Although I adore my family and it’s beautiful up here on Lake Erie in Ohio, the place I’m spending my summer vacation with my mother, daughter, nieces, and nephews isn’t the kind of place I’d choose to hang out left to my own devices. We’re vacationing at a Methodist-owned resort peopled by those who claim to share virtues and religious beliefs, pride themselves in being “old school,” and live by the four pillars of education, religion, the arts, and recreation.

It’s all very… I don’t know… Pleasantville. I almost feel like I’m in The Truman Show, the unwitting star of a reality TV show everyone but me knows is fake. Only this is real. Sort of. And as far as I can tell, there are no Big Brother cameras lurking around.

Things Are Too Perfect

The houses are all well kept, and the gardens are filled with fragrant flowers and blossoming bushes in color wheel-matching hues, even though this place experiences some brutal winters, and you’d think some brown-thumbs or lazy people (like me) would be tempted to let their gardens go.

The lake is always full of splashing, giddy children, squealing (but not too loud), playing (but not too rowdy), and eating ice cream cones that seem to get licked up before they melt (even though it’s quite warm here.)

There are art classes throughout the day, where children and adults alike spin clay on pottery wheels, carve soapstone sculptures, make their own jewelry, paint, and fire glass beads. In the evening, there are ice cream socials and hot dog roasts and square dancing in the park (yes… square dancing, complete with someone calling out the do-si-dos.)

It’s all very idyllic, really.

Or Is It?

Smoking and alcohol are prohibited, so the pizza parlor “Sloopy’s” is free of the frat-party aroma that tends to accompany such pizza joints.  And cars are only allowed for pick-up and drop-off, so the kids can freely ride their bikes on the streets that coast down to the lake, while adults in golf carts cruise around at low speeds so the children can rule the roost.

The teenagers are well-dressed and seemingly free of teen angst.  The adults appear to be happily coupled off here, holding hands and smiling sweetly to each other as they survey their brood enjoying a jolly good time. I haven’t seen any single women my age, and since I’m here without Matt (he’s home on an art retreat), I almost feel like I’m wearing a scarlet letter, especially when I dare to prance around in a short sundress without a bra or wear the low cut bathing suit that shows off my barely-there cleavage. (Trust me, I was the only one. Apparently, I missed the memo forbidding sexy clothing.)

I’ve learned, after living in La Jolla and then working in Mill Valley (both photo op-perfect California towns) that I tend to feel more comfortable in places that are a little rough around the edges.  When things start to look too “perfect,” I start feeling a little edgy, like I am right now. It rouses my rebellious streak and makes me want to scream “Fire!” (Don’t worry. I didn’t.)

The Dark Underbelly

I consider myself an optimist, and I trend towards the Pollyanna, but I tend to think that, when life looks “perfect,” it doesn’t take much more than flipping up the rock to see the bugs crawling on the dark underbelly of perfection.

Take the fact that all the dogs seem to behave perfectly. Unlike my precious Grendel, who I lost last month, these dogs are all docile and well-behaved. While my ten-pound Bichon Frise thought she was an alpha dog pit bull and barked at anyone who came within 1,000 yards of our house, these dogs barely raise a hairy eyebrow when I walk by, much less bark or jump up on you.

But it turns out they have laws against that. If your dog barks, you have to keep her home. Grendel would have been banned.

And the no-booze law – what’s with that? The grocery stores and restaurants here are alcohol-free, but the convenience store right outside the gated, fenced-in, locked community (you have to pay a fee and have a pass to get in and out) is stocked full of liquor, and every night you see people sneaking in and out, hoofing it on foot, so as not to get spotted in their golf carts. As the sun sets, you can’t help smelling the boozy breath of the men who stand outside, holding their bourbon and watching the sunset. You wonder whether the women are sneaking their wine inside.

You also can’t help noticing that everyone is white as the snow that envelopes it all winter. I haven’t seen a single brown-skinned person here, other than my nephew, the son of my adopted sister, who is black and must feel like a fish-out-of-water here. He asked my mother, “Nana, why is everyone here staring at me?” She said, “Because you’re so handsome, darling.” And it’s true. He’s gorgeous.

I Trust Shadows        

Don’t get me wrong. I’m having a great time in Mayberry. The lake is beautiful, and I’ve been grateful every day for the blessing of this time with my family in this ethereal place full of good old-fashioned midwestern charm. But I agree with Sheila Kelley, my friend and founder of S Factor, who once told me at an S Factor retreat, “Lissa, I didn’t trust you until you let me see your shadow.”

That’s how I feel here. I don’t mind darkness, like the black storm clouds that are building to the east right now, threatening to thunder and lightning on our perfect parade. But I like to see the darkness, right up there next to the sunlight, plain as day, unashamed of the pain, grief, deception, arrogance, judgment, rigidity, and imperfection that plagues us all.

Places like this make me wary. Like Sheila, I’ve come to realize I don’t trust people who hide their shadows. Within those shadows lie our connection, the place we touch each other, the portal into intimacy. We are all imperfect, so there’s no point judging ourselves or each other, and in the understanding of this truth lies our perfection.

My Heart Opens

As I walk around here, I can’t help wondering, not out of judgment, but out of a desire to connect, how many others feel the way I feel here? I’m tempted to stand in the middle of the gazebo and yell, “Imperfect people, we’re dancing over here! Bring your flaws and come hang with us!” I want to play Lady Gaga’s Born This Way too loud.

I look at the women and wonder how many long to tell the truth about the pain that comes with their love for their children, the secret longing they’re hiding because they gave up their dreams and traded them in for summers on the lake and the illusion of security.

I look at the men and wonder how many lovers they’re sneaking in on the side, unbeknownst to the wives who think they found the perfect, faithful Christian husband. I wonder if the men ever dream of quitting the jobs that allow them to pay for their summer homes on the lake.

I wonder how many teens lost their virginity in the gazebo at midnight to the hot lifeguards with the tans and the blond hair, after sneaking out when everyone was asleep? How many young girls are pregnant, about to get abortions or secretly give their babies up for adoption, only they don’t feel they can confide in anyone here because they might get booted? How many of their mothers and fathers, who came of age in the 1960’s, did the same when they were children, only they don’t want to share the truth with their children, for fear of setting a bad example?

