Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Good Enough

I care quite a bit about what I see in the mirror. When I get dressed up for some event for which my appearance seems to matter, I really like to look nice. But I was never a looker, and now I'm getting old. Many's the time that I have looked at myself in the mirror and said to myself, "Well, I look nice-ish." That's usually good enough.

Today I want to celebrate "nice-ish," "goodish," and "good enough." They can get us through the day, and they can help us let go of some of what holds us back.

The psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott coined a wonderful term: the "good enough mother." He was convinced that children didn't need perfection in a parent but did absolutely need a mother who would both supply the child's needs for closeness and bonding and allow space between mother and child, a space he labeled "potential space." This is, he maintains, the space where the child can create through play--the space which in later years will become the space of creativity in other kinds of play (the arts, work, etc.). It is a lovely theory, and a comforting one. (It seems true enough.) Good mothers are so anxious about being "good mothers"! To know that "good enough" is really good enough is a great comfort: armed with that idea, a mother can relax and both allow the child to play and play herself.

In the late eighties I read in Tracy Kidder's more-than-goodish book House a comment made by one of the builders (he was somebody I went to high school with, delightfully enough, but that is not relevant to the current topic). When the builders encountered a glitch and found a way around it that didn't quite satisfy their zeal for perfection, it would be "good enough for Amherst" (the house was being built in Amherst, Mass.). My husband and I grabbed onto that "good enough for _______" expression. We would be making the bed, for example, and something would be a little skew-gee. My husband would say "Good enough for Buff" (meaning Buffalo), and we'd leave it at that. It always made us smile a little.

"Good enough for _____" is, in my mind at least, particularly resonant in Buffalo, a city with a large self-deprecating streak and a history of disappointment. A local artist, Michael Margolis, designed a T-shirt with the motto "Buffalo: City of No Illusions."
One could argue that it is a pretty negative motto. But we in the Buffalo area love it; it's just right. And really, it's something another city could emulate. It suggests that it's good not to have illusions. It suggests that "good enough" is good enough, that "goodish" is better than nothing, that a sheepish semi-success is better than failure, that half a loaf really is better than none. Most of our lives are half-loaf affairs; many of us can do little better than to look nice-ish. But why not celebrate the no-illusions attitude that sees "good enough" as really good enough?

No comments:

Post a Comment