| Fiction |

Imperfect Mondays

I can’t do ugly duckling phases.

 mishpacha image

A ball is thrown into the air with a velocity of 40ft/second its ht in feet t seconds later given by the equation y=40t-16t2. Estimate the instantaneous velocity when t=2.

Evaluate the following integral: f’(0) of f(x)=sin2(3-x)

The figure below shows the graph of f’ the derivative of a twice-differentiable function f on the closed interval 0

I’m going to fail.

My heart pounded as I stared at the computer screen palms clammy. I Dafna Landy — former class valedictorian and summa cum laude graduate at a real four-year college thank you very much — I Dafna Landy at age 29 am about to fail my first exam ever.

I finished the last of the calculus CLEP questions holding my breath as I clicked the submit button. The screen went black. A scaled score of 50 was considered a passing grade… I closed my eyes exhaled then opened them.

Scaled Score: 49

I’d failed.

I pumped my fist in the air with a silent victory whoop.

One week earlier.

“I’m a perfectionist that’s why ” I told Chayala. “If you can’t do it well don’t bother doing it at all. That’s my philosophy.”

“Mine too ” Toby agreed observing us from the corner of my room.

“Turn left and close your mouth ” Chayala commanded adjusting her tripod and I obliged. I was posing as her model for her portrait-painting class and she was maneuvering me into different positions. “I disagree still think you should’ve stuck out the class with me maybe you would’ve been good at it? And it’s fun regardless.”

Chayala and I had enrolled in an art class together Tuesday evenings. I’d gone the first few sessions taking detailed notes on the anatomy and proportions of the human skull — who knew the distance between the eyes and chin is two-thirds the length of the face? — and then quit.

“The color-mixing part killed me ” I said moving my lips as little as possible. “One skin tone three colors? I don’t have that kind of abstract—”

“Stop talking!”

I firmly closed my mouth.

“You’re too much of a perfectionist Dafna that’s your problem.”

“Me too ” Toby said proudly. “Even worse than Dafna.”

“Seriously— stop Dafna don’t move!” I froze. “If your perfectionism inhibits you from trying new things….”

“You might have a point.” Toby propped her legs on my desk. “Hmmmm. What if you could be imperfect — were supposed to be imperfect like it’s a rule — for just one thing? An exercise in imperfection just to loosen the habit?”

“Dafna look toward me again — no close your mouth I hate painting teeth — okay great. Maybe a slight smile no teeth don’t look so serious — stop! Stop!” I fixed myself into position “Hold it right there a-may-zing okay—” She exhaled. “Done. I got like 20 pics different angles.”


Toby straightened her legs. “Maybe only one day a week?” she continued oblivious to our conversation. “We’ll do something deliberately wrong or imperfect just once a week? An exercise like Mondays only?”

“You’d purposely botch something up?” I asked incredulously.

Toby hesitated. “Chayala’s right. This perfectionism… it’s not always healthy. I’ll do it.” She paused looking at me through narrowed eyes. “If you will.”

The challenge in her voice was unmistakable and I narrowed my eyes back. If she could do something imperfect then I could do it even worse.

I nodded resolutely. “Count me in.”

Chayala laughed. “You’re both crazy.”

“Let’s figure out logistics,” Toby said, ignoring her. “We need a rule book! Let me start a file — okay, here we go.” She leaned forward, fingers positioned on the keyboard of my open laptop.

“You’re serious?”

Toby nodded.

“Oh. Okay. Um, rule number one, you have to do something deliberately imperfect. Okay, that’s not a rule, technically,” I amended, “that’s the premise of the whole exercise.”

