I call the number and after four rings, voice mail picks up. I leave a message and attempt to hang up, but the screen of my smart phone is black and unresponsive. I push the power button, which usually wakes the phone out of sleep mode. The screen remains black. Meanwhile the pre-recorded female voice begins to intone, “If you are satisfied with your message, press 1. To erase and re-record your message, press 2.” Irrational panic sets in. How long will this recorded loop keep running? If it does not receive any of the requested responses, does the system save my message or delete it? Do I need to call this person back and leave another message? But I can’t make a second call if I can’t get my phone to respond, and if I could get my phone to respond, I could adequately end this first call and a second call would be unnecessary.
The automated version of a secretary continues repeating my options for completing the voice mail process as I run down the hall and interrupt my husband’s game of Skyrim. “See, this is what it does! I can’t get the screen back on!” I exclaim, holding out the phone to him. Startled, Steven takes the phone and looks at it confusedly. This look of confusion increases my panic. If my husband, the electronic gadget master of this household, has no idea how to solve this, I am doomed!
I need my phone! I had spent several weeks only being able to send and receive text messages on my previous phone as old age rendered it incapable of connecting to any call for more than 30 seconds. Then I spent another week with no phone capabilities at all as my current phone arrived with a bad SIM card and I had to wait for a new card to be shipped. This phone is the first smart phone I’ve ever owned, and I’ve spent the last two weeks clumsily trying to master the basics–like how to answer calls instead of hanging up on people. Most of the time, the gaffs and mishaps are operator error, but there have been a few times where I would swear that it wasn’t my fault, that the phone wasn’t responding properly, only to have Steven look it over and say, “It seems to be working fine.”
Now, we are both starring at the black screen in his hand as he taps it a few times (still black) and then presses and holds the power button. As the screen finally lights up, I snatch it back, but find that even electronic secretaries have their limits and my call has finally been terminated in some fashion. As I tap the screen, my phone interprets this fiddling as my attempt to redial the number from the previous call. Terribly flustered, I hit the back arrow, which takes me to the main screen, but the call continues dialing, and my panic is now inflamed with the heat of frustration as I can’t seem to locate an icon that will let me end this erroneous call. “What the….No!… Stop!…Why are….gah!” As I erupt with half finished sentences, Steven goes into his “Nurse in a Mental Ward” persona and softly says, “I’ll look on-line and see if there is any information about this sort of thing.” I somehow manage to get the phone to stop dialing, and realize on some level that the size of my reaction is probably out of proportion to the situation, but that doesn’t stop me from ranting, “This is why I like manuals! This (gesturing wildly at the screen with it’s icons) does not help me know what I need to do! All this does is make me blunder around, making mistakes and messing things up!”
And there is the true heart of the matter. Despite my years as a recovering perfectionist, my work to practice healthier attitudes and behaviors, I am a terrified of “messing things up”. Whether the thing at hand is as big the role of president in a business organization or as small as a smart phone, the fear is the same quality and dimension. Fear of failing. Fear of ridicule. Fear of causing irreparable damage. Believe it or not, this fear affected my choice of artistic expression. Fiber arts like crochet and cross-stitch offer infinite numbers of do-overs. As long as you have the patience to frog it, no crochet mistake is beyond fixing. Essays, stories, and poems can be redrafted as many times as it takes for you to be satisfied with them.
My husband is fond of the French maxim Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (The more that changes, the more it’s the same thing). On the one hand, this truth can be disheartening. I mean, for the love! My emotional angst was caused yet again by my perfectionism. But on the other hand, I find plus ça change comforting because there is power in knowing the name of the thing (if you don’t believe me, ask Rumpelstiltskin). If my distress is merely perfectionist fear, then I know what to do with it. Summoning my inner Hal Jordan, I feel the fear and do it anyway. I chose to believe that the blunders of learning are valuable, that how I respond to my mistakes and deal with my messes is more important than being perfect. I chose to persevere in grace and refuse to remain frozen in the Gorgon face of perfectionism.