I am not perfect – I never have been, and, as I enter my thirtieth year, I am sure I never will be. Though my mistakes are frustrating, I always know that deep down I have no desire to be perfect or pretend that I am perfect. My imperfection is what I believe binds me to other people. I believe that if we allow ourselves to face our imperfections they are a source of great humor and inspiration.
Somewhere within, I always believed in the power of imperfection, but was never able to validate my beliefs. That is until I began a course in Victorian literature in college. Though I could not persuade my professor that, in my view, almost all Victorian essayists and poets argued for the inspirational power of imperfection in art and in life, I was never so comforted as when I read Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue, Andrea del Sarto. In this poem, Browning clearly outlines the price of perfection – extreme boredom and art that is flat and lifeless. Now I am sure that in all of life’s pursuits “the reach should exceed the grasp.” In writing, in music, in visual art, the idea should far exceed one’s powers of expression. Life should be the constant struggle to blast far beyond the back gates of heaven to make our expression match our ideas and inspirations. Whether an artist of expression or of life as a whole, the true artist knows that their expression will never match their will, but the struggle is everything. What is life without the unattainable? What is life without hope? What is life if not on the back of Plato’s wild stallion?
I believe one should make a career out of imperfection. As a college writing teacher, I want my students to know that I want their mistakes. I want their imperfections, and I want them to be proud of them. Like many scholars of pedagogy, I believe strongly in the brilliance of blunders. If there were such a thing as perfect writing, I doubt flawless grammar would be the vehicle of perfection. I believe in the passion of ideas first, followed by creative solutions in the struggle for expression.
Though years have passed since my first reading of Andrea del Sarto, I return to it every time I doubt the power of imperfection. I still believe in imperfection, even though some scowl at the idea of teaching imperfection in the classroom. Perhaps our professions are the hardest place to admit we are imperfect, but I still believe in it. Or perhaps the one thing we all have in common is what scares us the most. I believe we try too hard to hide our imperfections when they could work for us. I’ll keep trying to lessen the divide between my will and my expression in all areas of life, but, until then, I’ll just be imperfect.
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