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the red solo cup.

when i was younger my family had a like cup.

anytime someone used the word "like" inappropriately ten cents when into that little red solo.

you, like, know what i mean don't you?

my mother gave us each two dimes to start with. a little cushion to ease us into the game. i think i used my two dimes and that was it. (such was my prowess and love of the english language).

however, if i remember correctly--and i usually do (such is my cross)--the game actually bankrupted my brother.

but it was my brother who many years later resurrected that red solo cup. and this time the stakes were raised: a dollar for any unsolicited you should...

it's shocking just how often people say you should, or some variation thereof. often the phrase is silent, like the understood you in english grammar. but silent or not there was a holiday season in our house, long after my brother and i'd both moved out, in which dollar after dollar went into that red cup (and most belonged to my mother).

the you should game was genius. on so many levels.  mostly because it always broke the tension of conversations leading to dangerous territory.

in fact, only good came from the red cup. when all was said and done we'd collect the money and buy ourselves pizza. or take in a movie. together, with our mistakes made manifest in the form of green, we'd take the time to invest in family.

i now think twice before speaking like a valley girl...and in a world where people are getting lazier and lazier with their speech and the words they choose (heaven help us) this can not be valued highly enough. and i certainly think twice about dolling out advice (most especially to my brother).

now i can't stop thinking about the word perfect. what does it mean? and why do we use it?

i looked it up in merriam webster and there are all-together eight definitions, two of them obsolete.

for what follows, let's got with this: being entirely without fault or defect. 

but let's all be very clear here. perfect doesn't exist, right? there is no such thing--it is a false goal, a false god of our culture, no?

it was while babysitting i noticed how often i used it. you've got your shoes on? perfect! you had a sip of milk? perfect! most of the time i used it to usher things along--make them move faster.

and then one day, as i listened to myself tossing it so carelessly to a two-year-old-girl, living in america where the attempt at perfect is practically a national pastime, i stopped myself. because what will come of that day when she asks me what it means? how will i respond? and if it's not me she asks, how will that person respond?

then again, she may never ask. there may be no need to. i've been defining it all along just by my use of it.

i've been defining a thing that doesn't actually exist.

there's this beautiful moment in the book thief where a word is defined as a promise. i love that. imagine: a single word, each and every single word, a promise. powerful.

so here i've been parceling out false promises in the form of this elusive, little word: perfect.

so i stopped using it. and just as i stopped i started noticing how often everyone else did.

all the time. that's what i've learned: we all use it. all. the. time.

you're ready for your table? perfect! ready to go? perfect! you want to sign up for this class with me? perfect

ah, the plight of perfect.

i was talking to tom about this. tom and i talk about this kind of thing. he's good, that tom. (tom is my therapist). and he said it's like a cuss word. ubiquitous and without any real meaning. overused and under-understood. tom's good that way. smartest person i know, actually.

so i told tom about my plan.

how when i raise children i want to do so in a household absent of the word. perfect will not be part of our daily vocabulary.

and when we introduce the word we will do it justice. pay homage to it's power, actual definition, and inherent falseness.

so for now i've got a little red solo cup on my desk. and every time i slip, i stick a dollar in.  call it my f*** up fund. (love that alliteration).

even if perfect did exist--even if there was such a thing, i don't want my kids chasing after it. i don't want to chase after it. it's just so darn boring.

and life and all it's miraculous, little imperfections should be fun, no?


aubry. said...

i am so guilty of perfect.
and like. but only when i'm being cheeky... which comes more often than not.

i think i need a cup. or two.

Brissa said...

my dad used to interrupt us every time we would say "like." we'd be driving in the car and i would excitedly tell him about my day at school and (of course) "like" would pop up. he would stop me every.single.time. i like to think it's helped and i don't say it as often as i used to, but it's definitely something i need to be more aware of.
and now i'm going to pay attention to my usage of perfect.
have a lovely weekend!

communikate. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brei said...

Thank you for this. I know I use both of those words too much. I try to catch myself knowing I need to sound more adult but having used them all these years it's a hard habit to break. I may have to set up my own solo cup!

communikate. said...

this post is perfect!


i use it SO often. i'll be honest, i've never thought of it that way. it just flows out of my mouth like a cuss word.

bravo to your parents for the red cup. i love that idea.

wildchild said...

geez louise, you're a beautiful writer. you have such an eloquent way of putting everything.

but "perfect" is something i've never thought about. i use that a lot when i think something is cute, or when it really speaks to me. but you're right i suppose. i believe that true perfection only applies to one person, which is god. i don't really think anything else is perfect, but i do just throw that word around. it's odd that i, and most of the human race, am never fully aware of everything that comes out of our mouths. it's scary.

karajean said...

During the year and a half I waited tables I abused that word until it absolutely had no meaning anymore. You want soda? Perfect! Your burger is good? Perfect! You ready for the check? Perfect! Every time I said it I cringed. I knew it was awful because I hated it when my trainer overused it. But then I started to, and had to make a daily, conscious decision to stop. Thank goodness I did.

Jessica said...