How many kids are sneaking over the locked gate into “townie” parties, where they’re drinking beer and getting high? What happens when they get caught?

Maybe It’s Just Me

Maybe I’m making all this up. Maybe it really is perfect, and everyone here really is happy with the old school charm this place exudes through its pores like sweet Classic Coke.

But I doubt it. As I write this, a dog just escaped from the house, chased a skunk, started barking, and got sprayed. His owners came barreling after him, screaming and threatening. The dog is in doggie heaven, and the neighbors are apologizing to everyone, going door to door, making amends on behalf of the dog who apparently missed the memo of good behavior, like I did.

I’m Sincerely Grateful

Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m incredibly grateful to my mother for the gift of this vacation. Right now, even with the skunky musk smell, I’m experiencing that feeling of being radically alive that often accompanies getting out of your comfort zone.  I’m reveling in the flower bed next to me. I’m marveling at the sounds of happy children. I’m delighting in Siena’s unbound glee, as she rides around on the back of the golf cart, yelling “Whee!” while showing off the anklet she made today.

I’m grateful. Really, I am.

I just wish we could all feel more free to be openly imperfect, to let the dark underbelly of our imperfections show, even as we try to live more in alignment with our Inner Pilot Lights and our highest selves.

What About You?

Do you ever feel uncomfortable when things seem too perfect? Or do you long for a place like this, where time seems to have stood still?

Checking my desire to be blatantly naughty,

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57 Comments

  1. Dr. Mac

    Lissa~

    It really does sound perfect, if perfection is what you are seeking. I too need the reality of living a life with imperfections. Attempting to live up to someone’s expectations of who they think you should be, or should act, is exhausting and usually they will unravel at some point. I lived in a place like that for 18 months, and I felt like the wives were from Stepford. Perhaps something was wrong with me since everyone seemed to live an idealistic life, and maybe my children were the only ones misbehaving. I found myself attempting to conform to their way of life, and although I appeared to be happy on the outside, my spirit was miserable.
    That sounds like a great place for a long weekend, to unwind, detox, and delight in the beauty of nature as long as you don’t go outside the gate. But the reality is that most of us live ‘outside the gate’ and facing life’s challenges is all part of the growth process. Without it, our lives would be a perfect shade of vanilla.

    Reply
  2. Marilyn Fowler

    Lissa, I’ve been a people watcher all my life, and I love imperfect people. They’re fascinating. How can there be unconditional love if we only love perfect? We can learn and grow from imperfect people, but if perfection is all there is, there’s nothing there with which to learn and grow. Etc.

    Loved your post.

    Reply
  3. Helen MacDonald

    This place sounds creepy and unsettling.I would need to know more about it. What do these people do the rest of the year!
    if you are my age, seventy seven, and grew up in Southern Ontario, it might sound familiar, hypocrisy and all.
    Not impressed.

    Reply
  4. Kerilyn

    Oh my gosh Lissa.. I have NEVER EVER heard it said so poignantly. I too… do not trust those who do not trust people who hide their shadows.

    I love what your friend said about not trusting you until you “let me see your shadow.” Those are powerful words there…. LET ME SEE. It is a choice your making to show what’s beneath and that takes courage. Courage that most people are too afraid to expose for preconditioning and feeling vulnerable (which can possibly lead to shame.)

    I want to shout that phrase from the rooftops because SINCE I WAS A TEENAGER, I have had a real agitation with those who HIDE who they really are… they only show their outsides.. while WE ALL KNOW that so much (okay most…) of what is going on is happening WITHIN.

    Up to this very moment, I have never had a way to express that feeling. I’ve called it people who were FAKE. I always thought there was something wrong WITH ME. I felt it almost instantly… when someone was putting on a ‘front’ or hiding behind something on the surface. Like a sulfur smell, I want to get away… fast.

    I call it “Swimming in the Deep End”. I want to swim in the DEEP end of life. Yes, the shallow end (the pretty blue water of the carribean, for example) is SO beautiful to look at…we can all stare for hours at how pure it seems… there’s no work to be done there (and that is necessary sometimes while we REST) but where the mystery is… the work is…is when we go below the surface.

    I purposefully WANT to show my insides because that’s where the real meat is.. the real love.. the real strength.

    I don’t want to just stare at the pretty outside. I want to DIG IN and see what’s underneath it all.

    Thank you. Thank you for giving me words that I have never been able to express.
    Grateful.

    Reply
  5. Yvonne

    Oh how this post resonated with me Lissa! I have been feeling anything but perfect this past week! I am a coach & meditation teacher who completely lost it this week. You have inspired me to share this as sometimes I feel like I’m wearing a mask when I am saying one thing & feeling another.
    I want to out myself right here, then in my blog and peek at my dark underbelly, show the crap under the hood….get it out and share with my audience.
    Thanks for this post of permission 😉

    Reply
  6. Valerie

    I feel as though I was almost raised there.But of course we were poor and couldn’t afford a Summer home, and there was no father figure.

    We did not talk about anything. I thought, out of all my family, I was the most open minded. Yet at 52 am finding today, that I really was not, maybe, they were just more closeminded????.
    When people shared and they were so open about their dirty laundry, I listened but always thought, good god, I wouldn’t tell anybody that. I was also secretly judgemental. Even though on the outside i didn’t judge, I still did on the inside.
    But now, I think they were right, to be so honest about their lives. Even if it wasn’t something anyone else agreed with.
    They were probably more alive than I was, and maybe for all of their troubles happier too.

    Reply
  7. Rebecca Russell McFee

    I am also deeply distrustful of “perfect” people and man-made “perfect” communities. My garden is a tropical jungle full of unruly vines and dappley, damp undergrowth, but it is full of LIFE!!! My furball kids shed dog hair by the bushel basket on the sofa and the floor, but they give me LOVE. And yes, since they are rescue Siberian Huskies, they pull on the leash, lick people, and play Houdini if given the opportunity. I love the concept of “wabi sabi” — accepting and loving the imperfect in our lives. I am at peace with the vines and the furry tumbleweeds. My friends love and accept the messiness and imperfection in my life, as I do the chaos in theirs. I’m not seeking perfection — I far prefer interesting!!!
    Thank you for your daily thought provoking inspirations!

