In Celebration of Being "Too Much"
I was the kid who took school projects way too seriously.
I took simple homework assignments and turned them into massive projects. I spent hours measuring construction paper to make the most perfectly symmetrical poster boards. In my senior year of high school, I was so nervous about filling ten minutes for a Spanish presentation on Frida Kahlo that I decided to cover her entire body of work. My presentation ended up being over thirty minutes long.
Some people would see this behavior and assume I felt I had something to prove, or that I felt inadequate. But that was never the case. I simply loved school, I loved creating, and I held myself to high standards because I enjoyed the challenge. Could I have spent a little more time playing outside as a kid? Probably. But I took so much pride in my work and enjoyed the process too much to do anything less than #theMOST.
Non-binary author, actor, activist, and healer Jeffrey Marsh writes in their book “How To Be You” about this idea that we are all told that we are “too ‘something’” - and that ‘something’ is, in fact, our superpower.
I think about their words often. My deep belief that I am “too much” (too big, too loud, too opinionated, too invested, too sensitive...too everything) has held me back creatively and emotionally for years, and I am only starting to feel liberation in the acceptance that what I have to offer the world is just the right amount of “muchness.”
Now, this isn’t going to be one of those “see, the pandemic isn’t that bad! We just have to look at the positives” essays. The world is literally and figuratively on fire. We wake up every day to a brand new breaking news story that feels even worse than yesterday’s. People are dying from the virus, from climate change, from police brutality, from poverty, from xenophobia, from war...being alive right now feels like a statistical anomaly. There is so much pain and grief in the world, and there is such a need for action.
All of this is true, and so is the fact that I have rediscovered my own creativity in the liminal space of lockdown.
In May of this year (seems like yesterday and also a lifetime ago), one of my friends asked if I’d like to co-host a segment on her radio show with my friend, M, as my fellow presenter. 10 minutes, once a week, talking about flop musicals. M is one of my best friends and we were excited to have a project to collaborate on. We live on opposite sides of the world, which makes collaborating in the way we once did really challenging. So we said yes.
We never ONCE produced a ten minute segment; we had too much to say and too much music to share! After 6 weeks, the founders of the radio station offered us our own show; 30 minutes each week. We invested in equipment, started doing interviews, challenged ourselves with themed episodes, and worked harder than I think either of us planned at the beginning. Starting this past week, we aired our first hour-long episode, the 18th show we’ve produced together.
M is a great partner for many reasons: he is incredibly insightful, his musicianship skills are excellent, and he’s fun to be with. We have what my Nana calls a “mutual admiration club” and our work environment is full of excitement at each other’s creations.
Working with M is so fulfilling and yet, I have found myself battling my inner critic. We recently had a really big decision™ to make. I knew immediately what I wanted, and he told me he wanted time to think it through before committing. My fear kicked in when he said that, so I responded with “it’s really up to you, just let me know what you decide.” I was so quick to give up my power. Later that night, I realized that I actually had really strong feelings about this decision, but I felt I had already put the nail in the coffin by handing away my vote and I didn’t know how to come back from that. How could I have undermined myself so quickly and easily?
I spent days circling all the reasons why I thought he might not want what I wanted, which led me down a rabbit hole with my inner critic. I was a wreck, but when it finally came time to talk about it, it turned out that we wanted the same thing. He needed time because that’s how he makes decisions and because he was brewing a really cool and creative solution to support our big decision™. I had created a vortex of my own making founded on nothing but my fear of wanting too much, saying too much, and being too much. And what a gift to be able to learn this lesson in a safe creative space like the one we’ve made together.
In reflecting on this now, I think that our ease in working together stems from the fact that we share a similar “superpower”; born out of a life of being told we are “too much.” And a lot of that “too muchness” gets conflated with the idea of perfectionism.
I think perfectionism gets a bad rap.
What words do we have to describe someone who is dedicated to a high creative standard? We call them an overachiever, we call them “type A” or “anal,” we say that they are “a lot to handle,” and, most commonly, we call them a perfectionist.
I feel like we have this idea that perfectionism is only about achieving perfection, something inherently unattainable, which eventually drives us insane or destroys our sense of self. Perfectionism can look like this, and it does for a lot of people, myself included sometimes. But I am learning a different way of relating to it.
I don’t want to be perfect, I want to push myself to be better, to make things I’m proud of, to stretch my own limits of creativity and ingenuity. So, I’ve come up with a new word, to represent my meaning:
(per-FEK-shun-ISH-um or [pɚˈfɛkˌʃɪn.ɪʃ.əm] for my IPA nerds out there)
Dedication to the highest form of creation, characterized by the constant pursuit of deeper knowledge, deeper understanding, and deeper integrity in an authentic life.
Perfection-ishm acknowledges the unattainable nature of perfection, and strives for perfection-ish. The -ish is that liminal space between the tangible and the intangible, the neutral zone between what is possible for us in our human experience and what belongs only to the cosmos.
Perfection-ishm loves the process of creating. It loves the endless possibilities of art in all its forms. No painting can be painted the same way twice. Art is endless iterations, endless opportunities to raise our consciousness and express ourselves more deeply, more honestly, more creatively. Art lives in the liminal -ish space where even a “completed” painting will be recreated over and over again in the mind of each new viewer.
Mediums may vary, public reception may vary, but the artist works to close the gap between what they imagine in their head and what they are able to create. We are alchemists of the imagination; transforming objects and transmuting energy to create something that never before existed.
Working on this radio show and creating something from nothing every week with someone who inspires me to be better has brought me a great inner peace in this time of tumult and grief. My inner critic is the shadow side of perfectionism in the traditional sense, and leaning into perfection-ishm is what frees me from it’s grip. My perfection-ishm is a part of my muchness, and it has finally found a place where it can create something without limitations, giving me permission to be my fullest, most authentic self.
And I suppose that’s what I am here to say. I don’t have any grand inspirational calls to action, only this small and vulnerable moment to share a realization that is still unfolding in my own mind.
I arrived here because the pandemic has eliminated almost all of the ways I once made money (or tried to make money) making art, so I was left with time and energy to create something with one of my favorite collaborators outside of the bounds of my “career path.” We meet each other on zoom in this liminal space between real life and lockdown.
So what is your superpower? How can you lean into the thing you have always restricted yourself from? And for my fellow perfection-ishts out there: how can you use your dedication to creating to fill yourself with light?
In true perfection-isht fashion, I have no answers. Only more questions.
May we all find ways to let our creativity run free, boundless in its joy and liberated from the idea that our desire to create is anything less than divine.
Becca Barrett is a performer, writer, dialect coach, and educator. She currently co-hosts Flop! Hit Songs From Musical Misfires on QuarantineFM. www.floptheshow.com