“The Greenland Diaries: Backyard 06″ – by Patrick W. Marsh

“You think that man can help us?” Ron said. He pulled at the little scabs that had formed around his lips from the vines slashing at him while he tried to escape Snake Tooth Pass. It’d been about two hours since they finally gave in, and stopped running at the walls of trees. Mostly, it was Melissa who convinced them to stop with heavy bouts of crying and screaming. Even though they’d been inside the forest and its trembling branches of barely budded trees for nearly four hours, the sun hadn’t moved its leaf-cut silhouettes since they first walked in. The wind hadn’t changed either; it’d been a consistent breeze cutting between the trunks and dirt-pulled paths. It was like nothing had been dissected by time except their blood and skin.

“I don’t know if it was a man. It looked like something else,” Milo said. He was pacing in front of the black water. Something about it had changed recently since the cloaked figure had disappeared.

“Well, if he’s on the island still, then maybe we could swim over there and talk to him,” Melissa said. Her voice was contorted from crying and screaming. She sounded hoarse and strangled, like an old woman whispering.

“I don’t see him anymore, and you wouldn’t miss him. He was strange,” Milo said.

“Well, I’m going to try and get over there and see him,” Ron said. He staggered up and split a few more scabs from his lips.

“Plus, the water will clean off all this blood,” he said.

“Ron, don’t be stupid, stop trying to prove yourself,” Milo said.

“Shut up Milo, nobody wants to hear you talk right now,” Ron said.

“Both of you shut up, nobody should go anywhere till we get help,” Melissa said.

“Screw it, I’m jumping in. We’ve been here for hours and nobody’s come,” Ron said, wadding into the dark water.

“Just stop and think Ron, you’re making everything worse,” Milo said. He was standing on the weed-soft edge of the pond with black-rotted stick in his right hand. He was ready to swing it out over the water in case Ron had problems.

“Shut up Milo, and put that away, this water isn’t even that deep,” Ron said.

As if sensing his optimism and confidence, the mud beneath his feet, which felt slimy and sticky, sunk down like a hidden pit. Ron’s blond head bobbed below the weather like a feathered cork. He had suddenly, or maybe just provoked, a hidden drop-off. Ron started swimming immediately in panicked wiggles. Below the water level it looked like the night had reversed itself. It was completely black and hollow, like the long dormant eye of a skull. Even the sun barely penetrated the melted-shadow as Ron stared down at the pulling deep. Something was making the swim longer, more complex, like it wanted Ron to work on getting to the island.  After swimming through the water for what seemed like a small century, in a shivering doggy-paddle, Ron stopped and looked back at the shore. Logically, it should only be a few yards away from when he got in the water. Instead, it looked like the far side of the ocean. He could barely make on the battered forms of Melissa and Milo standing on the bank. Something hissed in the water around him, and he turned back towards the island. It wasn’t far, just about ten yards away. He could see a few flying beetles sticking to the sharp green reeds sprouting off the island.  Ron dived down into the water to give himself some more energy. He liked going down below the surface a little bit. It gave him some extra energy. The water was black, oily, and cold to him. The underwater shore started to appear as his hands parted the unending bubbles in front of his face.

He stopped and screamed at what the shore had waiting below its banks.

Faces, pearl and perfect, like masks out of some ghoulish play, had been fused into the dirt and grime of the island. They spread apart as Ron got close, like they were going to entrap him. They were smooth and flawless, and had slits for eyes for features. No mouth, nose, or ears stared back at him. The faces started to shift slight in his vision back and forth, like they were part of some unholy melody. A shadow in the water was below them floating. It was sharp, stretched, and shaped like a man. It was pulling on something mixed in the water and matter to make the masquerade dance.

Ron immediately soiled himself, and clawed to the surface.

“Faces!” He screamed to the shifting shores.

“There are faces in the water,” he said. He scrambled backwards in the water.  A hard point jutted into his shoulder. It was Milo’s branch from before. Ron clawed onto it like a lost cat.
“You only went a few feet Ron,” Melissa said. She couldn’t hide her disappointment.

