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At 3:47 A.M. last night, if you'd been looking for me, I could be found puttering around my apartment. I had things to do: watching an episode of The West Wing. Plucking yellow leaves off a peace lily. Pouring a dollop of Bluecoat gin, pulled from the freezer, into an already full martini ("martini" = redeeming olive).
So help me God, I am a perfectionist. If you've escaped that fate, it may not be obvious how all of these pursuits (each obviously inferior to, um, sleep) are spokes on the perfectionist wheel. I'll explain.
Some time ago I discovered that if you happen to be up at 3 A.M. on a given weeknight, you can probably find a re-run of the West Wing on Bravo. Ever since then, once it's 2:56 I become a lost cause. Even if my eyes are already half-shut, I will pry them open to stay up and tune in. My love for the show can be traced directly to Aaron Sorkin's dialogue. Every damn character is meticulous--whether it be in their politics, their ethics, their addiction to witty banter, or their martyrdom. Every sentence is polished to a golden glow; if you are right you will be perfectly right, if you are wrong you will be perfectly wrong, and if you are vague it will be a mists of vaguedom so thick and diffractively glorious as to spawn rainbows.
Realistic? No. But West Wing dialogue is crack to a perfectionist.
Exhibit B: To a perfectionist's eye, a room-temperature martini is a fatally flawed martini. So even though I'd stopped actually drinking a good hour before, I freshened it up with cold gin from the freezer, so that the glass once more assumed its glaze of frost. That was the last time I touched it until I dumped it in the sink before bed.
Besides being wasteful with reasonably expensive liquor, perfectionists adopt sadistic attitudes toward innocent plants. Take the peace lily, which was completely wilted to the floor upon my return from a holiday-weekend road trip. The moment I'd noticed it, I got out a trash bag and picked it up to pitch it. Give it a cup of water, pled my boyfriend. It could come back. I looked at him suspiciously. Clearly this plant was broken. Not only that, it's presence in the living room was raising the big red flag of bad housewifery--I hadn't even thought about watering it before leaving town. I couldn't take the reminder of my failure. Give it a day, he said.
Come around 3:20 A.M. (as Josh is worrying over Stackhouse's third-party candidacy), I hear a rustling sound. I look over, and--lo and behold, the peace lily is visibly perking up.
Do I sit back, bless my boyfriend's patience, and enjoy the Lazarus show? Nope. I become fixated on the dozen or so irreversibly yellow leaves. I stalk over, hunker down, and start stripping them off with my bare hands. It's not easy. They're wilty, but still kin-flesh to the plant. I'm become some barbarian, dragging maidens off by their long, soft hair even as they try to cling to their families.
Once I'm done, what remains is a plant free of any but the most perfect, glossy green leaves. And, probably, severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
As a writer, perfectionism offers a lot of benefits. I am dedicated to pushing ahead on revisions. I don't lose things. I meet deadlines. But the next time someone says I wish I had your drive I'm going to be honest and say, Seriously, dude, you wouldn't wish for it at 4 A.M.