When my wife was a stay-at-home-mother, she had all the time in the world to be perfect. Before the birth of my daughter, our son was her only responsibility. She made sure that he was well fed, clothed, and that he had shoes upon his feet even before he could walk. When he was two-years-old, we enrolled him in his first preschool. And my wife volunteered to prepare some decorations for his Christmas party.
For several evenings before the big event, she’d travel to various stores, seeking the best materials. She’d bring them home and cut and paste and decorate to her heart’s content. She designed snowflakes for the backdrop for the stage where all the children would be singing their carols. She drew and cut out each snowflake, every one different. No two were alike. She went about clipping perfect edges, rounding several corners. Night after night, sitting at the kitchen table, my perfect wife steadied her hand to glue colorful beads and draw intricate designs on each flake. Then, a night or two before our son’s Christmas Party and sing along, she was done. Numerous hand crafted snowflakes were complete. Perfect.
A few hours before the show, she arrived early to place them. She arranged them with almost perfect precision, as if each were a world of its own, suspended in space, each keeping their distance and attraction to each other with their own centers of gravity. Against the wall where the children would soon arrive to perform for their parents, my wife prepared the most elegant backdrop of Christmas she’d ever done. And it would be her last. Oh, the horror of it all.
Children and their parents filtered into the Hall an hour later. Santa was set up in the corner, taking cues from parents on their children’s wants, creating an atmosphere of the all-knowing St. Nick. He wasn’t an impressive Santa. He wasn’t a perfect snowflake. But he got the job done. And the sound system that played music, well, it wasn’t perfect either. It was what I shall always refer to as a “Jam Box” thereby giving away my age in years. But it, too, got the job done. The punch and snacks were sub par but, they were good enough.
It was probably a good twenty-minutes or so before the Christmas Caroling would begin when the furious destruction occurred. Unsupervised children, running amok, round and round in a circle while parents took to face time with their cellphones. In the open area between the stage and the spectator landscape of tables, the dust devil showed itself. The tornado of running, circling children in an open stage game of tag or whatever spilled over to climbing up and off the stage, the stage with the perfect backdrop of perfect snowflakes. And while my wife looked on, the children tore at, tore off and turned the snowflakes into confetti. Before her very eyes, the many evenings of perfection lay all around the performance area, perfectly destroyed. She ran to the stage in an attempt to make salvage but, It could not be resuscitated. And the concert went on sometime later, with an empty backdrop.
Despite this unforeseen horror, my wife has always been happy with what she created despite the reception. That, in the end, is what counted. However, ever since then, when my wife starts making plans, or creating something, I remind her:
Remember the Snowflakes.
It’s a lesson I’ve put into my own work, my own writing. I’ve barely ever written a piece that turned out the way I first envisioned it. And on some occasions, my reader’s reaction has been unforeseen (for better or worse). I’ve written masterpieces only to be turned down at every proposal and I’ve written complete garbage that turned out to be everyone’s favorite. My opinion of my work is only the first step in a piece’s reception. When I’m happy with it, out it goes. I’m aware of the phrase, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Eventually, one must decide when enough is enough, when this edit is the final edit. That’s when I give it to other eyes. At that point, it has a life of its own. It grows or dies depending on an audience willing to share it, or ignore it or, in other cases, build on it. Yet in the end, if I was happy with the original submission, I can still be happy regardless of the fall out. No one else need be troubled any further if it falls short.
Remember the Snowflakes.
Hobbies aside, how many times have you gone to work at your job with a plan? Or envisioned your child growing up? You have a plan, right? Remember the Griswold trip to Wally World? Does life ever go as planned? No. And yet striving for perfection seems to be that which causes the most trouble and anxiety when things don’t go our way. We all have to learn that it isn’t just art that is abandoned. Every plan and pursuit just has to end sometime. About the only people who look happy about imperfection are the Buddhists. To them, it isn’t up for complaint. IT just IS.
Nothing is perfect or even begins or ends with our initial perception. Sometimes the surprising end is the reward in itself. Ever write a fiction story? I know that every one of mine surprised me in the end. Or when I got to the end, the surprise was discovering how much better it would be to change the beginning. Paintings, music, stories, I’m willing to fathom that every one began and ended differently than intended. This doesn’t just apply to the arts. It applies to every human endeavor. Every plan suffers from the planners pursuing the Logo yet the end result are shadows on the wall of the cave.