“Adolescent Autonomy” – Elitism For All – by Ozgur K. Sahin

I have often mused over the differences between privatization and governmental controls, but not in the way that it seems most do. As you may be aware, I rarely write pieces here that are blatantly about politics, and with the onslaught of initiatives being passed or rejected in many states, not to mention healthcare reform and the endless bickering over who is most wrong or most corrupt, I’m not really all that much more inclined to. Yet through it all, one issue keeps cropping up: How much should government get involved in people’s lives? What always perplexed me was how often this question is perceived as a different one: How much should government be involved in running the various services that citizens use and need?

I used to work in an office full of nurses, and obviously the topic of healthcare came up in conversation a lot. And while they pretty much all believed that everyone should have healthcare, I often heard, “But I don’t know that I’d like the government to be in charge of it.” What government? The current one? One dominated by a different party? Any government? Ever? Why not? What automatically makes governmental control less desirable? Shouldn’t the main requirement be that it functions well?

See, I realized that people don’t think that all privatized management works well—for healthcare or anything else. Nor do they think that all non-profit organizations are inept, so the argument that “profit driving competition and motivation makes the service better” doesn’t even hold up. No, the problem is specifically with government being the body that manages healthcare, in spite of the fact that no one seems to think Medicare for the elderly is a terrible thing.

Some countries even offer free college tuition for citizens, but when we get past the whole idea that we “couldn’t possibly afford this,” again we see the argument that government should not be responsible for college education. There are many arguments about how government does not run such things as efficiently or cost-effectively as the private sector, but there is little to no discussion about reforming how things are run; there is only discussion of having such things change hands, as if that in itself fixes the problem. If we just handed off every failed private business to the government (or to someone else), citing the former owners’ failures as proof that those businesses should never be run by those people, just think how ridiculous that would sound. With this attitude, it is a wonder that we don’t instead say, “If at first you don’t succeed, then it was clearly never possible for you in the first place, and you should let someone else have a go at it.” But this is what people say of governmental control.

It seems to be less about how things are managed than it is about who does the managing. Those who are distrustful of government seem to want to privatize everything, and those who distrust the private sector want the government to take over or heavily regulate everything, and few seem to pay attention to how these distinctions tend to become increasingly meaningless the more that the same individuals rotate between business and government (the SEC being one of the key culprits). Isn’t the main issue here usually some form of greed? Isn’t the desire to be in control, yet remain unaccountable the main conflict of interest? Do we really believe this changes significantly whether we put the greed and control in business or in government? Put everything in the hands of business and we end up with monopolies and price gouging. Put it in the hands of government, and we get kickbacks, wasteful spending, inefficiency and sloth. And we act as if this is natural, and we must therefore balance these two somehow. But it is not some kind of natural or foregone conclusion; rather it is just what happens when an attitude of ownership divorced from accountability is placed on either side of that somewhat arbitrary boundary.

And boundaries are really what we should be talking about here.

Because there is endless rhetoric about rights. It seems like no matter which side of this nonsensical divide we find ourselves on, everyone is talking about rights, as if these are divorced from responsibilities. The healthy boundaries of an individual are formed by a solid sense of rights inflating the boundary walls from the inside enough to afford scope and individuality, but are balanced by another internal force of responsibility, policing that inflation to ensure that it doesn’t attempt to stretch one’s own boundaries towards infinity. To reiterate, both of these forces are internal. The boundary is not created by greedily attempting to inflate individual boundaries to infinity and being stopped at “just the right spot” by an external society or government that is also greedily attempting to inflate its own boundaries to infinity. Nor is the healthy boundary of government created by this endless inflation being stopped at “just the right spot” by individuals grabbing for all they can.

