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The Idea of Superior Enough


I have always had the perfectionist’s itch. In 1 of my 1st employment, I wrangled 16-calendar year-olds by embarrassingly rah-rah-rah group functions. These pursuits never went as effectively as the picture in my mind.

I was in higher education at the time, studying philosophy, and I was enchanted with Plato and his types. He wrote that there is an perfect of every kind of issue — carpet, horse, speech or spatula — and what we see in the environment are attempted facsimiles of those people types, doomed to imperfection by their fact.



Afterwards that summertime, my manager explained to me in an analysis, “You have the very best Spanish skills on our staff, but from time to time you’re so focused on acquiring the grammar ideal that it stops you from essentially talking.” I was prepared to perform and operate and perform, but in trade, I wished the finished item to appear like the picture in my brain. I desired it to.

Plato strove for a perfection so uncompromising that he admitted it could not exist in reality. It is a lovely aspiration.

I arrived to philosophy for Plato, but I stayed for Aristotle.

Aristotle was simple. His ideas ended up considerably less excellent, but much more achievable. 1 example: He proposed an adjustment of one’s specifications for exactness, depending on the self-control (math allows for far more precision than, say, ethics). No one can make everything similarly fantastic.

I’m operating on remembering that. My mom aided immensely with this lesson.

There arrives a issue in just about every jigsaw puzzle we resolve collectively when my mother receives irritated. She says some thing like, “There are so several items remaining. We need to be ready to figure out where by they go by now.”

I tease her. “This is intended to be pleasurable! Drink your wine.”

She also, usually, predicts that items are missing. Her suspicion veers into conviction, even though it is as well shortly to know if she’s right. Way too a lot of parts need to have inserting. The hole-fillers might continue to disguise in the pile. I want she would rest. No a single will stay or die by this little by little assembled, cardboard near-up of a penguin.

And still there’s a little something that feels like function in how we assemble puzzles. We keep up later than we ought to. The home windows switch a reflective black. We say “I’m going to bed” a couple of situations right before we basically push our chairs again and stand up from the desk. We each want that very little higher of positioning the following piece. We want to complete the whole.



The past time my mother and I “puzzled,” I got impatient, far too. The sky parts were all the exact lilac-blue and slash lazily, not differentiated more than enough for us to put them with each other by condition. You had to just take time, and dwell with that experience of impatience. I attempted, for a when, and then I give up. I’d never provided up on a puzzle prior to.

I assumed Mother would give up, too. As an alternative, she concluded it. She’d been appropriate this time: Some parts were being missing. Weirdly, she didn’t look to intellect the absences, now that they’d been disclosed as inevitable.

I minded. Those people scraggly glimpses of bare table in which there should be puzzle built me want to throw the complete factor out. Why did we hassle, if we ended up doomed from the start off? What is the place of a puzzle, a table, an evening, a everyday living? (I’m exaggerating my existential crisis, but, actually, not by considerably.)



I simply call my mother a “catastrophizer” — and she does fret about poor prospective buyers a lot more than I do — but she’s a lot additional capable to acknowledge realities than I am. The puzzle’s as completed as we can get it. She requires that as a provided, and moves on.

I was not at college for the tumble semester of my graduate application. Since of the pandemic, I examined and taught from my childhood bed room, where by I to start with read Plato 10 decades ago. I tuned into Zoom classes right after my father had absent to mattress.



This is not the picture of grad school I held in my mind although creating 16 apps. I bear in mind saying to myself that I can let the imperfection of this fact quit me — or I can continue to keep doing work. Aristotle wrote that we construct character — that we turn out to be our long term selves — by exercise.

My mom and I normally go away a completed puzzle out for a small even though. It’s our victory lap. The blue sky puzzle has been out on the table lengthy adequate now that it has missing that “just finished” sheen. It’s partially lined with mail and very last month’s newspapers. It is time we put it back again in the box, and start off a new just one. Several of our puzzles are more mature than I am, and we will not know if all the parts are there. But we’ll set them with each other anyway.


Sarah Ruth Bates is a writer primarily based in Boston and Tucson.

Illustration by Until Lauer.


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