Last May, I was working at a church, and it was awful. The pastor was a perfectionist, slow to praise and quick to point out anything I did wrong. The last straw came when he told me that he’d decided I had five typos left, and then I’d be out of a job. I hadn’t thought I was making that many mistakes, and I knew I was putting effort into my work. I also was involved in other projects, like helping overhaul the website, that were acknowledged minimally, if at all. So I quit.
About a week later, I was chatting to my MFA program director, who’s also the co-founder and editor of a literary magazine, and when she heard I needed work, she offered me a job on the spot. It’s a fantastic job. I’ve learned how to use two new computer programs since I’ve been here (not to mention a new operating system), and gotten markedly better than I used to be at two more. My bosses now are all about exploration and playfulness, and much less about mechanical perfection. I design posters, for example, for guest poets and speakers, for example, and once or twice it’s happened that a typo went to print and it hasn’t been a big deal (I keep wanting to clarify – I really don’t mess up that often, and I catch more errors than I make, but sometimes ‘night’ gets changed to ‘evening’ at the last second and I forget to switch ‘a’ to ‘an’). If I was thoughtless or careless about what I was doing, that would be another story, but in this job the bigger picture of what I’m doing matters more than any little bumps.
I’m still working on making a similar shift in my writing life. I’m still too quick to scold myself for not being as good or fast or prolific as I want to be, and need a hugely significant achievement (see Exhibit A) to happen in order to feel proud of what I’m doing. So I’m trying to quit, or rather I’m trying to be that kind of supportive presence for myself. I’ve got a new essay up in Stories & Things, a little piece I’ve been meaning to write for a while now, but hadn’t, perhaps because I thought it was too light to really matter. Now it’s written, and it made me happy to write it, and I hope someone may read it and like it too, but what’s best is that it is there now when it wasn’t before.