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Thursday, June 9th, 2011 01:44 pm
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?