“I’ll put that in like the mission statement. Wait, we need a mission statement! I’m opening a new file—”

“I’ll do that,” I offered, glancing over her shoulder at the file she was typing. I’d adjust the margins later. “I’ll research other mission statements and mock one up. Okay, we need rules! So, it’s Mondays only, that’s rule number one. Imperfect Mondays! Rule number two: the other person scores it, on a scale of — I don’t know — one to twenty, with a rubric, like you get extra points for details you do imperfectly, we’ll call them sub-imperfections—”

Toby clicked away furiously. “Call them bloopers, it’s easier. And the major imperfection we’ll call bleepers. We’re gonna need rubrics, scorecards, I’m opening a new file—”

“We need a to-do list.” I was quickly warming up to the idea. “So, two parts to the rubric — Bleepers and Bloopers. Or wait, Bloopers and Bleepers sounds more conceptually accurate, no? The big imperfections and the little details?”

Toby cocked her head to one side, then nodded. “Right.”

“Okay, Bloopers and Bleepers. Rule number three: It runs for six weeks, then we reevaluate. Six Mondays. Rule number four: you need proof or documentation, rule number five….”


“So, I gave you 18 points,” Toby announced later, when we regrouped after my failed CLEP. That was my first exercise in Blooper Yoga, as we’d named our self-improvement program. “You knew with full certainty you’d fail and calculus has no ramifications for you, anyway. Also, you had a calculator — taking the test without would’ve been a perfect Bleeper. Good exercise, though.”

She gave me a thumbs-up, handing me my Bloop-Card. “Job well done, Dafna! And now”—she shut her laptop—“gotta run to choir tryouts for the Libi production.” Libi’s an organization that produces musicals for the frum community.

Choir tryouts? Toby couldn’t carry a tune with a U-Haul truck.

She winked. “It’s Imperfect Monday! And I’m aiming for a perfect 20.”


Later than evening, I absently tacked my Bloop-Card to the mini bulletin board hanging in my room. Every time I remembered the exam, I started getting heart palpitations.

I bombed an exam. I, Dafna Landy, recipient of a ten-out-of-ten Apgar score and who would’ve otherwise argued with the obstetrician for the missing points — I failed an exam.

Wait, did I really fail? Maybe I imagined things. I quickly booted up my computer. I’ll check my online account again. Just to be sure. For the third time, actually.

I logged in to the CLEP website, navigated to find my account. And exhaled loudly.

I failed.

Okay, this is an exercise, Dafna! An exercise in imperfection. It’s okay, really. Maybe I’ll register for the algebra exam, just to realign myself properly — I know I’ll ace algebra. I can’t believe I’m doing this — $85 — I need to find my credit card….

Just then, an e-mail came in from Toby. “Choir tryout blooper,” read the subject line, and it came with a video attachment.

I clicked it open, adjusting my speakers.

“Rabot avar ha’am hazeh baderech…”

And she was off.


Bloop-Card: Week #1

Subject: Toby

Blooper: Botched Choir Tryout: sang Benny Friedman’s “Ivri Anochi,” then Journeys classic “I was booooorn way back in 1842” = 10pt



-Subject is tone deaf = 5pt

-Kickboxing-style full-body motions during “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” part of song performance= 4pt


Total: 19/20


Blooper Yoga — Cumulative Score:

Dafna: 18 points

Toby: 19 points


A little background: If you live in Boro Park or Flatbush, you don’t get caught walking into a Payless store, and I never did. I was a shoe snob, Cole Haans and Sam Edelmans stashed neatly in tissue paper in their original boxes, stored under my bed and organized by color. And it wasn’t just the shoes themselves; if you live in Brooklyn, you don’t walk into a store called Payless even if they were selling leather hide straight off the cow. With pom-poms attached.

Except on Imperfect Mondays, and I was determined to out-do Toby’s choir performance, grudgingly ranked a 19 out of 20.