“Responsibilities” are not just another way to read “the rights that others try to hoard, that stop us from hoarding everything ourselves.” When love and care replace greed and self-importance, negotiations are less pressured because both sides negotiate for themselves and for their potential opponents. They determine where their own boundaries should end so they don’t ram up against those of everyone else. They don’t just wait until that jarring collision occurs to draw up the borders. It is as I say about the abuse of people who are very patient: Responsible people are grateful for the patient, because they know if they have a momentary lapse of judgment about where their own boundaries should be, and there is a rough collision or violation, the patient people will not launch a counterattack. Yet narcissists blithely keep pushing out until such collisions occur—just as they normally would with the less patient—and enjoy the extra space they were able to grab out of it. In one case, the boundaries function as a normally disused and unnecessary reminder and policing. In the other case, the boundaries are created or discovered through a process of forceful grasping for all one can take until stopped by equal and opposite force—a scenario in which an understanding of responsibility is not only unnecessary, but alien.

And when people only discover their limits by colliding hard with them, is it any wonder our prisons are so full?

Yet this is our legal system. Legislation has become about loopholes, semantics, and getting away with things (for further insight, I recommend The Death of Common Sense, by Philip K. Howard). It’s not only about violently colliding with the boundaries of others; it’s about pressing up against them so hard and for so long that we find all the cracks and breaches so we can violate them unseen. Whether it’s about infinite private rights that try to reduce all governmental influence to ineffective administrative duties, or about infinite public (governmental) rights that try to reduce all individual liberties to transparent and harmless parodies of democracy, be sure that it’s not about “private versus government,” but rather “greed versus everyone.” And if we are legitimate, responsible, generally unselfish people, perhaps we should stop merely trying to fix the problem by playing musical chairs with who manages the services in our society and actually address the greed involved in it on any and all sides.

Perhaps the problem perceived by people who want to divest government of all such things under its power that are possible to wrest free is that government, while currently infected with this greed and corruption, is too large to be allowed to consolidate it all in one place like that (though as I said, it’s not as if government is really separate from all alternative institutions). And in that case, of course it is natural not to want healthcare, news coverage, radio and television stations, banking or education to be completely (or even mostly) state-run. But it is too easy to forget (or never to realize) that these things are not inherently bad, because corruption is not inherently inevitable. When government is the automatic enemy, regardless of how well things may work, then it just appears that we are forever rebelling for no other reason than to establish individuality, like teenagers that never want to grow up and grow out of hating all authority just because it “defines us too much” or makes us “feel smothered.” At this time, perhaps there is no other way, but we must always keep in mind the current reasons. But consciousness development is already showing a growing movement towards Kohlberg’s “universal care” stage of development, and society will catch up in time. At that time, we will need to revisit what is or is not inherently corrupting. Why not start thinking about it now?

As a gamer and an author of fiction, I had the privilege to create a society at one point that was further developed than our own. It didn’t matter if media was state-run, didn’t matter if healthcare, manufacturing, services, basic goods, land titles, and many other oft-privatized industries were administrated by the government, because I drew up the society to be in line with Maslow’s “Self-actualized” stage, Kohlberg’s “Universal Care” stage, and Spiral Dynamics’ “Yellow/Integral” stage of awareness. I set it in a stage of psychological development where such things can be done without corruption having enough of an environment of dysfunction and ego-grasping (as one finds at all the preliminary stages, whatever most liberals like to think) to take root or survive for long. What was really interesting was the relative inability of my players to grasp this in any positive way. But imagine a world where you can trust the government to run the media, or where you can trust businesses to self-police and to view official policies as helpful and informative guidelines. Imagine a world where you can trust those around you to be responsible, and where you can be trusted with the same. Do you really care who is running it, or are you just glad that it’s there and that it works?

Music Review – “The Diary Review: The Gentle Storm” – In Prog We Trust – by Nick Vukelich


Arjen Lucassen is back with another stellar collaboration, this time with Anneke van Giersbergen. The Gentle Storm’s debut album is a double disc masterpiece, with each disc representing a version of the 11 songs composed for this release. The Gentle disc is full of folk/acoustic representations, while the Storm disc is the heavy orchestral progressive metal side of the project. I don’t think Arjen knows how to undertake projects that don’t seem monumental in scope, for that I am exceedingly grateful, and I couldn’t possibly be more grateful. I would love to shake his hand someday and ask him where he gets all his ideas, because there is no other single musician working as hard as he does and I find his musical contributions to be incredibly important.

