I am tired of struggling for excellence. At 66 years old it’s time to get comfy being average. I can put on my worn out, torn, jumbo-sized t-shirt, a.k.a. nightgown, and my blue fuzzy slippers which have lost their nap, settle into my used-before-I-got-it lounge chair, and rest on my laurels of imperfection.
This week I am dancing, singing in choir and in a musical, playing the piano for church, writing biographies, teaching dance, and going to a 12-step meeting. The only thing I’ll do perfectly is attend my meeting because I am a fruitcake, everyone there is a fruitcake, and we thrive on sharing our imperfections. Everything else I’ll do imperfectly. I will be mediocre at every single one of those activities. I better get used to it, nay, love it. I’m average and it’s just fine! That sounds good. Maybe I can wrap myself around and into that belief.
I wrote those words ten years ago and I’m still wrestling with mediocrity!
Last week I was chagrined to have only one photo accepted into an art show (the second one was rejected). There are so very many photographers — even local ones who are friends of mine — who create exceptionally fine pieces. Part of my lack of excellence is that I have a cheap camera. Part is that I’m starting late and I’m too scared to learn new tricks. And part is that I am just not that imaginative although I’m quite good at stealing other people’s ideas.
And on the very same day, one of the stories I wrote was rejected. Although I have had a few pieces of writing published here and there, I know I am just average at using language. Being old and having a brain which was concussed six times certainly doesn’t help. In August, I took a writing class at the John C. Campbell Folk School and was given both good ideas and encouragement. But when I took a class in poetry last week I was horrible:
“Acorns are falling; squirrels sleep in.”That was the best I could do.
I bounce around with different areas of interest, which doesn’t help me perfect one. Unlike a professor I know, an international expert on saw grass, I can’t think of anything I want to learn or to do requiring that huge amount of expertise. Really, though, do I want to spend my life with sawgrass?
I am amazed that I can get disappointed at age 77 over the fact that I will probably never rise above average. Why should I? Other people seem to have no problem with the idea of my being average.
My friend, Helen, said I shouldn’t run from being mediocre but think of it as a sport to be enjoyed. I mentioned this to Wanda while she was doing her cranial-sacral manipulation of my head. We talked about my need to be outstanding. Where did it come from? How old was I when I thought it would be important? What was I supposed to be outstanding at? Or rather: At what was I supposed to be outstanding? Taking care of others? Tap dancing?
It’s red-faced embarrassing to think that I should still be working on preadolescent parental issues. It’s ancient history. “Why did you not get “O’s” (for Outstanding) in allyour classes?” I was instructed that being a good student would keep my parents from fighting, Mother from going to the mental hospital, Father from getting drunk and committing suicide. I thought I had banished all that by purposely getting a “B” in my last graduate class.
It’s fine to enjoy striving to be the best at something. Where I run amuck is the belief that if I dosignificantly better than average, I willbesignificantly better than average – a super hero who prevents bad things from happening. The reality has been that, despite my efforts, people drink, go to mental hospitals, and die.
Over many years of hitting my head against the wall I know (but sometimes forget) that I can look for spiritual solutions to problems I can’t solve otherwise. This is a spiritual problem and requires a spiritual solution. When I had trouble creating the last paragraph to this essay, I wrote some friends for help. This morning the Universe provided Roland, age 97, who wrote me: “You do not have to be responsible to anybody for anything. Without your turning it, the world can spin. For your final paragraph write: It’s not my job anymore!”
Rosemary Woodel loves to write, sing, practice photography. Her recent video is popular among local photographers:
When I was a child, every few weeks we would visit my Aunt Norene, my daddy’s sister, and her husband, Uncle Nat. They lived in the country. Just down in the country. I didn’t really think of their location in any other terms. Their house was along the Stephen-Salem Road, in Oglethorpe County, but back then, I’m not sure the road had a name, their address was probably just a rural route number.
In the 1950s, country houses were landscaped with whatever grew nearby or could be acquired from friends or family by cuttings. Somewhere along the way, my Aunt Norene had received cuttings from a crepe myrtle. She haplanted four in a square to form an informal courtyard to the left side of the house.
Because Aunt Norene’s and Uncle Nat’s four sons were already grown, it was always a little boring to visit, but as a child, I had no say in the matter, nor did it ever dawn on me that I would. It was still the era of “Children should be seen and not heard.” When the time came for everyone to get into the car to go home, it didn’t mean you were actu- ally leaving. The grownups would continue to talk, and you could sit there for an eternity before Daddy started the car and pulled out onto the road.
We were at this point during one late winter visit, waiting for the grownups to finish talking. The weather was warm, and I took the opportunity to stroll around my aunt’s side courtyard. For the very first time, I noticed that after the crepe myrtle’s blooms had dropped off, a dried boll, much like cotton bolls, remained. As I idled there, I pulled a boll off, and discovered to my surprise that the small needle-sized stem that attached to the boll came off with the slightest of pulls, leaving a perfectly round hole.
I can’t really remember just how the idea hit me, but my mother’s birthday was coming up, and I had been thinking I could make something for her. Almost from that moment, I knew it would be jewelry. I gathered as many of the dried bolls as I could, never thinking to ask my Aunt Norene if it would be OK, but it did strike my mother as the thing to do. It was just fine as it turns out.
According to my Aunt Norene, it allowed for fewer things to clean from the yard as they fell from the plants in the spring.
Mother never asked why I wanted them. She had four children, and I was always making, fixing, or changing things just for the fun of it. If this kept me busy, it was probably just fine with her. She also didn’t ask why I wanted the old rhinestone necklace and matching earrings she never wore. Come to think of it, they were particularly gaudy, and probably something one of us had bought for her on another occasion.
I stripped the stones from the necklace and used the string and hooks, and I pried the stones out of the ear- rings. I strung the crepe myrtle bolls onto the necklace, and placed three bolls on each earring, where the rhine- stones had been removed. I couldn’t have been happier with my finished product.
When my mom opened her gift, she was truly amazed with what I had done. She, of course, told me how beautiful the necklace and earrings were, and just raved over my creativity. She even showed them to the lady next door and to other friends. However, I noticed that she never wore the jewelry. I finally suggested that she wear them to church, but she begged off, saying that they were so beautiful and special, but so delicate that she was afraid they would break. She would just enjoy looking at them in her jewelry box, she said. I was a bit disappointed, but still young enough to believe her.