’s fairly laborious anyway: I’ve got 2,186 entries, so when it sends me an e-mail with a month’s worth of entries, it’s usually 4-6 e-mails, and even then the formatting often seems off. It would be nice if there was an easier way, but I don’t know what that would be.

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