In typical Arjen fashion the production is giant. Every instrument sounds natural, and equally powerful, and the vocals sit right on top of everything. The mix is as perfect as always, and on both records too. The folk album sounds more intimate and the heavy album sounds just enormous. I would be curious to know which version of these songs was composed first, I know that I have written stuff on acoustic guitars and then transferred the product of that to a heavier electric sound, but going from the heavier sound to the folk sound seems like it would be more challenging. Either way, both albums sound absolutely fantastic. This should come as no surprise to those familiar with Arjen’s projects though.

The Diary is a concept album, with the concept revolving around a “historical love story.” That means the songs fit together like pieces of a puzzle, they can be listened to in any order if you’d like, but as an album they move seamlessly from one to the next. I would expect nothing less from a project helmed by Arjen, it is one of my favorite things about his style. The man thinks big, and that’s rare these days.

Arjen has once again assembled a stellar group of musicians to bring the songs to life. Ed Warby again provides the drums, apparently there was a studio snafu and he had to retrack the entire thing in one day, and some other frequent collaborators make a return. Long story short, the quality of musicians on this record are top notch. Arjen himself plays a fair share of the instruments, as is normal, and both discs are filled with amazing performances. From guitar solos, to violin or flute solos, each instrument is presented on an equal field as the rest.

The main vocals are handled entirely by van Giersbergen, the only additional vocals are on the Storm disc and are contributed by the “Epic Rock Choir.” Live there is an additional singer to handle harmonies but as far as the record goes it’s just van Giersbergen and she does a killer job. Van Giersbergen worked with Arjen on 2 previous Ayreon albums, however, I was first introduced to her vocals on the Devin Townsend Project record Addicted! And since then she has worked with Devin multiple times. She has a great voice and music like this suits her voice well.

At this point, if you are familiar with my column here at least, you should know how much I enjoy the music that Arjen makes. This record is no exception, it is great from start to finish. I think I prefer the Storm disc, but I really do like the Gentle disc a lot also. It all depends on the mood I am in. I would like to see this project continue and I would also like to see Arjen continue to work on any of his projects really, so for my own selfish desires I must insist that you pick up this album. Both discs sound so different that anyone can find something they enjoy on at least one of the versions. I also recommend listening to the different versions of each song one after the other to really see the differences, it’s an incredibly fascinating listening experience.

Label: Inside Out

Production: 5/5

Flow: 5/5

Musicianship: 5/5

Vocals: 5/5

“With Devotion” – Family Haunts – by PMF Johnson

You need a poem to suck on as it’s necessary.
Go ahead, lick the rhymes and icicle iambics,
taste leads on to taste. Indulge in earthy lore,
the mushrooms popping up in strangest verses,
a bit of basil on the phonemes.
Gurgling verse rattles lids on greasy burners,
simmers with the chicken hearts;
and if the words spill from your lips,
let them. Who hasn’t eaten a few words out here?
Pour foamy couplets over sonnets to complete.

Of course, not just any feast
of verbiage will do;
you’ll find, my love,
this banquet spread
with much devotion
for you.

“In Poor Taste” – Faceplant 54 – by Jacob Steinbauer

Music was the engine that propelled my early life. I remember listening to Eddie Murphy’s Boogie in Your Butt song and thinking it the funniest thing of my five-year-old life. Having just looked up the lyrics, there is no mention of putting a dinosaur bone in your butt, or a phone of any kind, which was always my favorite line. Perhaps the cassette we had was a live version, or maybe this was one of the many adaptations Eli and I made as we sang the song around the house. . . Anyway, Eli and I had a choreographed zombie awakening/dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Along with Dan, we performed version of Parent’s Just Don’t Understand by the Fresh Prince to our entire family on Christmas Eve when I was seven or eight.