I straightened my shoulders and bravely pushed the door open, almost crashing into an obese woman with a toddler in Pokיmon sneakers. I walked to the size-seven section, surveying my options. A plastic-looking, fake-leather bootie with a cowboy-style heel. A red-plaid fabric flat. A black fake-patent wedge that was a clear knockoff of the Tory Burches everyone was wearing. I continued perusing the row of shoes along the back end of the store, where a frum woman, one arm pushing a Bugaboo, reached for a pair of flats. She glanced my way, then yanked her hand back and ducked down into an aisle, glossy waves of sheitel swinging behind. I finally chose a black-and-burgundy plaid fabric D’Orsay-style flat and headed to the checkout counter.

This was fun.


“Only a fifteen?” I howled at Toby later that evening. “Show me the tally!” I grabbed the paper from her hand. “Bleepers a six only? What more could I have done to get a full ten?”

Toby pursed her lips. “Okay, I’m not saying it wasn’t good,” she said finally. “But it wasn’t perfectly imperfect. You could’ve taken a shopping wagon, for instance. Or worn two different pairs of shoes. Or bought a frizzle-wizzle pair. I mean, the ones you were wearing”—I’d changed into them in Payless, but they were abandoned in my closet now—“looked pretty standard, even. Maybe with white stockings…”

“I walked around three hours wearing them!”

“So amazing, Dafna, but you need to understand that the shoes—”

“On Thirteenth Avenue!”

“For example, I would’ve chosen a Hello Kitty kitten-heeled Mary Jane, Dafna, now that would’ve been perfect—”

“I left the Payless stickers on!”

She shrugged. “I gave you a Bleep-point for that. Look,” she said, when she saw I was starting to bristle. “Honest, it was good, I’m not saying it wasn’t! Fifteen out of 20 — that’s fabulous! There’s room for improvement, of course—”

I crumpled the scorecard and threw it in the wastebasket. “Whatever.”


Bloop-Card: Week #2

Subject: Toby

Blooper: Drove to Cape May for impromptu two-day vacation with friend, no advance itinerary = 10pt



-booked motel on the spot without first checking 535 TripAdvisor reviews = 4pt

-left bug spray, mosquito repellent, plastic gloves, energy bars, and extra Q-tips at home = 4pt

Total Cumulative Points: 18


“I parallel parked the entire day without straightening my wheels. And the car? My lease was at the mechanic, so I borrowed my neighbor’s business car, the one he uses for fish deliveries. Yup, I drove to work, my tutoring job, the grocery, and back home in a 2002 Chevy, with ‘World’s Best Gefiltes!’ painted on the side. In purple.”


Nose quivers.

Nostrils flare.

Breath quickens…


Sneeze bursts forth

Showers of freedom

Exodus from Egypt

Liberation of Man.

“It’s called The Sneeze,” I informed Toby later. “Or just Sneeze. Or better, sneeze. Lowercase-S. I submitted it to the Jewish Zone magazine.”


Blooper Yoga — Cumulative Score:

Toby: 55 points

Dafna: 53 points


Blooper Yoga ran for the next two weeks. I punched in, for the first time in my life, exactly one minute late, and e-mailed my boss twice that day without proofreading for grammar/spelling errors, even throwing in two deliberate ones.

At a family yahrtzeit seudah, Toby served on plates that didn’t match the tablecloths and ditched her chocolate-praline pie dessert to serve stewed prunes from Ozzy’s Deli instead. Each week seemed to escalate, each of us determined to out-do the other.

“It’s funny, no, how we’re competing over Bloop-points?” I asked Toby conversationally one day, when I was sitting on the floor of her room, laptop balancing on my knees while tallying up her Bloop-Card for wearing jewelry that didn’t match her outfit. There had always been an unspoken competition between the two of us, back to our elementary school days.

Toby shrugged. “We need to get our perfectionist streaks out of our systems, right? Who cares how we do it?”

“True. Hey! The poem I submitted? They responded!” A new e-mail had popped into my inbox, and I clicked it open delightedly. And froze.

“What?” Toby leaned over me to view the computer screen. “Wait — they accepted it!” She whooped. “Zero points! I’m leading! I’m leading!”

“They’re actually printing that drivel!” I shot up from my slouched posture, frantic. “People are gonna read this! I need a pen name!”

