I bet that someday scientists mapping the human genome will discover a previously undetected strand in our DNA that controls the urge for perfection. Our ancestors back in the cave may have shared this trait, but really? We have gone completely off the rails. Today, there’s so much more you have to do to be perfect than rub a couple of sticks together to start a fire or bring home the nuts and berries.
I am not immune. In fact, I’m as driven to be perfect as anyone. Which is why I must stop and shout ‘Basta!’ I can’t take it anymore. Just consider.
The body. In olden times, say, pre-boomers (with the notable exception of Ponce de León), people actually accepted the fact that they were going to die. They didn’t devote many hours each day to staving off the inevitable. All our running, Zumba-ing, weight-lifting, yoga and qi gong-ing — along with Reiki, Rolfing, chiropractic, Feldenkrais and chakra healing (I’ve tried them all) — may be pleasurable while also improving our health, appearance and muscle tone, but they’re not going to alter the fact that, alas, we’re mortal. Sadly, this is also true even if you go gluten-, dairy-, sugar-, alcohol- or red-meat-free and slather yourself in 50+ sunscreen.
Food. When my mother used to have a dinner party and put a nice pot roast from the A&P on the table, the guests were thrilled. Nobody needed to know the name of the cow, or if the farmer who raised it gave it a happy, happy life where it roamed free and filled its tummy with yummy-tasting, pesticide-free grass — until the day of execution. Now, I would be lying if I said that I’m not as consumed as the next seasonally driven, organically inclined locavore, but even I have to admit that our obsession with food has gotten out of hand. I often have to remind myself that sometimes dinner is just, well, dinner, and not every meal needs be a peak experience.
Work. Where to start? First, of course, there’s the whole global ADHD culture, the awful 24/7 thing where people are expected to be available at all times. For creative types, it’s even worse. Take writers. Not only do you have to do the soul-scorching work of mining your unconscious, then giving it voice and shape, now you have to have a platform. Better yet, in order to gain as many followers as possible you should write across multiple platforms and publish your own personal newsletter, as well as issue regular podcasts so that when you break away from the Twitterverse to actually write, you might someday be able to sell a book — or its e-equivalent. It’s hard to imagine Jane Austen or William Faulkner in a flopsweat over whether they have enough followers to get themselves a decent advance.
Parenting. OMG. Pity the parents. Pity the children. Love is no longer enough. Today’s parents must see to it that no pesticide-laden, GMO-tainted morsel ever passes through their child’s lips. They must also make certain that their child’s spirit is never dampened by hearing the word “no.” This could interfere with the child’s ability to successfully learn Mandarin, become a star athlete, spend summers volunteering in Africa, get straight A’s in AP courses in high school in order to get into Harvard and, possibly, be one of the few college graduates lucky enough to nab a sales associate position at McDonald’s.
Mind and spirit. So many options are open to us now that were unknown to our poor, deprived ancestors. We can pray to our Higher Power, practice the Secret, perform random acts of kindness, repeat our affirmations, get in touch with our past lives, spend 37 years in therapy, apprentice a shaman, meditate daily and do everything possible to improve ourselves. Still, most of us will not become saints. Not only that, sooner or later we must realize that we are not driving the train and there’s nothing to do but surrender to our exquisite, imperfect life just as it is and enjoy the ride while it lasts.