So I’m rereading your book,” she says.

“Oh?” I say. “How’s it going?”


“Really? Why?”

“I keep saying to myself That’s me and That’s me too and That’s me again. I’m on every damn page, and it’s discouraging.”

“Give me an example.”

“Let me look,” she says, and pulls out her copy.

“Okay, it starts with ‘Defense Department,'” she says, “Chapter 30. Then gets worse with each defense you describe. I do all of that.”

“All of what?”

“Oh, I bury my feelings, ignore problems that scare me, confuse one relationship with another. I worry endlessly. And I project all the time,” she frowns.* “Sometimes I feel like all I ever do is what you call stinking thinking.”

“Uh huh,” I say. “Want to hear a secret?”


“I know the guy who wrote the book.”

She grins.

“And he wrote it from personal experience,” I go on. “In other words, I do all that shit myself.”


“Sure. We all do. That’s the whole point of the book. To show how we’re all addicts, constantly trying to control our emotional lives, and how all that controlling makes us sick.”

She hesitates, then asks:

“What do you do?”

“Good question. Mostly I’m in my head. I try to think my way through life. I make lots of plans and lists. I have this file on my computer desktop where I list all the jobs I need to do in every area of my life — my practice, my writing, my house-and-yard stuff.  It’s color-coded, and it’s ridiculous.”

“Why? Doesn’t the list make you feel organized?”

“It does when I’m making it. My Kid thinks adding a job to the list means taking a step towards completing it. And occasionally it does. But mostly I just end up with a longer list.”

“And feeling worse.”


“So what can you do about that?”

“I try to practice alternatives.** I try to detach from the endless To Do list and focus entirely on one thing at a time. There’s a Buddhist saying: Chop wood, carry water. I try to get out of my head and just chop wood, carry water. Rake leaves, clean office.”

“And then I try to address the feelings that drive the list-making. Usually they’re old feelings I’ve carried since childhood — guilt, inadequacy, disappointment in myself. Anxiety about how others see or judge me. I try to tell my wife about them instead of acting them out.”

“And that works?”

“When I remember to do it. But I also know the feelings will come back and I’ll have to practice again.  And that’s as good as it gets.”

“It is?” she asks. “That’s depressing too.”


“I don’t know. I guess I had this idea that if I worked hard enough and long enough I solve all my emotional problems, and end up…”

“Perfect?” I say.

“I suppose,” she shrugs. “Is that stupid?”

“Unrealistic,” I say. “Also self-defeating. Perfectionism is nothing more than a form of controlling which guarantees we’ll always, always, always feel inadequate. It’s like swallowing a small dose of mental poison every day.”

“Well, shit,” she smiles. “So I should give up on perfect.”

“Right. We don’t get to be perfect. We don’t need to be perfect. There is no perfect. Perfect’s an illusion. Just like control.”


*She’s referring to chapters 31 (“Interruptions”), 34 (“Ostrich”), 32 (“Mistaken Identities”), 35 (“Gumchewing”) and 33 (“Superpowers”).
**Explained here:

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