The Ideal, the Real, and The Syncopated Times

Aim High CDay bw 183x300 - The Ideal, the Real, and The Syncopated Times
Illustration from Thoughts Without Words by Clarence Day (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1928)

From the age of at least five or six I’ve been tormented by what may pass in a dim light for perfectionism. I would toil away at making something only to tear it down again when its excellence wasn’t sublime enough. In the first grade I ruined a rather good painting of a dinosaur when its execution started to drift from I perceived to be my best; in my last year of high school I started sixty-four drafts of a book report only to give the whole thing up and take a brave F.

The road of my life is paved with unfinished masterpieces. Among completed works, I have two novels that, with a little polishing (and some heavy editing), might be considered pretty good. There is no need to hide my light under a bushel when I can keep it in a desk drawer.


Owing to this manifest lifelong (non) achievement, most of the people I know can’t fathom that I’m publishing this paper every month. In their mind’s-eye view, they see me lolling and scratching and eating potato chips. They can’t imagine me keeping busy with anything but a remote. My colleagues were dubious (one still is) and even the man who sold me the paper didn’t think I could do it.

Vestiges of my crippling idealism still slow me down, though I can no longer afford the luxury of non-production. The Syncopated Times has to go to press every month whether it’s perfect or not. But I will confess that the issue you now hold took an unconscionably long time to produce, owing mainly to my determination to do justice to the subject of our cover story, the incomparable Janet Klein. For Janet, I wanted everything to be right.

That old book-report feeling was beginning to haunt me. My wife would come in to see me sitting at the computer—just sitting. Occasionally another word or sentence would appear on the screen. I took frequent naps (perfectionism demands naps), and worked about a dozen cryptic crossword puzzles. Then, with my Editorial Clock ticking ominously, I sat down and finished the profile.


Fortunately, the printer’s schedule this month allowed me additional time to agonize—or, as some would say, “loaf.” (All the world loathes a loafer, but he may only be trying to think of a word.) I’m writing this in the thirtieth minute of the eleventh hour before this paper absolutely must be put to bed. The (rather trite) moral to this story is that while perfectionism may be all well and good (and usually it’s not), when the deadline looms we have to accept our human limitations and get the job done anyway.

I hope that you have found the issue at hand pretty good.

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