I’ve been reading a book called Women’s Work, which is about archeology and what we know of what women in pre-history did, on the assumption partly, that this sets what women like to do/the type of work our ancestresses were selected for.
Rest assured I did not forget I was in the middle of a cover workshop, and I’ll return to it next week, but after 2 weeks in Portugal and a 35 hour journey back a week ago, I had the world’s worst case of plane crud. It seems to be a little better, though worse than yesterday. I hope to resume it next week, but it’s arduous work. So for now, we’ll discuss other things.
Like imperfect work, and the effects it can have on the world.
If you’re like me suggestions that your work is less than perfect make you cringe, and you actually spend time being embarrassed over typos (well, no, not in blogs. I do them for free and don’t even proofread.) when the copy editors point them out.
So you probably think, having got the tenor of my personality from years of writing here, that I’m going to tell you not to do the work if you can’t make it perfect.
Heaven knows it’s what I tell myself, often enough, particularly when I’m feeling sick and therefore everything I write feels like crap.
I’m not going to do that, because if I had a dime for every time I thought something I finished was without flaw I’d be even poorer than I’m now, because I’d have none. Coincidentally (?) I went to the Da Vinci exhibit in DMNS for a late mother’s day present from my family, and there was a quote I can no longer reproduce, but which goes something like “The greatest danger to an artist is thinking his work is perfect.”
This morning, while having coffee and postponing the evil hour of getting dressed and sitting down to work, I found myself reading the author of Women’s Work, Elizabeth Wayland Barber, talking about how imperfect the first excavation of Troy was. Heinrich Schliemann, through no fault of his own but being born when he was, had no clue that archeology should be performed in layers, or that there might be more than one Troy on the site he excavated. He assumed the remains of the site were emulsified and the same through and just carelessly digging.
Barber explains all that, and how frustrating it is because for her own purposes she’d like to know when a set of faience and gold beads might have been used in a cloth. And then, speaking of reading his diaries, she talks about how much Schliemann inspired her when she was young.
As a bookish and history-minded girl, he inspired me too, and I might have had dreams of following in his footsteps.
So, how many people did this imperfect man — beyond his issues with digging up the site, he actually faked some finds, in order to make them more impressive — inspire, and how much did his, admittedly by our standards, muddled work contribute to future and perhaps even better work?
I’d guess a lot. Without him, we might not have anything like the knowledge of the past we now have, or the understanding of how to dig a site, for that matter.
Also, let us remember he was in his sixties when he did this work, after a life of daydreaming of doing it, while doing more mundane, every day work. And this at a time when life expectancy was at a stretch to be lucky enough to live to your eighties.
So, what am I saying?
Though we work alone, writing is communication. Storytelling is also one of the strongest, more survivable forms of communication. It can go through generations in fact. Who is to say that if civilization collapsed tomorrow I wouldn’t tell the grandkids around the campfire of Kip who went to the moon, and that in that form Heinlein’s work wouldn’t survive a thousand years though admittedly probably having very little to do with his words (I do not have an eidetic memory, or not anymore.)
When we write we are throwing something out into the world. We tend to think of our work as finished pieces, sufficient onto themselves, but they are never that. One of your stories, found by chance in ten years or fifty might inspire the dreams of someone who will create something from that inspiration that you can’t even dream of, and accomplished beyond your imaginings. Or more, it might inspire them to go out and create and do something in the real world.
Think of writing, rather than as isolated pieces as a great tapestry always left unfinished, that other hands will pick up after you’re long gone and weave new patterns into.
And somewhere, maybe, you’ll know of it, and be proud.
The only way to utterly fail is never to write.
Yes, your work will be imperfect. Whose isn’t? But you do the best you can with all you have, and you go on. And perhaps in the future someone will find gold beads among the dirt.
Sure, people of the future will also sneer and preen and give themselves superior airs about your failings. But be not daunted. Those who sneer at the past are the midgets, unable to even attempt to climb to the waist of giants, let alone their shoulders.
Real, functional human beings, let alone artists, acknowledge the burnt remains of the past as we try to build our own structures on the site, and spare a thank you to those who went before and whose imperfect work, augmented by our equally imperfect efforts might some day inspire a better future.