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This, from passer-by whom I know slightly, while I'm on my hands and knees obviously in the midst of weeding my garden. Passer-by has an immaculate and beautifully planted front garden, which I've commented upon favourably when _I_ passed by. I would never, repeat NEVER, remark upon any weeds, even if there were any.

My unspoken reply: *"Why yes, thank you SO much for pointing that out! How would I EVER have noticed them, without you commenting?"*

I divide people into those who notice the weeds, and those who notice the flowers. If I notice weeds, it's only in a moment of gratitude that other people are normal and have normal failings and lives that preclude having immaculate houses or gardens. I envy immaculate houses and gardens slightly, but would really far rather just enjoy the crazy beauty of my own rather wild space outdoors, and I have far too little time to worry about cat hairs and dog footprints in my indoor space. Seeing as I am not retired, or wealthy, nor do I have anyone to share the labour of maintaining a house and garden, my place is not in a state of perfection. I like having a garden and pets, though I'm sure that some would think that I shouldn't have the one if I'm unable to keep it up perfectly or the other because of the incumbent mess.

All this is tied up with and something of a long preamble to something else I've been thinking about quite a bit lately. In some areas of my life I'm able to settle for being mediocre, or for merely making an effort and enjoying what I can do with that effort; in others, I seem to find it difficult to settle for second best. I've been accused of being competitive. I don't think I am, really. It's just that I grew up with one parent who was constantly quoting HER mother telling her that "if something is worth doing, it's worth doing well," and another parent who if I got an A would ask me why it wasn't an A+. It's not that I want to be better than other people, it's that I want to be as good as others, to be appreciated and acknowledged, and accepted. And I'm afraid that I won't be accepted if I don't do whatever it is other people expect of me.

My mother noticed the weeds in a garden. I could spend hours working on a flower bed, improving it beyond recognition, and she'd come out and say "oh look at that blasted bindweed" instead of saying how nice it looked. She considered it a personal failing if she didn't have dinner on the table at precisely the hour appointed; it was one of the biggest sources of stress between her and me in her later years that I couldn't, or sometimes wouldn't, adhere to the same kind of rigid schedule.

That's not to say that I don't think we should have standards or that we should all just muck about doing what we like and never try to do things properly or improve ourselves. But I do think that it's possible to enjoy doing something even if you're not terribly good at it. You don't have to be an Olympic class swimmer in order to enjoy swimming, or Martha Stewart to enjoy your house, cooking for your friends or planting things in the garden. And if I want to believe this for myself, then I need to allow this in my teaching - not an "I'm okay, you're okay" mentality, or "whatever you do is wonderful," but helping mediocre students to improve without making them feel ... well, mediocre, if they are not able to perform as well as the talented or the brilliant.

And how do you do that in a system that is built around pointing out the weeds?


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 9th, 2011 09:44 pm (UTC)
Never forget that the world is full of people like me (at least, I hope it is) who see a perfectly groomed lawn and think 'OCD owner who isn't ecologically-minded' or who see a garden without a weed and think 'that owner has money to spend on professional landscape maintenance.'

When I was a child, we had a neighbour who was obsessive about his lawn. Since there wasn't a fence between his lawn and ours we had to keep ours weed-free as well. So although I find a lawn without dandelions aesthetically pleasing there's a part of me that rejoices in a lawn that's gradually being taken over - as mine is - by moss, dandelions and chickweed. :D

ETA: Also - why do we assume that people are 'lazy' rather than unable to maintain a garden or afford to pay someone else to do it? I don't blame the former owner of my house for being a slob. I blame her for not hiring someone to clean it before she put it on the market.

Edited at 2011-06-09 10:02 pm (UTC)
Jun. 10th, 2011 07:42 am (UTC)
I hate it when the first thing that people mention are the flaws. :(

The funny thing is, sometimes it's what the recipient hears not what was actually said. (I'm not saying it was in this case, I hasten to add, I'm thinking of me now.)

I always blamed my perfectionist tendencies on the fact that as a child I was only praised if I did things well. Thus I learned to be afraid of doing anything badly and hence started using procrastination as a coping strategy. But recently my brother has mentioned several times that my mother's motto was always the original of the saying you quoted: "If a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly."

I have to admit that the saying never made sense to me when I was young, but it's a philosophy I'm trying to adopt now, rather belatedly, I must admit!

Re students, apart from the few outliers who do seem to be able to excel at anything they try, my recent research into language learning has shown that the degree of success correlates pretty much exactly with the amount of effort people put in -- or have put in previously. In my tutor groups, the ones who appear to have more initial talent always turn out to have done more writing beforehand, even it it's not fiction.

But of course, "You must work harder," isn't what young people want to hear these days, especially if they've fallen for the idea of "work smarter not harder." That can apply in a very few situations, but mostly it's the diligent hard work that pays off. That can be difficult for the low-fliers to see, especially if there is an ethos of "It isn't cool to study," so the successful ones do it in secret.
Jun. 10th, 2011 08:55 am (UTC)
I've been thinking a lot about this kind of thing recently and this is where I have ended up.

You only have a certain amount of time in your life. You can't do everything. Not everything you do can be done to an excellent standard, and some things can't be no matter how hard you work because your input is too small a part of the whole. You have to know this in order to understand how to approach things. You have to choose where to put your commitment. And you have to make trade-offs between time and quality.

Like you I am willing to do gardening (and housekeeping) badly in order to be able to do it at all. I am trying to be a good parent but it's subject to the same set of trade-offs.

Life gets very complicated. But I'm with you in choosing to enjoy the flowers and the pets and ignoring the weeds and the dust.
Jun. 10th, 2011 09:43 am (UTC)
Some people are just...

There are things that would never *occur* to me to say, not unless they bring it up themselves.

And I hear you on the battle against weeds - I would, in all honestly, prefer to lie in the garden for an hour than to combat bindweed.
Jun. 10th, 2011 08:38 pm (UTC)
Weeds? Seriously? I didn't see any weeds at all when I was at your place. I must be missing something *eg* Your flowers are simply gorgeous!
Jun. 10th, 2011 10:40 pm (UTC)
Well, and that must be why you are a valued friend :-)
Jun. 12th, 2011 06:51 am (UTC)
I'm coming to think that it's even more important to keep doing the things you do badly than it is to keep doing the things you do well. It's a way to stay well-rounded.
Jun. 18th, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC)
I'm working on this stuff as well, having grown up with similar parenting, it sounds like. I'm struggling with my gardening as well.....and settled on "what I can reasonable do" and "what's really important to me". Which turned out to be a half decent mowing, so the kids can play and and I like the look, a few choice veggies for fun, and a slow attempt to reclaim my carnation patch from the prairie grass and miscellaneous volunteers. I know it kills my mom to see my place, compared to hers, but it's the best I can do and what works for us.
Feb. 5th, 2012 03:42 am (UTC)
Hurrah for flowers, and for botanical diversity, and for residents of nearby homes who are actual neighbors (yes, I'll miss them) and stop to help weed. What a pill!

Oh, and hurrah for survivors of hypercritical parents (don't get me started).
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )


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