“Oh, no, you don’t.” Toby’s eyes gleamed. “It’s Imperfect Monday. Here, let me forward it to Chayala.” She giggled, pushing me aside as she reached for the mouse. “For proofreading.”

I lunged at her, but it was too late.

“Okay, you get five points,” she said primly.

Blooper Yoga — Cumulative Score:

Toby: 91 points

Dafna: 91 points


“Your poem,” Chayala told me Monday early evening, when she came over to show me my portrait five days later. “It was… so beautiful. Really. So, um, original.”

“Oh, please, I know it stank.” I dug into my closet, waving my hand dismissively. Where were those Payless shoes? I’d just finished dressing for tonight’s Blooper and was letting my hair air-dry. “Blooper Yoga.”

Chayala looked relieved, setting the cloth-covered canvas against the wall. “Oh. You’re still busy with that? When’s it over?”

“Today. We’re tied so far, but”—I grinned maniacally, slipping into my Payless flats and reaching for my makeup case for some finishing touches—“tonight, I’m gonna knock it out of the park.”

I’d told Toby about it yesterday, actually, and she was waiting in anticipation. I rummaged through my drawer and pulled out a sheet of paper triumphantly. “In the meantime… would you like to preview the new and improved shidduch profile of moi?”

Chayala rolled her eyes, reaching for the copy.

And looked up five seconds later.

“Willing to pay for first date and five dollars toward Garden State tolls?!” she yelped. “Free fidget spinners for first ten respondents? Dafna! You can’t—” She looked down again, and her eyes bugged out. “Looking for a boy who loves to eat pizza?!”

“Wait till you see my shidduch picture.” I rubbed some lipstick on my front tooth and zipped my makeup case shut. “Which brings me to my portrait. Okay, show me the painting, and if I don’t like it, I’m making you toss it, okay?”

“Gosh.” She handed me the paper and reached for the canvas. “Can’t you see Toby’s been in competition with you since eighth grade, when you were both shooting for the valedictorian slot? Like, if I were you, I’d think twice before climbing a tree with her offering to go behind, if you get my drift….” Chayala shook her head. “Sign up for the painting class again, have that be your Blooper. Allow yourself to not be perfect and just have fun with it.”

I blinked. “The class is Tuesdays.”

Rolling her eyes, she uncovered the painting.

And there I was.

To be honest, it didn’t look like me exactly, but the resemblance was striking, as was the skill behind the painting. I felt a twinge of — envy? Regret? I wondered if I would have been able to paint like this, too.

“Wow.” I examined the curve of my cheekbones, lifting off the canvas with Chayala’s subtle blending of color, the granules of hair of my eyebrows. “The eyes — they look real — how’d you make them so lifelike?”

“You look closely, you can see I used maybe five different colors.” She leaned over my shoulder and gingerly pointed. “There’s green, I started with that, but like three different shades, based on how the light hits your eyes. And gold flecks around your pupils — that’s a muscle layer, it’s more pronounced with light-colored eyes….”

She took a pencil and pointed. “That white-gray circle spot along the edge where pupil meets iris?” I leaned forward, nodding. “That’s a light reflection, it’s like the finishing touch — add that and the whole eye suddenly takes on a new dimension. Here, I’ll show you.” She reached for her phone. “I took pics after each session so you see how it progressed — check what your eye looked like before versus after I dabbed that spot in.”

She held her phone out for me to see. She was right. The eyes were crafted well, but had a flat, deadened sort of look; with the reflection spot, they came alive. I started scrolling backward to view the other pictures.

“Wait, view it from the beginning.” Chayala played with her cell. “Know thyself! Dafna Landy, step one.”

I shrieked.

My face looked dismembered. Random patches of color splashed over what was meant to be an outline of a face — a peachy color for skin, a slash of pink across the bottom third for lips. Two light brown splotches representing eyes, another splotch down the center for a nose. Patches for ears. No hair.

