The Speckled Axe

I’m a perfectionist, a frustrated one. Somewhere between childhood and adolescence, I felt that if adequacy had a numeric value, it’d be greater than two and less than one; or something equally impossible.

More accurately, I felt as if that was the standard imposed on me. I realized that it wasn’t possible, and that there was no point in trying to reach it. Like I said, frustrated.

That goes a long way to explain, I think, why results from aptitude and intelligence tests showed that I should be getting stellar grades: and I wasn’t.

Autism Meets Perfectionism

Academics interested me, and I was paying attention. I just didn’t see a point in “good grades.” Besides, there was a whole universe full of things not being covered at any particular moment: including some inside the classroom.

I remember spending a sizable fraction of a class period, watching the shadow cast by a window frame travel across the floor.

That was an interesting confirmation that what I’d read recently about Earth’s rotation was essentially accurate.

Folks like me aren’t a good fit in most circles of society. Happily, my civilization had left terms like “soulless mass of flesh possessed by the devil” behind by then. Some psychologists were discussing Asperger’s paper on ‘autistic psychopaths.’

“Autistic psychopathy” is now part of the “autism spectrum disorder.” I think that sounds less scary. I also think it may be just as well that my brain’s — odd — wiring wasn’t spotted until recently.

I’ve described myself as “brilliant, talented, and on medication.” And that’s another topic. (March 19, 2017; October 21, 2016; July 31, 2016; Brian H. Gill’s Shop on

Happily, most of my elementary school teachers were very patient and understanding. One, not so much. I understand she left teaching and entered some sort of asylum after having me in her class.

My mostly-good experience with instructors lasted through high school and college: with a few exceptions. Very few.

Books with titles like ‘How To Be Rich And Famous Like Me’ sometimes say that perfectionism is a good thing.

Assuming that the authors have at least one foot in reality, I figure they’re thinking of having high standards. And that the standards are determined rationally, achievable, and measured in a quantifiable way.

I think Dr. Adrian Furnham is right. Being a perfectionist is good news and bad news.

The good news is that, properly managed, perfectionism can help someone be organized. That, plus effort, lets the perfectionist finish tasks on time and at or above expectations, and succeed in business or sports.

The bad news is that perfection, improperly managed, easily leads to the opposite of the ‘good news’ results.

There’s a religious angle to it, and I’ll get back to that.

The Speckled Axe Story

I think my parents had the same struggles with perfectionism that I experience.

Somewhere in late childhood, my father and I were in the garage.

We’d been doing something that turned our attention to a wall-mounted tool grinder.

It was a little like the one in that photo. Not as fancy, though, as I recall. That one’s a Luther Best Maide #51, on an old antique farm tools” page, along with wood & brass levels and a Federal Tool syrup pitcher.

“Old antique” seems redundant, but some antiques are older than others. Laurel Leaf Farm’s home page shows a much dressier selection of old stuff.

I like living in an era where old folks like me remember the days when downlinks needed dishes 18, 20 feet across. Kids these days grew up with fancy-schmancy little things you could hang a coat on. And that’s yet another topic.

Back to the garage. My dad could probably have sharpened his tools faster without my help, but I’m glad he didn’t.

I’d turn the crank, gears multiplied the handle’s revolutions, and I got an upper-body workout. Also time with my dad. I liked the sound it made, and the sparks that flew while sharpening tools. The grinder, that is. My dad was loud, but his noises were different.

Those were good times. Come to think of it, I’m loud. Anyway, I can’t remember the exact words my father used, but I remember the story he told.

A father and son were getting ready to chop wood. This was in the days when you sharpened an axe by turning a stone wheel by hand and holding the axe blade against it.

The son didn’t want to have a speckled axe when they were done. He wanted to get the axe perfectly sharpened and polished, with no rust left at all.

The father agreed, on the condition that the son turn the wheel. After a while the son got tired and said, “Dad, I think a speckled axe is okay.”

A Community of Perfect People?

Depending on who’s talking, perfectionism is a key to success, a psychological disorder waiting to happen, or “any of various doctrines holding that religious, moral, social, or political perfection is attainable.” (

Some perfectionists have set up their own communities, like John Humphrey Noyes’s Oneida Community.

The original Oneida Community started in 1848, east of Lenox, New York. Oneida merged with Lenox later that year, was un-merged in 1896, and incorporated as the City of Oneida in 1901. The town, that is.

The Oneida Community caught on: setting up branches in or near Wallingford, Connecticut; Newark, New Jersey; Putney and Cambridge, Vermont. The 1800s was boom times for uptopian communities in America, and that’s anther topic.

Boom times don’t last. By 1878 the one in Wallingford was the only one left. It got hit by a tornado that year. They dissolved in 1881 — the community, I mean, not the people. This wasn’t a Jonestown scenario, happily.

I’m not clear on details, but the — Oneidians??? — moved on, forming the Oneida Limited silverware company in 1881.

Folks in the Oneida Community thought our Lord had come back in 70 AD. It’s an interesting variation on millennial predictions.

They also believed that our Lord return made it possible for them to be free of sin and perfect in this world. They also thought they’d bring about Jesus’s millennial kingdom themselves. I’m sure they were sincere, and that they were mistaken.

The thirst for truth that’s written into each of us should lead us to God. Because I think seeking truth is vital, I support religious freedom — for everyone, not just folks who agree with me. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 21042107)

I’m also expected to recognize that other religious “…frequently ‘reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men’….” (Catechism, 2104, 21082109)

That doesn’t mean I think everybody’s right. I’ve talked about that, “love” not always being “approval,” an allegedly-illegal surname, and getting a grip, before. (April 2, 2017; November 21, 2016; October 28, 2016)

An End Times Prediction of Distinction

The Oneida Community’s 1st-century Second Coming was a bit unusual, but I still think Swedenborg gets top place for — originality, I suppose.

Swedenborg published “The Last Judgment and Babylon Destroyed…” in 1758, and it wasn’t just another End Times Bible Prophecy. Swedenborg announced that the Last Judgment had happened in 1757 — “in the spiritual world.”

High points for originality, zero for accuracy. And that’s nothing new. (December 11, 2016; August 7, 2016)

We’ve been on standby alert for two millennia, we’ve got plenty of work to do, and I’ve said that before. Basically, I take our Lord and Matthew 25:13, Matthew 24:36, 44, and Mark 13:3233 very seriously. Wannabe prophets, not so much. (November 27, 2016; October 2, 2016; August 7, 2016)

Surprise! It’s Saturday

There’s more to say about perfectionism, but I noticed that it’s late Saturday; not late Friday night. It’s been that sort of a week.

If I’m going to wrap this up, get some must-do tasks done, and get a plausible simulation of a good night’s sleep, what I was going to say must wait until next week.

Or maybe the week after. Next Sunday is Easter Sunday, and I’ve got a few things to say about what happened after our Lord was tortured, executed, and buried.

About being perfect, I don’t expect that in the here and now, but I’ll keep pushing toward that goal. Happily, being perfect isn’t required. ‘Working out my salvation’ is. (Philippians 2:12)

I can’t work, or pray, my way into Heaven. I rely on our Lord. It’s faith and works. (Catechism, 430451, 10211022, 10381039, 1051, 18141816)

At the top of my ‘to do’ list is loving God and my neighbor. Also seeing everyone as my neighbor. No exceptions. (Matthew 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Matthew 5:4344; Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2530; Catechism, 1825)

That’s simple, not easy, and I’ve got dishes waiting for me in and near the sink.

Good night, and may God bless.

Vaguely related posts, and some that probably aren’t:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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