I love this so much.
It really made me think of how we use the word "perfect" and how it may create a negative future for young kids. With all the photo shop and airbrushing of today, people already want to look like people who aren't real when they see them on a magazine cover. Because they think that they look just that, "perfect" when really they're not. Interesting how the word "perfect" might influence these kids even further to try and be as such.


Carrie Rosalind said...

Oh man, I never realized how many times I say "perfect" in a day but you are SO right! Starting my own jar right now.

Ashley said...

What a good idea! I think my f' up cup would be for the word 'always'. I use it too much and most the time its untrue. 'You always do that'. 'I always do this'... Etc.
your kids are going to be so smart and beautiful, just like their mama! =) happy friday!

becky said...

This is beautiful. From the idea itself--of the red cup--to your use of it and to the measure of your writing. You enlighten me over and over again. I still think I'm privileged to see these words.

Emma said...

I love this. From someone who for many years sought "perfection" I have begun to realize how boring that is. How unreasonable even. Perfection does not exist and even if it does, I don't think it's something I want.

Lela said...

I think it's important to remember perfect's treacherous younger siblings - love and hate. "I LOVE your new shoes." "I HATE Justin Bieber," "I LOVE tomatoes," "I HATE slow drivers. . . ."

Totally wrong uses of incredibly powerful words!

lovekylie said...

A family I knew also noticed how much we say 'should', whether other people telling us or, more often, us telling ourselves. We all thought it carried a lot of unncessessary guilt, so when we heard someone say 'you should' or 'I should', they'd say, 'quit shoulding all over yourself'. Sounds like you're saying something else, but the shock of the statement stops you in your tracks, making you rethink the phrase. Try it!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on these things. The words we use matter, and it's good for us to consider what they actually mean and how they affect us and others. Love your blog!

Robby Spratt said...

I love The Book Thief! Great quote too. You make some good points about our common usage of "perfect".
I know I have several overused words and expressions that I would like to kick.
Trailing off sentences with "so...", saying "you know" all the time. Luckily I never got hooked on "like".

Erin said...

i like imperfection.
it makes me feel human.

Em & Gar said...

i owe you a dollar. I just "perfect sinned" in my comment a post or two down. I've been illuminated.

Anonymous said...

You seem completely smitten with yourself. Which isn't to say that I don't enjoy reading your thoughts. I only wish we were subjected to this bold sort of confidence more often. No doubt, it is snide. But I suspect this is who you are in your most uninhibited state.

wilybrunette said...

@anon: that I'm snide in my most inhibited state? Oh dear, I hope not. But yes I am smitten with myself, shouldn't we all love ourselves?

Keiko said...

Confession: I'm smitten with you...

First thing I thought of reading this post was the line from love actually, "To me: You are perfect."

Perhaps perfect becomes relative when love is concerned. We all have our own "perfect." It's actually quite fascinating if you think about it; your perfect can be completely different from mine, or his, or hers...But still we say things like, "To me: You are perfect." And we mean it, deeply. Or do we?

I wouldn't know, I've never met someone who's made me say those words (figuratively of course). Have you?

Little Tree Vintage said...

you're so right, what a great post.. I always say
awesome, im gonna try the cup and see how much money I raise , maybe I'll treat myself to a yoga class :)

Jennifer M. said...

This is an absolutely brilliant post - I read every word. You are absolutely right about the power of words and it is very interesting just how much we use the word perfect. We're basically setting ourselves up for disappointment when we constantly use that word, since no one on this earth can ever achieve perfection.

Mallory said...

yes. my dad always gets on me and my siblings cases about "like" and "UM".
this is a good idea.

jessica renae said...

i LOVE this thought - i've been trying to steer myself and my sisters away from the word for quite a while without much success, but this sounds like a pretty wonderful idea.
time to start!

Fefe said...

This was like perfect. You should like write more thoughts like this it would be like even more perfect. :)

My skin is crawling from what I just typed

Amanda said...

my parents used to make my brother and I give up a penny every time we said the word "like", too. and I also think you're completely right- it's important not to push others to be "perfect", because they will never completely fill expectations. great post:)

Cassie said...

I love this post. It's full of some things I need to think about. Thank you!

Kate said...

I am extremely guilty of saying like all the time. I sound like a Valley girl to begin with, so it just makes the whole thing worse. I try to stop myself, but sometimes I don't even notice it. Maybe I should try your method..

angela hardison said...

i love this post more than words can say. which is a little ironic/embarrassing considering the fact that i'm pretty sure my most recent comment on one of your previous posts was, in fact, the word "perfect." i have this weird thing with the word perfect... and also with the word "normal." trying to get over both of them.

Walking Dot said...

A.m.a.z.i.n.g. post. When my friends and I were young, our parents decided to start a Toastmasters club for us (a chapter of a nation-wide public speaking club). During each meeting, one member's sole purpose is to count how many times each other member uses phrases such as "you know" or "like." Homework also included listening to a speech given by a public figure and count how many times he says "like" (usually a shocking member for a person whose job includes speaking publicly!). We had so much fun at these meetings and for years I was really good about not using the word "like" (sadly, this isn't true anymore). I never thought about our misuse of the word "perfect," though! I'm going to be biting my tongue a lot in the future...