    Reply
  8. C.

    My aunt is like the people of that resort. She never shares her problems at all. It bothers me. I feel like underneath her perfect smile, she has to be hiding some secret, or imperfection, or pain. There has to be something!
    But you see, I have that problem, too. Sort of, anyway. People definitely can tell that I have imperfections, and secrets, and pain. But I can’t show anyone the real truth about me. If they ask me why I sometimes look like something is wrong, I just smile and say, “I’m fine.”
    Don’t judge people who act perfect. They have a difficult time making true friends, as you can imagine, I’m sure!
    I loved this post. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
  9. christine

    it just sounds to perfect- no that’s not right it would not be perfect for me. I want the noise, barking dogs and yelling kids(that i can give dirty looks to the parents and wonder why they have to be so loud)I think I would be asked to leave and my basset hound Daisy would not be allowed in the front gate. glad you are having a good time . But it reminds me of a old Twilight Zone where a big hand reaches down for the people.

    Reply
  10. Mary Kennedy Eastham

    Lissa – My friends and I talk about this all the time. We all grew up someplace else, in my case a small New England town, and now live in California. It kinda has to do with expectation, and I’m not saying one way is better, but it is DIFFERENT. When I go back to New England I see all the differences but I also see the community that exists when you stay in one place and experience
    generations of families growing up and old together. It was smothering to me as a young girl,so I split, I wanted to throw my net a bit father out there into the world. As I get older, though, I see
    its value.

    I’m all about shadows, by the way, my first book’s title is The Shadow of a Dog I
    Can’t Forget, lots of stories that go beneath the surface…Great post. Be glad you have the
    time to give your daughter summers with her extended family. I cherish all those childhood moments of connection with cousins, Aunties and uncles and my dear, dear grandparents.

    Reply
  11. Paul Hardy

    What a beautiful and courageously-honest writer you are, Lissa! Thanks for sharing your humanity.

    I guess my preference, as an INFX, is purposeful perfection with a little edge to it!!

    Paul

    Reply
  12. Cindy

    My parents tried to live this ideal when I was a teen….still do. There are topics my siblings and I are simply not allowed to cover, dark topics. Living like this for years finally caused me to be such a control freak (after all, isn’t this entire picture about not losing control?) that I nearly died of anorexia at 72#’s. When I could not maintain the starvation any longer, I threw up for the next 20 years. I cannot believe my body has forgiven me and let me live through the abuse I bestowed upon it.

    And those sneaky teens? I was that, too. Still am grateful I did not get pregnant, date raped, or worse.
    Thank you Universe for beautiful flaws!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  13. Karen Cleveland

    “I’m tempted to stand in the middle of the gazebo and yell, “Imperfect people, we’re dancing over here! Bring your flaws and come hang with us!” I want to play Lady Gaga’s Born This Way too loud.”

    I hear you Lissa!! I would be fighting the impulse too!

    Thanks for sharing your authentic self with us!

    Reply
  14. Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D.

    Lissa,

    I find this “perfect” place down right scary and boring too.

    While we all long to get away to some tranquil, untroubled place for a while, just the idea of trying to uphold this facade on a daily basis is exhausting.

    I don’t trust this picture of perfection because it’s flat, lacking dimension and absolutely void of color (figuratively and literally.) No offense to the residents of this particular euphoria, but isn’t this the kind of place you hear about on the news where a mass murderer grows up and couldn’t hold in his rage and self-loathing any longer? The bystanders always say with a straight face, “Nothing like this every happens here” or “He was just a quiet and well-mannered neighbor.”

    Throughout my upbringing in St. Louis I was surrounded by family and friends who spent a lot of energy showing only the pretty picture they wished their lives were. Sometimes they were successful for a while, but eventually an ugly appendage would poke out like those insects who inhabited human bodies in Men in Black but found it an uncomfortable fit.

    My life goal is to be authentic, but not revolting (that’s’ just for show anyway.) I have evolved from the way I was raised and I know that because until her death my mom was still “shushing” me long after I was an adult, a fully-functioning professional and a mom.

    Upbringing dies hard. Part of me still wants to be cautious about what I reveal. But I know that I help people (and myself) most when I self-disclose. Trying to keep some grand image going is too much work. It’s like trying to anticipate lines from a script you haven’t seen.

    As a coach, part of my work is sharing my uneven life story and hero’s journey. How could I help my clients unless I’ve faced and found ways to overcome the fear, doubt, and adversity they too will encounter?

    It’s not just you. Being naughty is real. Keep it up.

    Reply
  15. Donna K. Olsen

    I really enjoyed reading this. You are a wonderful writer.
    I got one of my best compliments when I was in my 20’s, (at time I did not realize how wonderful it was). My step-mother told me with admiration …Donna, you are so lucky that you don’t worry about what others think of you, you just do what you know you should do…

    I do not judge others, but what I have found is that people who enjoy this kind of lifestyle are the most judgmental. Through their screened in porches they watch life go by and criticize anyone who dares to reach further than they are capable of. It really is much more envy than judgment, but they are not able to step out of their comfort and instead want others to come to them.

    Take this a your learning lesson. The Universe has brought you here to learn. Perhaps that the next time you become annoyed at imperfection, or someone’s ineptitude, you can laugh and remember that “Perfect” is not so nice.

    Reply
  16. Ella

    Sweatheart, just come to visit me in Amsterdam, ….
    Perfectly inperfect… Or as we Dutch say: we understand…just be yourself…
    Whatever that me be…just be and let be….

    Reply
  17. Michelle Medina

    Lissa. . .
    First let me say I honor you!! Simple reason being as soon as I read Methodist Resort??? I felt my stomach tighten. I was a Methodist, both of my parents grew up Catholic, and religion for me is a huge no-zone!
    I can open to “The Universe” and I can even open to the idea of “Goddess” or “Mother God”. Who I have an issue with is God.

