I’ll have a side of “g” with that

Sage CohenProductive writing11 Comments

There is a word that appears many times in my book, spelled completely wrong: reigns. The word and meaning I intended were: reins. (As in, “Take the reins of your writing life in your own hands.”) Instead, I managed to say, approximately, “Take the (reigns) period during which a sovereign rules into your own hands.” Not at all what I had in mind. What a big difference a little “g” can make.

At least three experts, including a proofreader, searched for such errors and didn’t see this one. Of course, the minute the book was in print, the error was glaring. Such are the virtues of hindsight and hard copies.

I talk about this mistake every time I speak publicly. Why? Because I like to invite everyone–starting with myself–off of that inhumane perfection hook. We’re not perfect, so why waste our time expecting to be? It’s far more fun to stand up before an audience and confess to being a dummy. Believe me––I’ve tried it both ways, and I am now completely convinced through my own experience that revealing our own fault lines helps everyone around us take their own seismic activity a bit more lightly.

In my experience, it is exactly what we detest and want to avoid/hide the most––the fumbles and the foibles and those horribly embarrassing, awkward moments––that make us vulnerable enough to make contact with other humans. Who could penetrate a slick wall of perfection? And, who would want to?

One of my very favorite musical stanzas of all time, a gift to the listener from Leonard Cohen, reads/sings:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

I used to believe that when I got up in front of people to speak or read, I had to pretend to be someone other then myself in order to be impressive. Because I am a terrible actor, pretending to be someone impressive made me stiff, awkward, and awful. Many years ago, I gave this silliness up in favor of being the flawed, authentic me–excessive “g”s and all.

And as I was writing Writing the Life Poetic, I became conscious of how often mistakes and misunderstandings are often actually the seeds of new creation in my life. In chapter 21, I write:

I also like to collect mistakes. My friend Austin brought a jacket home from Japan that says “angel potato.” This linguistic faux-pas  sums up for me the happy accidents of poetry; some phrase is fumbled completely, and an entirely unexpected new possibility is born. Angel potato. I see a kindergarten project, where toothpicks sunk deep in weeping, white flesh support withered, tissue-paper wings. I have always been a devotee of the potato — that otherworldly root vegetable. So unassuming and receptive to interpretation. What might happen next? Ecstatic orange? Its navel puckered into a contemplative heaven. Or: Shatter lamb. A history of cruelty and farmland. I want to know how far words can go.

And so, I invite you to “take the period during which a sovereign rules into your own hands” and write your own bylaws about the paradoxes of authenticity and perfection. Consider if there are any ways in which you straightjacket your creativity with some ideal of how you are supposed to be. And if you find any, cut a few holes, find the zippers, do whatever you have to do to let that light in.

11 Comments on “I’ll have a side of “g” with that”

  1. Sage, I always feel like you’re speaking to me in these posts! This story of the blessed g encourages me to be open to every moment, whether it’s perfect, flawed or otherwise. Thank you. I hope this to rein in on this reign!

  2. When I was younger and my middle school students caught me in an error, my perfectly perfect self would tell them that they’d just caught the one mistake I’d make that year. Geez!

    Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m trying to make peace with imperfection. (Very hard for a responsible, perfectionistic firstborn though.) So I love your statement that you gave up the “silliness” of inauthenticity years ago. And I love The Productive Writer and am trying to follow your advice to “Let Go and Let Good.” You rock and reign!

  3. Ah, we youngests are way ahead of you there. We tend to appeal to people on the basis of our weaknesses, which has of course dangers of its own. It’s a dangerous world 🙂

  4. Ah yes, the first born perfectionist syndrome–I know it well. Thanks, Sage, for showing us how to celebrate the cracks where poetry can sneak in!

  5. Very inspiring post, thank you! I have always been hit with the perfectionist bug, and it caused me to put my life on “pause” for quite some time. I accidentally submitted a poem to a literary magazine, thinking it was completely edited, and I just looked at it again tonight and it turns out a word is missing from one of the stanzas! Normally, this would cause me to have a severe panic attack, but now I try my best to flow with any potential fumbles that happen. I have accepted the fact that I am human, and that when you’ve read something over so many times it’s best to set it aside for a day before submitting to give yourself as objective a perspective as possible. I try my best now to take mistakes such as this one as simply a learning experience.

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