My birthday weekend was full of mixed feelings. [Edit: Here there was personal stuff that happened which gave me those mixed feelings, which I have decided to remove] I heard from people I didn’t expect to, and didn’t hear from some I did expect to. But something I’ve learned lately is that the only reason I’m ever sad, or disappointed, or anxious, or unhappy–it’s because of the expectations I have. Often unrealistic, always overemphasized…I want so badly for everything to be perfect all the time. And the truth is that nothing is perfect, ever. I know that, I mean I’m aware of that. But when I’m tense there is something inside me like a tea kettle–quiet at first but rising to a fever pitch–when I can’t get something to be just right.
Last night I was at the second of six sessions of a silversmithing class I’m taking. I had brought my design for two hammered silver circles (for earrings). The teacher sat me down with a sheet of silver that I’d stenciled the circles onto, and a small saw, and told me to cut them out. The blade of this saw is hardly wider than a bit of dental floss. The teeth are nearly invisible. To cut, you must keep it perfectly straight, and apply minimal pressure using up-and-down strokes. The blade should pull itself into the metal. If you bend it, or press too hard, the blade breaks.
I began cutting into the metal and immediately broke my blade. Finding another saw, I sat down and tried again. I had almost made it from the straight edge of the sheet to the beginning of my circle when I realized I didn’t have an apron on, and metal shards were floating down onto my knees through the holes in my jeans. I carefully balanced the interlocked saw and sheet in one hand and reached for the heavy denim apron with the other. Again I heard the sickening little ping of the blade snapping in two. I had made hardly any progress on my project, I’d broken two blades, and I still didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. But I was determined not to ask for help again and be the one who didn’t get it. I found the replacement blades, figured out how to load one into the saw, and sat with my (now loathsome) silver sheet again. Holding the sheet in my right hand and sawing with my left, I used force. I pushed the saw. And it seemed to work! I got a quarter of the way around my circle but then couldn’t turn. I was on a straight line and the blade was locked into it. I tried to back the saw out carefully, up down up down–ping! And I lost it. Tears welled up in my eyes and I felt every frustration that I’d been pushing down bubbling up to the surface. Fortunately our stations are enclosed and very private. I wiped my cheeks and turned to see that the class was gone. Our instructor sat at his bench soldering tiny brass rings.
I broke the blade three times and I still can’t do it, I told him. I held the broken saw and mangled silver sheet out to him. He made me feel better about the blades because they’re pennies apiece, and covered in our lab fee. Then he took the saw, replaced the blade, and cut a perfect circle effortlessly in less than a minute. He put it in my hand, smiling, and told me with playful condescension, You’re tensing up, that’s what’s wrong. The first thing you need to do is not care. Next week you’ll do the other one and you’ll see. Exasperated, tired, hollowed out by having coped with so much in a few days I climbed into my car and had a good cry down Sunset on the way home. I thought about how long I’ve been striving for unrealistic ideals, trying to make things turn out right when right is unreasonable, putting pressure on myself and others until we all break. Beating myself up. Hating myself. And as a result not being able to comprehend how someone else could actually like someone like me. The cry continued upstairs, in my bathroom, on my couch, and over dinner. Then I was all dried up.
I don’t know if I’ve made much progress these last few years, but I’ve made a lot of realizations. And that’s something. Next Monday I’m going into that class and I’m coming out with a circle, because I won’t try. It won’t be perfect, probably not even close. I’m going to break some saws. I’m going to be the best fucking not-carer they’ve EVER SEEN!