Then my oldest brother, Josh, joined some terrible 80s high school bands—that I loved—and, along with MTV, my taste in music began to get a little more sophisticated. The bass player of the band, Xenogenesis, left his guitar at our house. It was an electric. The low notes were barely audible without an amp, so I quickly lost interest. I preferred to skulk on the outskirts of the garage while they practiced and then, once they went away for lunch, pounce on the drum kit to have my clumsy way with it.

Then Josh got a CD player. I coveted this. It had two tape decks for recording tape-to-tape, which was state-of-the-art at the time. My first tape: The Jets’ Magic. My first CD: Pearl Jam’s Ten.

Then I started making my own mixed tapes and pirated copies. Later, I got my own drum set as described in earlier posts. My band with Eli and Dan probably had twenty different band names altogether. Such an important decision! And since no one had ever heard of us, we weren’t losing any “brand” recognition when we changed flavors every week. Unfortunately, I either didn’t like any of them enough to remember, or I am so embarrassed of them that psychology has removed them from the readily accessible parts of my brain.

I do remember that we covered Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana. Which songs. Good grief. Wish. I think Dan really wanted to shock people by yelling “I hate everyone” and “fist fuck.” I think Eli and I wanted this, too, but were happy to defer to him the parental retribution should we ever find an audience. And Nirvana? Rape Me. Another shocker. Same, same.

We whaled. I started investing a steady stream of money into drumsticks. Finding work wasn’t too hard. At first it was mowing lawns for my Dad—he was the caretaker of an apartment complex in Eagle Lake. Later, it was tearing out old carpet for him, which was harder than it sounds. Pad used to be glued to the floor, so we used an industrial, motorized shoveler to scrape it up. It weighed more than me, was ridiculously loud, and vibrated like a jackhammer. Yeah, I scratched plenty of wood trim in my day trying to turn that thing, losing control of it. Sorry Dad!

Then came the replacement cymbals. I don’t know as much as I’d like about drum gear, and knew less then. Like anything, I guess you get what you pay for. Being a kid and mostly broke, I bought a cheap Sabian medium thin crash cymbal, starter design probably. It had a year warranty, and that piece of shit cracked after a year and two weeks. I was so pissed off.

So what did I do? Instead of shelling out for a better one, I went back to the exact same music store and bought another one, the exact same kind. I think you can see where this is going. Sorry Howard (music store owner, though the apology should be going to Sabian—though maybe they should have apologized to me?). I remember him looking over the receipt, at the cymbal, and back several times before shrugging his shoulders and handing over a new one. I think that one cracked in about a year, too. I never collected another warranty, though. I was done buying metal that couldn’t take my heat. I broke the cycle by purchasing a Zildjian medium crash that was almost three times the cost and lasted a little more than three times as long. I’m not sure if there’s a lesson to learn there (about cymbals).

“Window of Opportunity” – I Wandered and Listened – by Melinda Giordano

My childish room was hidden in a bower
Clad in papered gardens
Green and gold
And high over my bed
As in a princess’ tower
Was a single window
With a view unsullied by roofs and wires
Its palette colored by the seasons
And shifting climates
Pale and insipid in spring
Gray and marbled in winter
Its canvas became a passport
With maps and compasses
And I could imagine my room
Riding the burning air over Thanksgiving fields
Hovering over oceans thick with salt and fish
Before setting down once more
In the dour city
Like Dorothy’s spinning house
A child ‘s whimsy that was free to wander
Through an empty window
And in the evening
When I would close my eyes
I would dream of the universe
Swiftly changing
And revolving over my room

Along the Winter Rails: 36 – “On the Road Again” – by Fanni Sütő

The world was melting. Slowly but surely, everything was going to change. We were back on the road, creeping in the shadows, trying hard not to meet anyone. In the turmoil, everybody was a potential enemy. Storm Voice said we didn’t have to worry because he would protect us both. We smiled at him but he knew as well as we did that he could hardly walk alone. He was shattered and I just hoped he wouldn’t suffer any lasting damage. I heard tales that in the old times there were machines which could see inside you and draw a picture of your bones. Doctors could see what was happening in the secret places of your body and they could find out what was wrong with you. If we had one of those machines, we could see if anything was broken in him. I didn’t believe this tale, though. How could somebody else see what was inside you when you yourself didn’t know? We couldn’t do anything but hope for the best.

