Getting Past Perfect

IMG_0024A couple of years ago I surprised Pam by taking her to one of those do-it-yourself painting studios. This particular session was “Paint Your Pet”

I had emailed them a couple of pictures of our beagle Kobi, which they sketched in pencil on a canvas.

The instructors showed us how to mix the acrylic paints to achieve the colors we wanted, and we began painting his portrait, using the pictures as guides.

Angela and her husband Eric had done this with their two dogs, and I was impressed with the resulting portraits. They actually looked like their dogs.

I was not impressed with how mine was turning out. In fact, I was disappointed. I know I’m an amateur, but these places are supposed to help you not look like an amateur! It looked little better than a child’s attempt at a paint-by-numbers picture.

Pam’s looked little better.

After a while I took a break and walked around to see how everyone else was doing. Big mistake. A couple were as bad as mine, but several people looked as if they had some art training. Their pictures were amazing!16864533_1841560829416437_4823464654134569178_n (2)

When I got to the other side of the room, I looked back at our portraits and was surprised to see that they looked really good! What up close looked like out-of-place splotches of pale yellow on dark brown now appeared from a distance to be highlights on his fur. What up close looked like an odd smear of dark gray now appeared as a shadow under Kobi’s front leg.

Up close it looked like a cartoonish hack job that was only somewhat beagle-ish. From a distance, it looked amazingly like the picture. It looked like Kobi.

Something similar happens when I build a guitar. For more than a year I work intimately with the wood, and the closer it gets to being finished the closer I get to the guitar—physically closer.

Often I’m looking through a magnifying visor like jewelers or watch repairers use, with harsh overhead fluorescent lighting and tightly focused incandescent lights.

I am intimately familiar with every aspect of that guitar—especially the flaws and mistakes. I see every one of them, and I can’t imagine that everyone else can’t see them as well.

So I keep working, filing this, sanding that. It’s not a matter of it not being functional; a guitar can’t just be functional, it has to be beautiful as well, and what I’m looking at isn’t beautiful.

This isn’t an issue of being a perfectionist; I’m not trying for perfect, I’m hoping for very good, and sometimes I have to settle for good enough. At least that’s how it feels.

When it’s finally as good as I can get it, the guitar gets strung up and taken out of the workshop. I take it up to my office/music room, play it for a while to begin the breaking-in process, and finally leave it on a stand.

IMG_0181And then it happens. After leaving it alone for a while I walk back in the room and see it from a distance of about ten feet, and I’m always struck by how beautiful it is.

That’s more a testament to the natural beauty of the wood as well as the gentle curves of the guitar than to any skill on my part.

But still.

Few things made by hand (as opposed to computer-numerically-controlled tools) can bear the burden of close inspection under magnification, even those made by the hands of experienced masters.

And our lives are made by hand, at least mine is. There are globs of out-of-place paint colors. There’s that bridge pin that’s ever so lightly out of line with the other five. There’s always something in my life that can’t bear close inspection, wounds that leave a scar that is always testament to a flawed life.

Maybe you see God as that guy with a magnifying visor who shines a harsh light on every aspect of your life and who invariably finds something wrong.

But I rather think he’s that guy in Genesis 1 who makes something or someone and then steps back several feet to take in the whole effect.

Who then says, “Hey, you know what? That’s very good!”

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