    Secondly, I agree whole-heartedly with your sentiment of wanting to yell out to all the imperfect people and blare Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”! That is definitely me!!
    I am perfectly imperfect and proud to be just that!!
    Thank you for the reminder to flip those rocks and dig for those bugs!!

    Reply
  18. judy barnes

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

    Reply
  19. Lilly

    Great blog, well said! You are a very open minded person to be able to tough it out there. I think I’d have to run away screaming before I said/did something totally against the “rules”…or spontaneously burst into flames 😉

    Reply
  20. Carleton

    Hello Lissa,

    Your attempt to assure your readers (and perhaps yourself) that you are grateful – “I’m sincerely grateful. I’m grateful. Really, I am.” – loudly bespeaks that the lady doth protest too much. You may indeed be grateful for your mother’s gift and for the opportunity to spend time with your family members, young and old.
    But you surely don’t want to be there. Not in a community which you so self-righteously describe to be as spayed as the dog you reference. Not amongst people who are so unlike you, who don’t openly show their imperfections, their shadows. You “wonder” how many of these cheating on their wives. You “wonder” You “wonder” how many of the teenage girls there have had risky sex and will have to get abortions, frightened girls unable to “confide in anyone here because they might get booted.”

    You “wonder” how many of this community’s supposed “perfect, faithful Christian husband(s)” have wives who are in complete denial about their husbands’ infidelities, clearly oblivious to ” how many lovers they’re sneaking in on the side.”
    I could go on to enumerate your other condescending, snarky series of indictments about the members of this community, a community whose members’ character and integrity you impugn and mock…but I would do so at the risk of being redundant.
    You speak of your friend, Sheila as saying, ““Lissa, I didn’t trust you until you let me see your shadow.” It reminded me of so many people who loudly protest their sense of fairness and compassion but need to see another’s “shadow” before they fully grant them admission into their “group.” One person’s “shadow” is another’s Freemason’s ring. These are all admission tickets that must be shown before someone ‘trusts” another, hardly a sign confirming someone’s “open heart.”
    You write “We are all imperfect, so there’s no point judging ourselves or each other…” But Lissa, your judgement of this community and its members is replete and overwhelming in this self-serving (yes, yes, we get it that you are the Cali-cool, hip, rebellious medicine woman who goes braless in a short sundress, who likes “places that are a little rough around the edges,”) social polemic posing as an essay. You could have written a thoughtful essay on how our culture’s desperate, frantic attempts to be perfect, at all ages and stages of life, are an unhealthy and unwise pursuit. Instead you made numerous assumptions about and indictments of this community and its members, continuously doubting how truly content and happy and fulfilled they are and using them as an unhealthy example of people who refuse to show their ‘shadow,” who do all they can to hide their underbelly, all the while holding yourself up as “the enlightened one,” one who welcomes the sight of our collective and individual imperfections, deceptions, rigidity etc. et al.
    I’m pleased you can delight in your niece Siena’s unbounded glee – “Whee!”
    We often see what we wish to see, so we might have our dearly held philosophies, lifestyles, prejudices and identities confirmed. Lissa, I wish you truly clear eyes and an empathic open heart.
    Peace and grace,
    Carleton

    Reply
    • Goodie

      I, for one, totally agree with you Carleton. That is how I felt reading this blog post.

      Reply
    • Geneveive

      Thank you for your thought provoking response to Lissa. You have made me reconsider a lot of thoughts and reflections, I was having as I read Lissa’s article. I need to reflect more and give due to caution to judgment vs perception vs discernment.

      Reply
  21. Janice

    I LOVE THIS! That’s how I feel every time I visit my mom in the suburbs of Denver or visit my dad in Pennsylvania, and everything is so “nice” and organized and well-mannered, it makes me nervous. It’s how I felt at my last job where I couldn’t actually be myself, I could only be the boxed self. I am SO SICK of watering myself down to make other people feel better or keeping my mouth shut because I don’t have something “nice” to say. I can’t be myself on Facebook and I feel like right now there is this movement towards authenticity but its a fake authenticity that is wanted, because if you aren’t all PC, people don’t want to deal with you.

    Thanks for sharing this and giving a voice to that “perfect” discomfort, I’m so glad you think its weird.

    Reply
  22. Donna Workman

    Lisa
    I never trust totally homogenic groups. Where there is no diversity, there is rarely honest acceptance of differences. This summer setting is touted as a sfe Christian setting, but as is so often the case, the gates are locked and anyone who doesn,t “belong” or doesn’t “fit” the description isn’t welcome. These individuals are to exist outside the gate.

    I am saddened by this scenario and by any comment that would suggest that this is a wholesome upstanding exiistence. It is elitism at its best, and as one who always worked with at risk kids in underprivileged settings, I recognize this place for what I feel it is. kA place in which those with the means create a world in which they do not have to deal with the harsh realities that are home for many many people. I am thankful for my experiences and for my disdain for this setting and this lifestyle.

    I love your honesty, and I do not see condescention in recognizing that perfection is not real and authenticity is seldom found in a place where we are asked to hide the less attractive parts of ourselves.
    I look forward to your thoughts. They always make me realize that many of us truly look for honest open feelings in this world of insecurity. The search if excditing and fearful and the very thing that life is made of

    Reply
  23. catherine

    Love you, Dr. Lissa! I so enjoy living my imperfect life! We need more people like you.

    Thanks for all the insights you bring and share with us. Hope you had a wonderful time with your family.

    Catherine xxx

    Reply
  24. Deidre

    I agree that until people show you their flaws as well as their best, how can you ever truly know them? Or be comfortable with them? If perfection is expected at all times, we’re bound to disappoint one another soon enough.

    This is a small but important note: your description of your own dog as thinking she “was an alpha dog pit bull,” while colorful, just serves to perpetuate the media-fueled stereotype that pit bulls are vicious, aggressive dogs. Please don’t encourage the negativity about this type of dog; it is very harmful. Many cities are adopting breed specific legislation that forces families to give up beloved pets or move to another town. Shelters are flooded with bully breeds because of BSL and fear-mongering “news” reports. We need unbiased information disseminated about these maligned dogs, not gross generalizations and stereotypes.

