In fifth-grade art class, we learned about Jackson Pollock, an artist known for abstract expressionism. He became famous for dripping paint onto canvases, flicking and throwing and pouring colors all over the place in the name of art. Some of my classmates were skeptical, because, after all, to our 10-year-old selves, the Pollock replications we’d just stained our clothes painting looked eerily similar to the famous ones in the museums. I, on the other hand, was sold. As an artistically challenged, semi-introverted fifth grader, I had found an uncanny resonance with the disorder of Pollock’s work. For the first time in my life, I felt as though my thoughts could be expressed on paper.
Here’s the thing: I am not an organized person, but I am a perfectionist.
The paradox of this does not fall upon blind eyes. The way I see the world falls somewhere between inherent tedium and absolute entropy, and that is how it’s always been. I never intend to be the exemplar of disaster, but I often am. I fill my calendar with plans, flooding my life with commitments I can’t keep. I stumble into unmade beds at night, insistent that, this time, I’ll be complacent in the morning. I keep my car pristine but lose my keys religiously. I open a fresh notebook with the intention of planning and end up with pages of scratched words and half-baked ideas. I’m quick to apologize and slow to forgive. I, while well-meaning, fall victim to my inner chaos, time and time again.
Growing up, this contradiction lent itself to extreme bouts of premature writer’s block and, in turn, a thorough fear of writing. I could not find a way to organize my thoughts into words, sentences and stories. I felt constrained by the way I was taught to write — by the rules, clear and concise. I feared that, much like myself, my writing would be messy and improper. Most of all, I was afraid of being misunderstood. Words were so meaningful, and, in turn, so terrifying.
After years of frustration over unfinished sentences, unmade beds and late nights looking for lost keys, the right words or both, I have come to accept that we, as writers and people, are not linear, and we sure as hell aren’t perfect.
This may seem odd coming from a copy editor. I, after all, dedicate hours of my week to proofreading and correcting other people’s mistakes. The copy editor, by definition, is a curator of precision. We at the copy desk adhere to strict grammatical guidelines and seek to streamline the news we share with the clarity and concision that scared me so long ago. We are detail-oriented and particular, and, as a child, I think the newsroom of The Michigan Daily might have scared the crap out of me.
But the truth is, I don’t edit for perfection. I don’t write simply to organize my thoughts. I don’t proofread solely to correct error or fact-check to streamline the world.
I do these things because I believe in the value of the process; in what we learn about ourselves and the world when we challenge ourselves not to fear the chaos, but to create something out of it, whatever that may be.
Years ago I sat with a pencil in hand, positive that to follow the rules was to create something meaningful. But now I think that meaning can derive from the opposite: pushing against the rules, throwing paint on the canvas and letting it become art.