There is a one word phrase in the English language that as a child I craved to earn but now gives me pause.
I always strove to do work that was to the best of my ability.
I still do. However, that one single word is a double-edged sword. I aim to create error free work -- given my life as a technology consultant, a hand-knit and crochet designer, and an editor -- that is the goal. Code needs to be bug free. Knitting and crochet needs to be worked up in the design without deviation and patterns need to be clearly written and error free. Writing needs to reflect proper grammar and style.
However, there's that phrase again lurking around the shadows, "Perfect!"
I have a tendency to push past not just the high bar I set for my work, but to go beyond. Of course I could add an extra feature to a website, another size to a pattern, revise another draft. When I start creating something that goes far past the requirements, then I get caught by that phrase. If I allow it to hook me, then there is never enough that I can do to call a project, no matter what that project is, complete.
There are other areas of my life where this quest for unobtainable perfectionism threatens. In this age of social (over) sharing, I've been known to whisk a dirty glass out of the instagram frame or even (gasp!) clean the table before taking a picture. I'm happy about the second, not too proud of the first.
When I was approached with the opportunity to write something -- anything -- here and provide a photo if I could, of course I said yes. As soon as I sent my reply, however, I became nervous and overwhelmed by the blankness of the page and began frantically looking through my photos. There was a specific image I had in mind to use but the framing shows some untidiness.
It took me an extra week to stop being silly and begin to put the words together to explain why everything about this photo is actually ... well ... perfect. And write about something entirely different from what I first outlined.
Two years ago my husband and I began fostering kittens for our local humane society. Our finished basement is well suited for kittens, the bathroom there is rarely used and it was easy to kitten proof. My office is in the basement, has extra heat and provides ample climbing opportunities. I work out of that office so I'm available to socialize and play with the kittens. I enjoy the breaks from routine as much as they do. The entire basement can be isolated from the rest of the house and our resident cats. There's a story about why two cats rule us, but that's a different tale (told at Shadow's Decision).
Last year, we had a special group of cats for most of the kitten season. I received a call last May: could we provide shelter to a mother who had given birth to five kittens that morning? Yes, we had an available safe space for everyone to stay together and grow big and strong. Cookie and her kittens moved in and that first day was a long one for the young mom, not only had she given birth, but she'd been moved and poked and prodded and finally landed in our bathroom. We placed food and water within her reach and allowed her to get acquainted with us. It was amazing the trust she had in both my husband and I from that very first afternoon. Watching her kittens grow was wonderful. I think it's my favorite part of fostering. As they grew we gave them the run of the basement and they had fun running and learning to jump and climb. One day I picked my head up from my desk to see one of the kittens in my Little Swift.
I quickly snapped a photo.
The kittens were always running around and climbing up my leg to join me at my work. It made me smile to find a kitten loving my Tom Bihn bags as much as I do.
As I debated including this photo, at first I focused on all that was wrong. It's not tidy. I have worked very hard to have a clean, neat, tidy home. To be sure, our house, and especially my office, never looks like a magazine photo with everything always put away and organized. My husband is the tidy one. I struggle. But I have worked hard over the years for better habits. I've developed systems so I don't accumulate piles of stuff that is rarely used. I try to keep my workspace mostly organized so that I can focus on what I need to do instead of wondering where I put something. That photo seemed to disregard all I strive for.
But then I stopped and reminded myself that I was being unrealistic. This is a photo of a real foster kitten. Playing in my real home office. Having fun. Learning. Living. Being loved by her mother, her siblings, and me. In a bag I use every day. Yes, professional studio shots have helped many animals passed-over in shelters find their forever homes. Yes, I own a fancy camera and lenses. I happened to have it sitting on my desk that day because I'd just transferred photos from a photoshoot of that bit of knitting in the corner, a shawl I test knit.
So why did I have such a problem with this photo? I have no idea.
Everything about it is wonderful!
They were playing and she figured out how to get into my bag for a few minutes of rest from the mayhem. I had no concern with her and her siblings playing with my bag. I knew from my co-pilot that if it could put up with the abuse that is commuting to NYC by train, a playful kitten would be just that ... kitten's play.
How does this all tie together? I buy tools to use. I use them hard. As a maker I understand how long it takes to design and then make something properly. I value the well-made. I trust my tools to work. When I was younger I was always on a quest for The One Bag (to rule them all); there were a few nice ones over the years, but they never lasted and I always worried about them falling apart.
I've always been a strong advocate of well-made products. Of Tom Bihn since purchasing my first bag, a Co-Pilot, in 2010 (see I have a new bag are you surprised). That Co-Pilot still looks awesome, while my needs changed and I don't use it as often as I used to, I know I can pull it off the shelf and it looks just about as good as it did 5 years ago. My current every day carry, the discontinued-to-make-room-for-new, Little Swift is a year old. It had fun with foster kittens and still looks great!
Are these bags perfect? No. Are they constructed to the highest standard from quality supplies? Yes. Does the design fit my requirements? Yes. Overall they far exceed my expectations! My needs change on a daily basis and sometimes I wish a few little things were different about my TB bags, but nothing extreme. They are tools I use and (inspired by Marie Kondo) thank daily. They work. They work hard. I don't need to think about them not doing their job properly at a critical moment. I trust them. That means there's more time for something really special.
If you would like to learn more about working with community cats and the kitten season, I recommend the national organization, Alley Cat Allies. They hold numerous seminars and their website is a very wonderful educational resource. Kitten season is upon us, if you see little ones, don't immediately take them away (unless they are very obviously in an unsafe situation) ... mum may have stepped out to look for food. You can learn some key Spring Kitten Protection Tips at their website.
My local humane society is the New Rochelle Humane Society, serving 19 communities in Westchester County, and rescuing over 500 dogs and 900 cats each year. They are open 7 days a week and welcome volunteers and of course donations, including items from their wish list. I share our fostering adventures through Facebook and instagram.
Penny Shima Glanz spends her days spinning yarn and code into memorable projects. Small businesses rely on her for practical technology solutions. Designers rely on her to sample, test, and edit their handknit and crochet patterns. She loves muddy trail runs, fosters kittens, and lives in Westchester, NY with her husband and two resident cats. www.pennyshima.com