We walked on slowly, dragging Storm Voice with us. He felt embarrassed that he needed the help of two young women but he said that we were right to leave immediately. We had no other choice. We had to use the initial turmoil to walk away because soon, when order returned, there would be patrols and controls and nobody would walk free. We were running against the odds but we had to try. Sometimes we heard footsteps echoing into the melting whiteness and we heard cries and the sounds of fighting. We were moving through the eye of storm where the air was still, where we had a chance of surviving it without getting caught up in it.

I started to imagine that somebody was helping us from above. I never believed in God or angels, superstitious my mother tried to pass down to me. For me, they were nothing but the remains of a bygone world. How could she really think that somebody was up in heaven, watching Earth and letting all the horrible things happen? People died, girls were exiled and parents needed to live without their children. And yet now that I was escaping from the mouth of death one more time, I felt that she might have been right about some things. It was like somebody was looking out for me, offering a helping hand when all hope seemed to be lost. Maybe it was just luck but I wanted to hope for something more, to prove myself that life made sense and things happened for a reason.

The cold was chewing its way through my worn and old shoes to my feet and the muddy snow lay low under my heat. We left the city of the Masters behind and were passing through the endless wastelands. I didn’t tell them about my plan to return home. We agreed that we would try to find our way back to the children in the caves. We could find shelter there. I didn’t want to upset them with the thought of a farewell; we had enough things to grieve about. Also, I was dying to hear the story of the revolution and civil upheaval but waited with my questions until we were in a safe distance.

“Tell us what happened, please,” I said looking at Storm Voice with pleading eyes. He took a deep breath and started the dark and bloody tale.

“The Greenland Diaries: Backyard 05″ – by Patrick W. Marsh

“What’s Ebner’s Island?” Scott said. He tapped his pencil on the mahogany table slightly. The tapping echoed about the room in reverberating squeals, like it wanted to escape the metal chamber. Milo’s eyes followed the sound and watched the man’s perfect fingers balance the instrument. It looked toy-like against his paw. Everything about Scott’s body was tanned and manicured. It seemed strange to Milo that he wouldn’t be using a Dr. Touch pen, or something fancier considering Scott’s ruling vanity.

“Why do you use a pencil?” Milo said.

“What? My pencil?” Scott said. He held it up to Milo and looked at it slightly like it could give him an answer.

“Yeah, why do you use a pencil?”

“Oh, I see. Well, I like to be able to erase my mistakes.”

“Am I making mistakes?”

“No, no, I’m talking about punctuation and spelling. Stuff like that.”

“Won’t you be typing everything up and submitting in report form?”

“Let’s get back to this island, can you tell me more about it?”

Milo rubbed his hands together a little bit. He felt more scars etched into his skin. His body had been regrown multiple times, but the little marks from his escape attempts remained. Everything he used to do, at least in terms of physical movement, was directly tied into his environment, which was for the last 400 years a forest ruled by a monster. He’d been poked, prodded, and tortured inside the woods. Now, these doctors were doing the same exact thing to him, only they were well-groomed, charming, and too educated to understand the irony of the situation.

“It was the island the Unnamed sort of operated out of. It was like this place it never wanted us to go, but wouldn’t make it a secret. It stood there countless times in this one form,” Milo said.

“This one form? You mean it changed around? How did it appear on the island?” Scott said.

Milo fidgeted around in his seat a little bit. He’d answered questions about the phantom in earlier interviews, but previous investigators hadn’t wanted to know about it like Scott.

