In Pursuit of Perfection

Very few things in this world are perfect. Our jobs, our relationships, our partners and ourselves – these are all subject to the (often enormous) imperfections of life, and for the most part we live our lives content with – or at least ignoring – this fact most of the time.

It doesn’t help that perfection is highly subjective; one person’s ‘perfect’ book might be another’s most-loathed prose ever. I saw a post on Reddit the other day asking for opinions on the ‘perfect’ movie; answers ranged from Star Wars to The Grapes of Wrath. Many people agreed, others disagreed, and some simply suggested their own ‘perfect’ movies.

Unfortunately, despite knowing full-well that perfection is unattainable, many of us are perfectionists anyway. I know I am – or at least, I used to be – and I know many others who share this trait with me. For me it varies from subject to subject, as I suspect it does with many; those things I’m most passionate about are the things I have the highest expectations of. Projects that mean a lot to me come with an elevated need to be as close to perfect as possible.

But here’s the thing: perfection, whilst not technically impossible, depends entirely on the scale at which one is assessing the thing claiming to be perfect. My books, for instance, are far from perfect. They contain numerous flaws, plot holes, typos (despite intense editing), and passages that, in retrospect, I wish I had written differently.

But let’s zoom in a little more. Take the following passage:

“And so it was with a lighter heart that Brandyé Dui-Erâth began to walk away from the river and away from all he knew. And so it was that, unknown to him, Darkness followed behind and laughed.”

Satis – The Redemption of Erâth: Consolation

These are the final lines of the first Redemption of Erâth book. For the style and setting, to me this is as perfect as I can make it. I adore this lines, it took me a long time to come up with them, and they close out a book of sadness and despair beautifully. These two sentences are, to me, perfect. Better still is that they form the last paragraph of the book, because it leaves the reader feeling both sadness and hope.

One of the things I’ve been doing for my alter-ego’s upcoming young adult novel is writing songs to go with it. I’ve put down the notes, played with the sound, and recorded some vocals. Again – far from perfect. Yet some of the songs I actually really enjoy. My singing isn’t great, and the guitars sound a little artificial at times, but there are the odd ‘magic moments’ that really make me think, wow – I did a good job.

The problem is that minute perfection is exponentially difficult to scale. One note, one sentence, can be perfect. But art is made of millions of paint strokes, and not every one of them can be perfect. And as artists, we have a choice: we can go back and change and improve to no end … or we can just release the damn thing and let people enjoy imperfection.

After all, a song with perfect timing will not only sound like it’s being played by a robot – a robot is the only thing that could play it perfectly. Imperfections make us human, and some of the best recordings and works of literary genius are all the better for their imperfections; they help the rest stand out all the more as the genius that it really is.

Besides – most people will never notice.

It’s Like Riding a Bike … Until It’s Not

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to make a return to music – in particular, music composition, and writing scores for orchestras, and pianos, and more. Factoring this in with the enormous amount of other creative work I want to do – writing the fourth book in “The Redemption of Erâth” series and continuing work on young adult novels – means it was unlikely I was going to really make a move on this in the near future, but the dream was always there.

And – foolishly – I assumed I would remember what to do when the time came.

It’s funny – it’s been more than ten years since I last focused my energies on creating music, and whilst I’ve certainly not forgotten the basic principles of playing music, there is a surprising amount that I have forgotten – and it makes me sad.

I (obviously) devour music as a listener; whether it be classical, rock or symphonic metal, I am always, always listening to music. And in my past, I was a somewhat accomplished pianist, played bass moderately well, and knew my music theory like the back of my hand.

And while I can still pick up a bass and pluck away, or tickle the ivories in a half-assed manner, there’s a huge amount that I no longer remember. It’s funny – it’s almost like the old, “I’ve forgotten more about making music than …”.

I recently set up a kind of office in my loft, with a nice, large desktop computer screen, electric keyboard to one side, and plenty of great music-writing software. And once the setup was complete, I fired up Logic Pro, downloaded some beautiful piano samples, and tried to play.

I couldn’t remember a single song.

Isn’t that weird? I know the keyboard, I know the layout, and can play in any key – but I can’t remember how to actually play anything. A few measures at most, and the rest is just gone.

Oh well, I thought – playing was never my main gig. So I opened up my music notation software that I haven’t used in a decade, and suddenly I couldn’t remember how to use it. As in, almost every single feature and capability of the application is a mystery to me. I’m going to need to relearn it.

They say playing an instrument is like riding a bike – you never forget how to do it. And whilst to an extent that isn’t entirely wrong, it certainly isn’t entirely true. I’ve just discovered that there is a huge knowledge gap in my mind when it comes to music, and it’s bothering me greatly; I used to know my arpeggios from my appogiaturas, and now I can barely remember what an ossia is. There’s literally terminology for musical notation that I’ve completely forgotten.

I’m confident I can relearn it, and it will eventually come back to me, but it’s disturbing to see what a lack of practice can do to something you once thought of as a part of your very being.

Is there anything you used to know well, that you feel like you’ve since forgotten?