    I am very sorry to hear about your loss of Grendel. Dogs are an important part of many of our lives, and their loss is always painful. She may have only weighed 10 pounds, but it sounds like she had 50 pounds or more of personality.

    Reply
  25. Lauren

    Hmm…sounds like lots of repression and blocking possibly going on there. I wonder what their cancer rates are like…may be interesting to look into populations like this for your book. However, like you said, they may be genuinely happy- and that’s wonderful! Furthermore, their social ties and strong religious beliefs may help them in achieving a healthy body. Just thought it was something interesting to note…

    Reply
  26. Joey

    I have worked hard to accept that my imperfections exist, but I also truly believe I am on this Earth to improve myself and become more like the God I believe sent me here. There are many other people, of various religious and non-religious affiliations, who are also trying to continually better themselves. You have written many things that have touched me on a personal level and have encouraged my growth and increased my comfort in my own skin.

    With that said, are you implying that someone who does not live and embrace a casual, rebellious, openly imperfect life is…wrong? Unacceptable? Freaky? That’s as preposterous as if I were to say your amazing life changes are wrong for you. They’re not.

    We’re all here together on this fabulous Earth. It’s a gift to have all colors, creeds, introverts, extroverts, and everything in between. You’ve been given an opportunity to see another community and how it works. Instead of embracing their different-ness, your instinct seems to be to separate yourself in order to judge and label them. I hope there’s still time to put a bra on and try to figure out why the universe put you there. Because there IS a reason. Here’s hoping you find it!

    Love ya, Lissa!

    Reply
  27. Sally

    Dear Lissa, I did so love your blog….and aligned myself to your feelings and thoughts perfectly. The descriptions of ‘the camp’ made the hair on my head stand up in dread. Have you read any Ray Bradbury stories about his encounters of small idyllic mid-western towns in sci-fi shorts? Not so real on the inside no matter how kind and familiar looking, perfectly appealing, apple-pie-baking, apron-wearing, plump and welcoming the people appear….. the real inhabitants have sinister alien motives…truly frightening. That was what I pictured from your descriptions…heart racing from fear of entrapment.

    This ‘camp’ may appear normal and trustworthy, lovely and safe…but, what is it in us that makes us want to scream and run from just such an encounter? The absence of real truth?
    For one thing, this is the 21st century, not the 1940’s, and we know that. You could have accepted the return to Mayberry….IF….. they would have been honest and told everyone that “we are taking the clock back 70 years”. Then, all would have been ok……….you would’ve known that everyone was essentially in a play…and that is honest.

    But to observe these time travelers going about their daily lives as if the world is not a different place than what they deem it to be….is really ludicrous. I personally don’t trust ‘perfect’ because there isn’t such a thing. No painting is perfect, no music is perfect, no cooking is perfect, no clothing, no animal, no forest, no flower, no tree….no person. Didn’t the Nazi’s try to create the “perfect state”? Don’t religious, political, and social organizations try to do the same? “We are perfect….YOU are not. Learn from us.” Really scary.

    Why do humans try so hard to appear perfect to others? It’s a frightening endeavor, in opposition to growth, freedom, individuality, true community, inspiration, love, honesty, fun, and real laughter. We all want to find somewhere we are accepted for who and what we really are, and being humans, we are all different, Some of us laugh too loudly, some of us drink, some of us wear clothes we really like no matter what others think, some of us feel sex is our personal business, some of us have unruly animals–I do too, some of us cuss and smoke and gamble, and some of us don’t. We need to accept it all, not gate ourselves away in fantasy-land. Too much Stepford, too little reality.

    Reply
  28. Lissa Rankin, MD

    Thank you all for sharing your thoughts, even those of you who think I’m being self-righteous and judgmental by writing this.

    I suspected I might get a bit of that response, but remember, I never set out to be perfect, so in part, I’m showing you my own shadow, as I often to, revealing my tendency to separate, judge, and feel uncomfortable in certain settings. You know I don’t claim to have it all figured out, and yes, I know I still have much to learn.

    That said, we just left the resort, and I already feel more relaxed.

    We all do that, don’t we? We find places (like for me, Northern California) where we feel at home, where we feel like the others, where our souls can rest. When we get out of our comfort zones, our shadows are more readily seen.

    The key is not to shame those shadows or judge them when they appear.

    Again, thank you all for reading and sharing your thoughts. I welcome the dialogue and never asked anyone to agree with me, though I appreciate that many of you do.

    Letting my braless freak flag fly unapologetically,
    Lissa

    Reply
  29. Laura Badger

    I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood in Texas. The houses were the usual ranch type that seemed to dominated the mid-seventies. My folks and I used to have brunch at the club on Sunday morning after church. It was “perfect,” suburbia at it’s finest. But, it didn’t feel so great.

    I was gawky, unpopular girl, wanting to roam the country roads behind my house. I always felt more comfortable there. I would ride my bike for miles down the dirt roads. It was better than having to endure my drunken stepfather raging inside our Spanish style house. The further I rode away, the safer I felt! His screaming and threatening behavior was such a battle for my soul to overcome. I used to tell myself, “this man is insane! When he calls you names, you know that it’s just his craziness.” I tried desperately to conquer his madness in my mind.

    The reason I say this, is because our family was like the whitewashed people you mention in your blog. If my step dad was drunk enough, he would have had no qualms about molesting me. I used to sleep with butcher knives under my pillow in case he decided to act out his threats. He never did, but his words were enough. I wasn’t a tough girl; at least outwardly. But, I would have killed him, or tried to, if he had awakened me at night to satisfy his insanity.

    I think many people who live in the “white washed” world are probably good people who are afraid to be themselves. Sometimes, behind closed doors, things may be more honest and horrible than you might think. Our outer “church” behavior in the world was nothing like home.

    I think of “lives of quiet despair,” when I’m in the environment you describe. Most of those “perfect” people are alcoholics, trying to compete with their fellow friends and Christians. I’ve been in congregations where the members were just a mess, just like me! I loved them for it, because they were honest and funny. How can you have a great sense of humor when you push your shadows down? Part of being funny is being able to laugh at yourself.

