Posted by David
on Sep 27, 2008 in Upside-down Hippo
| 0 comments
Someone once famously crooned, “I’ve been to paradise, but I’ve never been to me.” I am the reverse: I spend far too much time at me and my forays to paradise are brief and usually plagued by some sort of lung infection. I promised you a travel journal, and this is one both literally and figuratively—even if my progress on the less tangible of those maps is limited. However, if my life were an Indiana Jones movie (and it isn’t: I spent last Saturday night mopping every floor in the house before settling down with a nice bowl of soup), last week would have shown me on a line starting from Baltimore, angling off at Miami, and finally settling at San José, Costa Rica, from whence Rob and I were whisked by private van to the breathtakingly beautiful Punta Leona, near Jaco on the Pacific coast.
To backtrack a bit, I am a perfectionist. This will not come as a surprise to those of you who know me in person or who have been reading this journal for the past six-plus years. I used to be a perfectionist who made people cry in the midst of my relentless quest to be in the eye of a “perfect” storm. I since came to realize that they don’t call it the perfect storm for nuttin: aside from being a stupid Republican, there is almost no worse a fate than being a perfectionist. Indeed, stupid Republicans suffer far less existential anguish than I do on a regular basis. I once read a comic book in which we are invited to imagine the existence of the Flash, that super-powered dynamo who can run faster than sound. How horrible it is, said the comic book, to live on such an impossibly fast level yet have to contend with us pokey humans at our regular pace. It would be like waiting in an incredibly slow supermarket line with just one item while everyone in front of you has overflowing carts and shopping bags full of pennies to pay for it all, every moment of your life.
As a perfectionist, the sad part is that I can’t claim any sort of superiority . . . I can only recognize it—and see how dramatically short most efforts fall. At one time in my life, I was like the Flash, champing at the bit in that supermarket line whenever I had to deal with people’s attempts to do anything. When delegating, I would hover anxiously in the background and then secretly redo everyone’s work to what I imagined was a higher standard. That reaction seems to be burning off in my old age, however; it has been years since I caused anyone to burst into tears through a withering display of my contempt. What remains is the most crippling personal aspect of perfectionism: utter paralysis. This is that inner conviction that nothing I do is good enough or can live up to any sort of superior evaluation—so why bother? When writing, it is the unremitting editor that won’t allow progress until the perfect word is found or until the sentence flows like a brook. When designing, it’s an endless fiddling with the result, to the extent that I now wait until deadlines have passed before even beginning the project just because I know I won’t have time to fuss and fret for two weeks over the smallest advertisement. In business, it’s a constant dread that I won’t make my monthly numbers on the macro scale, so therefore there’s no point in making improvements on a micro scale. On a personal level, it’s the conviction that I’m not a magazine model so I might as well dress like a homeless person and never exercise.
This is where my novel went. This is where my brilliant career in a Madison Avenue ad agency went. This is why all of the nice clothes I buy end up stuffed in the back of drawers.
So when I come across something that through some magic evades this inner demon, something I set my heart on and that I somehow come to believe is not only attainable but worth the effort of attaining, it’s quite remarkable.
And this is how, with just a couple of days of planning, Rob and I ended up in the Costa Rican shore, with rainforest on one side and white sands and crashing waves on the other.
I can’t even remember how I found the ad for the seaside condos being built there on a cliff overlooking the ocean, but I remember the excitement that infused my being when I first saw photos of the locale, then the artists’ renditions of the building, then the floor plans, then the financing. This was something I could do. I could cash in some stocks for the down payment, the rental fees I could charge to visitors while I wasn’t there would more than pay for the mortgage, and when I was ready to retire, my perfect little condo would be paid off and waiting for me. When discussing my plans with the real estate agents (who really were the nicest people in the world), they supported my thinking along these lines, not just because they were trying to make a sale, but because they truly believed they were offering paradise, life as it should be, at a reasonable price. Rob and I befriended Mehgan, the one who hosted us, instantly, and she was the mastermind behind our lovely trip’s adventures, from drinking out of coconuts on the beach to hunting down toucans in the rainforest to nights out on the town to the zipline tour she arranged for us one drizzly afternoon. It was all a perfectionist’s dream.
This sadly came to a crashing halt when I finally saw the terms of the property management agreement, which were most unfavorable and wouldn’t allow any sort of profit for tenants. My mortgage would not be paying itself. Income would not be generated to smooth over the financial bumps in my everyday life. I hasten to point out that this was not Mehgan’s fault—the agreement had not been hammered out until just days before we had arrived, and none of us understood its implications until we sat down over wine on a humid night by the beach and spread out the paperwork. We filled out the power of attorney anyway, hoping that by some miracle things would work out in the two days before closing. If not, Mehgan assured us, she would tear the contract to shreds.
The next day, I stepped off the plane in Miami to find all the television monitors bleating disaster. Financial meltdown! Stock market crashes! Bailouts! My iPhone, in the deluge of pent-up information, elaborated: the stocks I had planned to sell for the down payment had plummeted. Consequences (and the stupid Republicans responsible for many of them) had made the decision for me. The beautiful symmetry of my plan had toppled; there would be no perfection. I wandered around the Miami airport with a knot in my stomach, snapping at Rob and just wanting to be home, under the covers, where I could control every aspect of my environment except Goblin’s nocturnal farts.
It’s stupid, I think, not only to get so disappointed when a pipe dream doesn’t fall neatly into place, but to overlook all of the sloppy good fortune I do have when some odd impulse tells me that perfection is just a plane ride away. I have more than I deserve, and I’m given more credit than I deserve for creating it. Later, with perspective, I am happy to say that I look back on the Costa Rican adventure with some amount of pride, not because I could have accomplished something grand if things had worked out, but because I saw something grand and actually tried to seize upon it on my own, without my inner perfectionist interfering. Does that make sense?
For once I went to paradise, and I totally left me in the dust.
(P.S. I have some photos I may post if I can find any that don’t make me look like a goon!)