I'm a teacher. Between rough drafts and revisions, I read and assign grades to somewhere between 100 and 150 essays every month. In my career, I have probably graded more than 8,000 essays. I think I've given a perfect score...10 times? 15?
I'm a writer. I have published hundreds of poems, essays, reviews, interviews, articles and blog posts on this and that. I'm proud and glad to have placed everything I've let out into the world, but when I read an old poem or essay, I usually find a word or two I would change, a sentence or line I would omit or move, a typo, a passive verb construction I don't need.
I'm also a parent, a spouse, a friend, coworker, sister, daughter, granddaughter, niece and cousin. I take pains to be kind, attentive, wise, reliable, generous, and fun. But some times, often, I get it wrong. I give advice when it's not wanted. I've lost my temper. I've been impatient, too strict, too lenient, too clingy, too distant. I don't call.
I realize that I don't believe in "perfect." I believe in doing better than last time, not repeating my mistakes, failing better. The trouble, of course, is that so many of the important things don't get a second chance. I am a parent of an only child. It is unlikely that I will get another opportunity to respond better to my child's first failing grade or broken heart. I won't ever get to redo the phone call I just had with a student who is struggling in my class and considering quitting school.
I cling, instead, to iteration. The next draft. The next publication. The next version of the conversation. The next chance to do the best I can until I can do better.