    Now that I am 56, I can look back on that “Stepford” existence with relief. I don’t have that kind of life now. I struggle financially, but I am getting rid of the roadblocks that seem to pop up at the worst times! Even so, my faith has become more down to earth and real. And I’m grateful for that!

    Reply
  30. Theragirl

    Lissa, based on your description, I expected the Stepford Wives to appear. While it would be nice to live in a “perfect” place, those of us who live in the real world know we live in an imperfect world and such places don’t really exist. As you so accurately described, it’s just a facade for what really happens. It would make me very uncomfortable to be in a place like that.

    Reply
  31. Jackie McD

    Lissa, thanks for your insightful and entertaining description of the perfect vacation community. You might call it “Stepford on the Lake”. I would think that the likelihood of much of it being a farce is pretty good. I am a spiritual person but not a church person partly due to the unfortunate experiences that showed me that many church folks keep up a big front most of the time and can be some of the most dishonest, backstabbing sorts when it suits their purposes and then head off to church on Sunday to be forgiven and holy, while they judge others for similar behavior.

    I think much of it comes down to trust. Who do we trust with our secrets and our imperfections? This is what makes relationships that are authentic and precious. I doubt if most of these people share their secrets with each other because their neighbors would thing they are not as perfect as they appear to be. I’ll take imperfect and real every time.

    Reply
  32. RockStar

    Amen!! My in-law family feels the deep need to make everything seem perfect on the outside, and if you misstep or taint this image in any way you are exiled. The more I get to know them the more I realize how festering and grotesque the dysfunction is on the inside, but boy do they not want anyone on the outside to see it!! I LOVE what your friend said about seeing your shadow. My sister-in-law INSISTS she does not have a shadow, only us sinners have something like that. And she wants everyone to feel sorry for her because she has to work so hard to keep everything perfect… I have realized lately that although I try to open my heart wide every time I am around them, it drives me insane because I LOVE imperfection, uniqueness, odd and spontaneous. Life is way too fun and too short to worry so much about such trivial things. Every time I am with them now I feel like they live on Wisteria Lane, but if you ‘opened the front doors’ you’d see that they are all hoarders and addicts. I truly feel sorry for them, but I’ve gotten over my nagging need to fix it. It is, I accept it, but I don’t have to live there. I’ll take my silly fun self, my imperfect family, my minivan, my obscure job and my friends of all different shapes, colors and sizes any day!!! Happiness!!! Joy!!! It’s all in the variety and diversity of life!! 🙂

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  33. RockStar

    p.s. I WOULD HAVE been dancing to Lady Gaga with a crazy hat on on the front porch FOR SURE!!! That’s who I am!!! 🙂

    Reply
  34. Carleton

    Dear Lissa,

    It is at the least sobering if not frightening to read most of the comments and words of praise and adulation offered to you based on your negative, incendiary, self-serving comments about this community and its inhabitants.
    The people commenting know absolutely nothing about any of these people, nor do you. Your “wonderment” about these folks during a brief vacation in a resort community led to all manner of conjecture and assumptions about them, conjecture and criticism that was always coupled with comparisons to your needs to be other than they are.
    Read these comments carefully, Lissa. You have people comparing these people to people in their own lives who thought they were perfect, comparing them to addicts, alcoholics and hoarders, Nazis, to mindless Stepford wives….

    One comments states “This summer setting is touted as a sfe Christian setting, but as is so often the case, the gates are locked and anyone who doesn’t “belong” or doesn’t “fit” the description isn’t welcome. These individuals are to exist outside the gate.” Such an outrageous, groundless statement sprung from your descriptions of this resort and its community.
    A “coach”comments that this resort is “the kind of place you hear about on the news where a mass murderer grows up and couldn’t hold in his rage and self-loathing any longer?” What does she know of this resort or the people you casually observed for a brief time but never got to know? She only knows who you thought/think they are, what you judged them to be.
    Your hiding behind the “hey, I never said I was perfect or don’t make mistakes” sort of reply, as you castigate these people you know not, is the same kind of reply given by people who say something hurtful to another and then say something like “hey, I’m sorry if you took offense at something I said,” as opposed to simply, truly contritely saying, “I am truly sorry I hurt you.”
    It is utter gall and venal arrogance for anyone to make such desultory comments about, assumptions regarding and assaults upon people they have no knowledge of other than through your superficial comments about them, comments and opinions and projections rooted in your own discomfort about being in their midst.
    You say “You know I don’t claim to have it all figured out, and yes, I know I still have much to learn.” Perhaps part of that learning process might include realizing when you start to make baseless claims about a group’s character and walk back your claims, accusations and assumptions. Ignorance and fear = prejudice.
    Peace and grace,
    Carleton

    Reply
  35. Julie

    I felt jettisoned back to my youth where I would be sent to spend the summers with my grandparents on a farm in Indiana. Everyone kept up appearances and did all the right things, striving for an impossible perfection. I could only play with paper dolls. No human kids came from perfect enough families or lived in perfect enough houses for a play date according to my grandmother. l counted the days to get back to my imperfect life with imperfect people, where my imperfection was better tolerated.

    Reply
  36. Tatyanna Wilkinson

    great post!

    Sounds to me like you landed in *Stepford* Ohio. yikes! That place, although I could still have fun, would creep me out. I am with you in thinking that the teens sneak out at night, the ladies have wine and those dogs were picked for their congeniality. They must have left the *other* dogs at home.

    Life in imperfect. It is how we learn from each other, grow, learn, laugh, find joy. This type of place just seems too spic and span for my liking. Plus, I would cringe at the “whiteness” of it all. Just found out that the community health center in my hometown, where I used to work, has staff that cover 19 cultures/languages. Unheard of. I am very proud of my racially diverse, imperfect hometown.

    Reply
  37. Mary B

    What if these people are not hiding anything, but striving to live a life more in line with their ideal? What if they want to give their children an experience of carefree summers where they don’t have to worry about all the cares of the city, where they have to be wary of strangers.

    The thing is, perfection is just like anything else… your idea of perfect is probably different from those people you judged, simply because it did not meet with your idea of what perfect is. It would have been perfect to you if they had a different standard, one that matched yours more, but to them it was just fine.