So if every plan ends up different than the planner’s expectation, is it reasonable to assume that the more people involved, the more people the project was intended to cover, will surely disappoint more people? Even if the plan is sufficient to the planner, isn’t it probable that the more chefs in the kitchen, the more differences of opinion will lead to more complications thereby pushing the project further away from even the planner’s intentions? Because this is exactly what I think when someone says, “We need a government, community program for that.”
Don’t be confused if you hear, “We need a public this and that.” Public in this atmosphere means, Government. It means taking your tax dollars, increasing them if necessary, to support a program that may or may not be what you want. It may sound good. Who doesn’t like the thought of a public transportation system? Or public schools? Or a public park? Or a public library? On the surface, it sounds like a grand plan open to everyone who can get to it. But that’s where it stops. That’s where the children arrive and trash your snowflakes.
Remember the Snowflakes.
In a prior post, I laid out how your very best intentions for a government program end up the very best political football in the very best trash can. Piled on top, underneath and around my wife’s snowflakes.
If you want to see what public medicine looks like, take a look at the Veteran’s Hospitals.
If you want to see what public housing looks like, come to Detroit and see them.
If you want to see what public transportation looks like, get on one of the buses or trains and see for yourself how well your shoes stick to the floor.
Well laid plans are always prepared forgetting about chaos theory. Government, public solutions are assumptions that everyone wears a size nine or ten shoe, give or take. The assumption is also that everyone has five toes, comparable arches and needs compensation for a bunion. As I’ve heard professional magician and fellow Libertarian Penn Jillette express, “With any problem, my first inclination is to see if we can solve it with more freedom.” Sometimes you can’t. But how do you know if you don’t try? You can always tighten the reigns later if need be. But loosening a well established knot is much more difficult.
It is important to acknowledge you are not the smartest person for every job. If you think fire rescue services should be public because private would deny the poor, well, unless you’re trained in the fire fighting, emergency services, transportation, medical care, etc, you probably haven’t thought that hard about it. Or, rather, don’t have all the information to make such a decision.
Who should teach children mathematics? A philosopher, painter? A culinary arts chef? Who should plot space travel? I’d argue that a philosopher and chef would be valid consultants considering just about every field would have to be in play to support human space travel. But would, say, an expert in ancient Roman history have any value? Before answering what appears to be an obvious “no”, maybe they would. I’m not a specialist in space travel so I can’t see a reason for it. Doesn’t mean there isn’t one out there.
Let’s examine some limited foresight of the Founding Fathers, locked into the Constitution. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7 authorizes Congress to establish the Post Office and post roads. The purpose was to carry the mail and create interstate communication. In reviewing some of the arguments on it, none argued in favor of privatization. Thomas Jefferson writing to James Madison in 1796 was the closest letter of complaint about turning it into a federal program; yet, he never went so far as saying a private company or person could handle it. But this is essentially what we have now. Private companies delivering letters and mail and consumer goods. Fed Ex, UPS, DHL to name a few of the big names. Flying, driving packages day and night. Amazon.com is considering getting into the automated drone package delivery system. Virtually speaking, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, et all pass millions of messages daily through texts, voice, social media and other services. Facebook, Twitter, et all are doing the same. What people in the 1790s could not see is happening today making Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7 irrelevant.
Now does this mean don’t bother, give up in your private and public life? Nope. It means that if you have a great idea, it’ll be your great idea. You may be the only one who will think so (except, maybe your mother). If others flock to and adopt your idea, all the better. It’ll be voluntary. By all means, proceed with your great idea to better yourself or fulfill something missing or to make something but if it fails, you and those who voluntarily came on board will be the only ones to suffer the consequences.
As with everything you do, strive to please yourself first. Then send the finished product off to be reviewed by others. As Philip Roth said, “Don’t judge it. Just write it. It’s not for you to judge it.” Yet understand that your baby is probably going to be destroyed by someone who doesn’t see it as important as you. It’s part of the creative process. But as long as you’re happy with it, that’s the bottom line.
Remember the Snowflakes.
(I’ve intentionally chosen to stop editing before this piece was sufficient to my own heart. I’ve decided to abandon this right here and now. Just to teach my OCD a lesson).