“So it had multiple forms, or just the one? Was there more than one? You said it’d be a shadow, smoke, or even light before,” Scott said. He could feel himself getting a little desperate with his questions.

“No, just one, it wasn’t like when it’d be in the rest of the forest,” Milo said.

“But on Ebner’s Island, what shape was it?”

“It was this faceless thing, like a man, but not physically there. It was some sort of walking thing, but it never left the island in that form. It protected the island. The faces also helped with that.”

“Um, I see, you said it had no faces.”

“Not on its head, but elsewhere on the island.”

Scott had to stop. He started to write something down on his yellow memo pad. He wrote in long and hard presses with the quivering pencil, so Milo would think he’s writing something important. He didn’t know whether to laugh, scream, or a mixture of both. He stopped and looked back at Milo who was calm and plain-faced in the clammy light. A big, freshly written “What the hell” looked up at Scott from his writing pad.

“The faces weren’t on him Scott, but elsewhere on the island,” Milo said. He pushed out some angry air with his clenched teeth.

He didn’t like that Scott was making him repeat himself.

“Perfect Dissatisfaction” – Elitism For All – by Ozgur K. Sahin

In my life coaching practice, as in my daily life, I encounter two broad dysfunctional categories for how people approach their lives and relationships, and both are rooted in anxiety and control issues. There are avoidants, who act like intimacy claustrophobics, and there are the more classically and obviously anxious. Without getting into too much detail, avoidants are just the anxious in drag. Being more narcissistic, they prefer to put the burden of improvement on others and make themselves appear better than their surroundings, while repressing their feelings of being heavily flawed and unlovable. They would rather appear perfect than strive for perfection, but either way, perfection is important to them. The anxious, however, tend to feel like they have to constantly strive to improve themselves in order to “be enough” in regard to whatever is most important to them—relationships, career, intimacy, or more often whatever gets positive attention from those they (even potentially) value. Perfectionism tends to go hand-in-hand with this.

So why do so many people talk about perfectionism as a positive quality? Here I am saying outright that it is dysfunctional, and the field of psychology is pretty much unanimous on this, but people still go around saying it with a touch of pride half the time. Why?

Perfectionists and those who support perfectionism (generally narcissists) all acknowledge that “perfect” isn’t really an attainable goal, but they all perceive that striving for better quality is a virtue. And so it is, but the difference between striving for quality and fixating on it is not understood. The common perception seems to be that if you acknowledges the impossibility of attaining perfection, you feel absolved of the negative traits associated with “true perfectionism,” and then it’s just a sort of competition for who gets closest to it due to having superior faculties, more refined awareness, putting in more effort, or simply being more talented. The pride comes from “being better at what I do than most people, because I care (and am able) to eke out that extra 2% by being this way.” Sometimes this is simply a confusion between the “desire to do what is best,” the “desire to do my best,” and the “desire to do the best.” As those are subtle differences, I’ll show what that might look like.

Any time there is a risk involved, even if it’s a trivial one as in a board game or recreational activity, this dilemma rears its head. Often you have the choice of how to balance factors like deadlines, effort, efficiency, quality, stress, attention, structure, etc. Some factors are more under your own control, and others are less so. Sometimes doing “what is best” involves less effort, less fixation, less detail, less stress and attention. Sometimes it means sacrificing structure for efficiency, detail for quality, effort for deadlines. Sometimes it means suspending the importance of your own desires in service of a group goal (even a simple one like group fun). In short, it is not necessarily your best, because it must accommodate factors that are not necessarily all about you. Many perfectionists miss deadlines or windows of opportunity because they are unwilling to take risks that sacrifice more “them” than they are comfortable with for the sake of achieving more “it,” or the “it” they want to achieve is not the “it” that is really best. Still further removed is the difference between “my best” and “the best,” where people may feel that their own best is not good enough, and that something more is required in order to be exciting enough, new enough, competent enough, visible enough, or even just tolerable enough. For some people, “second best” is too much of a contradiction in terms to be accepted and they try desperately to shake off the shackles of their own limitations. They sacrifice more “them” not for the sake of balancing their talents with external factors for a better outcome, but for the sake of trying to be better than they really are.