    If the community was alcohol free but they sneaked in their favorite beverage, didn’t that show you one of their shadows? And weren’t they saying ” this is who I really am”? I don’t think they were trying to be so “perfect” as you perceived.
    So what?

    Are you really as open minded like you say?

    I try to remember,( although I don’t always, I’m not perfect either), that when I point the finger at others, there are three fingers pointing back at me. So I have to examine myself to see why I felt the need to point. It sounds like you found the shadows in some of the members, and the lack of shadows was the reason you gave for not trusting them. There is a reason why this experience affected you as it did. You said you felt uncomfortable.. Perhaps you need to take a closer look at your own shadows for the answer to why you felt that way.

    Reply
  38. Nancy NOrton

    I am familiar with your location and in fact know many who go there every year. It is beautiful and offers a great deal of activity and culture. Your description is really accurate. I prefer the not so perfect. The best connection with others occurs on the underside. My best memories and times have been with people who share their real side and have the confidence that it wll not be judged. If it is judged, they have already moved on. I love all that you share! I felt that you put my feelings into words. I often question why the masks? Life would be easier without them. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    Reply
  39. Linda

    Lissa,

    I just love this and your honesty! Thank you for that <3

    In the past, I have tried to make it just so and your article reminds me of how the shadows truly have brought me to a place of more enlightenment and also true for those who I love. What a wonderful viewpoint to come from.

    I too feel that uncomfortable feeling when I'm in perfectville, and can clearly see how some may have found it uncomfortable to be around me when I was trying to make it all so perfect. I also like the idea that we do become much more connected with those who can show their dark sides. It always works for me when I let my guard down.

    Thanks again and blessings, Linda

    Reply
  40. Liz

    Great article Lissa. Thanks for your honesty. I grew up in one of those imperfect families except part of a religion that expected perfection. Our home life did not fit with the life we were suppose to be living. We all knew it but no one ever said anything. Thank God my mother finally said enough! and left the religion despite her families totally disbelief and angst. Part of my family still lives in this fake religion and I now see the stress it has on them and their health. We all have the right to live authentically without fear of how others will see us. Perfect is a bad word in my book!!

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  41. Dynamica

    ‘THWUMP’ !!!! YOU HIT ANOTHER BULLS EYE!
    RIGHT ON TARGET, LISSA**** !

    Reply
  42. Ti

    Beautifully written. I’m not sure what the people who saw you as self-righteous read that I didn’t. I read this as an open question, an exploration of how you felt in a picture-perfect setting, how it awakened your urge to connect and accept on all levels. I have learned, through painful experience, that living in picture-perfect settings is not healthy for me. In those settings, I feel wrong for having the full range of experiences, for wanting to have an innocent ice-cream moment followed by a shot of whiskey and howling at the moon. If I suppress my ice-cream enthusiasm to be cool or suppress my whiskey-howling mischief to be perfect, I am suppressing my full self and I fall sick. Simple as that.

    Reply
  43. Dee

    That place sounds like my idea of Hell! Way too Stepford. And the poor dog! If I was there, I think my inner punk rocker would come out to play. 🙂

    Reply
  44. Allison W

    Dear Lissa,

    I adore you and your mission, but I have to agree with Carleton, Joey and, especially, Mary B on this particular post. I know you were writing how you *felt* but the language you used created the sinister Stepford-ness of this place. It’s a summer resort! A different spiritual blogger might have written about the same place as a beautiful get-away where they were able to detox from the craziness of the world and return, refreshed, to continue with their spiritual growth. Some people like structured gardens, some like wild, viney jungles. Although it has always troubled me how “white” most of the beach resorts I’ve been to have been, that’s not always something the owners *or* the people going there are actively seeking. And I personally would gladly vacation anywhere that drunken college students are not allowed.

    And I *do* get the premise of the dirty underbelly underneath a proscribed perfection, but so many of the replies here are full of judgement and disrespect for others. If no one trusts anyone else before they “show their shadow,” who shows first? If I share my imperfections, pain and history with only a select few, and someone else wears it all on her sleeve, does that make me less evolved or just different? I’m not trying to appear perfect to the rest of the world; it’s just none of their business.

    Like many of the responders here, I am growing beyond an ugly childhood hid behind respectable middle-class doors flanked with urns of geraniums. Every spiritual path teaches to forgive those who harmed you, and you can’t forgive while you’re still judging. I enjoy the freedom of those whose paths involve “letting it all hang out.” They can be fireworks of beauty next to my quiet-but-steady candle flame — as long as they don’t expect everyone to be like them or judge me for enjoying a quiet, landscaped and decorated world of my own. My freak flag is sage green and wedgewood blue, but I’m still flying it!

    Blessings to you and all your readers, Allison

    Reply
  45. wendy

    Just another experience in this time and space. I, would feel quite unsettled to be there more than a few days. Growing out my uncoloured hair and flaunting my ample cleavage at the beach and sashaying my ample bottom everywhere I go. That place would send me packing. I am unable to keep my freak flag under wraps for too long, it must fly. It’s who I am. Just bask in the blessing that your mom and daughter are enjoying in this place. Grow more into who you are and when you get home…. raise that flag and dance naked in the moonlight in your back yard!

    Blessings abundant, Lissa!

    hugs and bsk
    wen

    Reply
  46. Jo

    Yikes! I have even attended “new age” churches where I’ve held my breath waiting for sign of authentic humanity until a compelling urge to go postal with profanity welled up in me. Alas, I restrained myself at the idea they would gather ’round me to pray for me to return to normal –just like them!

    Reply
  47. Laura

    Hi Lissa,

    I agree with you, way too “Stepford Wives” for me. What’s wrong with a little braless-ness in the summer? What’s wrong with a nice fruity umbrella drink? I like it here in Cali. I did a staycation where the relatives came here to take part in some of the great things we have and we did have those umbrella drinks!

    Reply
  48. Susan

    I love your courage, Lissa….

    Like Allison W, I’m not comfortable in letting my shadow hang out for all the world to see. I have friends I can be intimate with and they know and see my shadow. This doesn’t mean I live unauthentically around others. I’m simply more reserved.