“What’s wrong with that?” you ask. “Shouldn’t we try to be better than we are?” But remember, perfectionism is not the drive to be better; it is the unwillingness to be as we are. More accurately, as I indicated in my article, “Acceptance and Change,” it is your desire to do better, bereft of acceptance of your current situation or capability. Desire without acceptance is not drive any more than spinning the wheels of your car without solid contact with the ground constitutes literal drive. It is not about attraction to excellence and success; it is about aversion to flaw and failure. The entire focus is negative rather than positive, and a hypervigilance for error monopolizes our attention so much that our creative resources come pre-taxed by it and cannot be wholly given to innovation and excellence. As with most tactics we employ to desperately to avoid things, we find that perfectionism ironically leads to the same fate it seeks to avoid, as those who conduct research on it habitually find. Those who are not plagued by perfectionist attitudes routinely perform better in their fields than those with them, largely because the fixation on flawlessness does not hamper their success. Those who most practice pushups get best at pushups—not those who study the heck out of them to make sure they do everything correctly from the start and then analyze how everything turned out. What’s more, it becomes intuitive once accomplished enough, and no longer requires the attention, thought, worry and time that perfectionists put into things. “The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action,” according to Bruce Lee, one of the most excellent physical adepts known. In other words, the more we have to think about things, the more likely we are to mess them up.

This is not to say that perfectionists never achieve greatness better than they were previously capable of. Striving to do better can always result in something better, just as living your life safely in your house will often and predictably save you from certain unsafe situations. But that approach fosters fear and neuters the possibility for truly high returns on genuine risks that stem from confidence and unafraid exploration. It is the very lure of perfectionism that sometimes it results in greater excellence, and the perfectionist uses this to gild his fear, as the man in the concrete bunker mocks all those who live in the full light of day when there’s a plane crash.

You see, perfectionism is not really about striving for success. It is about an approach to life, and that approach reflects an inner world steeped in anxiety. Being a perfectionist is not defined by having high standards of excellence; it is defined by one’s extreme dissatisfaction with anything short of those standards. And as I said, avoidants are just the anxious in drag, who project their anxiety onto everyone else. Where the consciously anxious tend to set high or impossible standards for themselves, the unconsciously anxious (avoidants) tend to set high or impossible standards for everyone else. These two camps so often pair up in relationships because at least they can both agree that the obviously anxious ones should be better than they already are. The avoidants are just perfectionists about everyone they encounter, but are no less insecure, for all their calm demeanor—they are just less aware of the insecurity and less receptive to the idea of improving it. I know some people who are very uncomfortable viewing the creative works of their friends because they feel sure they will simply pick them apart, as if they have no control over it. If nothing else, that is one of the most basic ways of spotting a personality flaw or limitation—the inability to switch it off. Reformed perfectionists will always retain the ability to spot flaws as they strive for excellence, but they can employ it or ignore it at will, as any good craftsman can pick up or put down any tool in his box. But for the active perfectionist, there is no other way to be and no way to put down the tool of perfectionism.

I once had a lengthy conversation with the man next to me on a plane, and he told me he was a perfectionist. His tone indicated it was certainly a flaw, but nevertheless he was proud of what it enabled him to accomplish. “Imagine if you could employ your perfectionism for the task of curing your perfectionism,” I said. It caught him as a novel idea, and he looked a bit bewildered as he told me he had not thought of it that way, but it is really more of a mental paradox. Perfectionism cannot cure perfectionism because insecurity cannot generate security, lies cannot generate truth, shadows cannot make light, skepticism cannot affirm realities, and flaws cannot create virtues. But they are all workable starting places with clear maps to where they need to go—if we can accept the starting place to begin with.