    I was raised in a cultic, legalistic, Christian church where the mere mention of one’s shadow indicated one was not content with his/her ‘place’, where one needed to ‘die more to self’, etc. Relatives of mine, as well as friends, remain in this faith and although no amount of money could persuade me to return to ‘the fold’, most of these church members are truly good people striving to do their best before their imagined God. Yes, there are the bad apples in the bunch but they are not the majority.

    Leaving the cult was truly the hardest things I’ve done in all my life. Remaining a member and simultaneously being true to myself became impossible. I needed not only to discover but to let my own freak flag fly! But I’m the anomaly. Please understand that most choose to remain in the church and live happy, fulfilled lives.

    B/c of my past, I choose NOT to vacation in such a spot as you describe. Yet you won’t find me in Miami over spring break either!

    Don’t be quite so hasty to jump to conclusions about people and situations that are foreign to your nature. Or, if there is a next time, engage in honest conversation with one of these ‘perfect families’. Tell them what you observe and watch where the dialogue goes (or doesn’t!).

    Hugs to you….

    Reply
  49. Janice Rose

    Dear Lissa,

    My whole neighborhood feels like where you were for a retreat. Everyone’s on retreat from their
    shadow selves they want to keep hidden from themselves and others. I think we are only authentic
    persons when we can “show & tell” others who we really are and how we feel. I feel extremely isolated here…my husband and I used to be the ones who invited neighbors here for picnics, etc.
    Only 1-2 people invited us to their homes. It gets tiring & boring to be the main ones who have to set up parties and gatherings.

    I’m an older, but wiser-age person, and write at home as a poet and new playwright. The neighbors
    work outside their homes and keep busy (it seems to me), staying away from home and where they
    need to be validated. Very sad. Lives of quiet desperation brewing…? I hope not! I wish them all
    well & happy for whatever matters most to them!

    Staying connected to myself and friends far away through emails & blogs!

    Janice in Texas

    Reply
  50. Jewels

    Your blogs are an oasis for me. This is a place for those that, like me, feel uncomfortable in the paradigm that has been created for us and crave an outlet for our loving hearts. I don’t agree with what everything Lissa says but I bless her for the sharing it all. I am crying now because I feel like my community is being attacked by negativity. I have studied recently about energy and quantum energy. If you don’t agree with what you are reading or get offended take a deeper look at yourself. But that is the problem some refuse to look at their own shadow. I grew up in a community that tried to appear perfect and hide anything that wasn’t perfect. I got out as soon as I can. I do see the value these traditional communities have but it causes those that just don’t have the acting chops to keep up the perfect act their whole life to feel like they don’t belong anywhere. How can you have a true connection to spirit/higher power when you are hiding so much? True Peace and Light to all. My your heart be cracked open for all to see and love.

    Reply
  51. Jessica Locke

    I laughed hysterically ( and I do mean hysterically) at what your mother told your nephew!!! I am mixed race and grew up in these kinds of towns and did feel the extra “fish out of water” sensation that you imagine must come with being so obviously, unchangeably different. Love your perspective. Nothing feels better than revealing a carefully hidden, terrible part of yourself and having it met with compassion, understanding and acceptance.

    Reply
  52. Lynn

    Hi All… My first time reading Lissa’s writing, and I read the piece about losing her dog and how loss is so real, painful and unending-feeling. Her words were spot-on what I felt after losing my dear brown-boy, Dakota. I cried then like never before..not even for my mother, dad, and grandparents when they passed. I felt physical pain, yet I went to work every day. There is no bereavement time off for dogs. It is now 3 years later, and I can look at his photos, and talk about him, and love my little grand-dog, Tess without feeling sadness or pain or disloyalty. Thank you, Lissa, for describing loss so accurately.

    Then I read the piece about the summer in the Methodist community. “Stepford” and “Twilight Zone” came to my mind. HOWEVER… maybe it really is just a sweet summer respite for all those there. Maybe they really do love the time there where they can relax from their everyday lives, and this is a genuinely good place.

    HOWEVER…I do not like the concept of being “qualified” to be there. There is a sign that I drive by on my way to work..”Christan Community Center”..it makes me feel unsettled. Why not say “Community Center” ALL are Welcome!?

    However Lissa perceives this community, right or wrong, there is truth in her observations. It may be that there is a lot of shadowy underbelly, and maybe not. At least her writing this down gives all of us readers the reminder to think about what we observe.

    In a recent Reiki session, a phrase was repeating in my head, while at the same time felt like it was being spoken TO me..”Do not be afraid to speak your truth.” Good advice, I think. It seems Lissa has heard that command, too.

    Reply
  53. Sarah

    What came through for me was not so much perfection, more mediocrity! And that’s no offense to the people who live in this place – here in the UK we have similar towns where people live peaceful lives. For me personally, same-ness just rouses my rebellious streak. And that’s true for anywhere! If i’m in a financial district where most people are in business suits, I want to look as grungy as possible. If i’m in a hipster area, I want to look glamourous and dressed up.
    Maybe this says more about us than about the places we visit? Could simply be a sign that we value diversity & contrasts

    Reply
  54. Lisa

    To me, when things are perfect, something’s wrong! I’m a glass half full kind of girl, but I’m a realist. Those who shove things under the carpet, have the darkest secrets to hide. I’ve learned to not trust that, to question it.

    Reply
  55. Julie

    Sounds like you vacationed in Lake Woebegone (I just saw Garrison Keillor live for the third time last week–his story telling is so funny). There was a Facebook discussion a few months ago about being optimistic, and a gal was saying that her son was saying negative things all the time, so to “help him” she would come up with a positive spin or positive alternative to whatever he said and say it to him. So in essence, she was “scolding him with optimism” everytime he was negative–not allowing him to ever have a correct opinion. I found a gentler way than I’m saying it here, to say to her that if I were a teenage boy, this would come across as grossly syrupy, sappy, and make her look like a wet blanket, a totally annoying nag, and I might become all the more dark and brooding just to spite her. Luckily, as I said, I was much more gentle in my response to her and she agreed that she should probably just remain quiet rather than resist every negative statement with a disagreement.

    Reply

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