“You caught me on a bad day,” I said finally. “What’s that story? The guy whose face rots whenever he does something bad? Once we’re referring to high school classics,” I added dryly. Just to make it crystal-clear I got her John Knowles reference.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray. Keep scrolling, it gets better.”

Gradually, the blocks of color materialized into a basic version of eyes, nose, lips, cheekbones. As the photos progressed, the definition of my features became more pronounced; the green of the irises, the crinkles around the corners of my eyes, my nostrils — gosh, they’re huge — the bridge of my nose. My lips also had different shades of pinkness to them, with some splashes of white making them look fuller. No teeth, I remembered, and smiled slightly.

“You start with these wide, thick brushes, just getting the basic impression of individual features,” Chayala explained, peeking over my shoulder. “And then you hone it, painting the same part over and over with smaller and smaller brushes, getting more and more details, till you’re doing the finishing touches with the skinniest ones — the eyelashes, light reflections...” She pointed to a hint of baby hairs along my hairline. “That’s the last thing I did, using a paintbrush with bristles so tiny to get in the smallest details perfectly.”

I laughed sheepishly. “Yeah. I’d probably start with those.”

“Beginner’s mistake. You need to go through the whole process first. Everyone likes to get to the details right away, but you first need the earlier parts…. My instructor, she calls it the ‘ugly duckling’ phase.”

“Ugly duckling phase. Huh.”

She nodded. “It takes weeks, the whole process, because you work layer by layer, with the different brushes, and each layer takes like a week to dry… See that eye? There are like five layers of eye underneath.” She grimaced. “There’s also an eye — just for the record — underneath the bridge of your nose, because my dimensions were wrong initially and I painted it in the wrong position the first time. Had to redo the whole thing. Just saying.”

I touched my own nose self-consciously. “Sorry.”

“Yup. I’d say there are maybe five or six layers of Dafna Landy underneath the finish you’re seeing now….”

She started talking about the varnishing process, but my mind was leaping all over the place.


Okay, I diagnosed myself: I can’t do ugly duckling phases.

There’s this fear inside of not being perfect, a fear of mediocrity. That competitive streak catapulted me to great places, all throughout my school years and even now with my teaching position — I was promoted to science coordinator earlier this year, supervising the entire high school curriculum. I don’t do half-jobs; everything I’m involved in, I do 150 percent.

I even looked the part. A friend of mine once told me she’d been intimidated when we’d first met, with my perfect small talk, perfect clothes, sleek-ironed hair; she’d only warmed up once I’d starting complaining about shidduchim, she’d said, “like a normal person.” There’s a certain — it’s hard to describe — a symmetry to perfection that’s comforting, in a sense.

If you can’t do it well, I’d told Chayala, don’t bother doing it at all.

I can’t do ugly duckling phases.

I would’ve been sitting with the tiniest brushes, lips pressed together, making all the perfect details with exact precision, because I was going to be the one to make my portrait perfect at the first shot.

But is that even possible? Maybe you need all those layered attempts before you varnish your portrait. Mediocrity — maybe that’s the phase under perfection, the layer before. Or maybe not perfection, exactly; completion. Maybe to be a complete person, you needed layers and layers of feeble attempts and failures and imperfect brushstrokes and ugly duckling offerings and noses painted in all the wrong places.

Whatever. I don’t know. I’ll think about this later.

In the meantime… I, Dafna Landy, had a Meet-the-Shadchan event to bomb.

“Wait.” Chayala’s voice interrupted my train of thought. “I didn’t see the back before. Coupons? You attached Glatt Bite coupons to your rיsumי? Are you insane?!”

“Maybe I’ll get more dates,” I said airily, snapping back to reality.

“Maybe you’ll get posted on Dan’s Deals, is more like it,” Chayala said darkly.


One hour later, I found myself walking briskly to the huge house whose address was listed on the Meet-the-Shadchan invite. I’d never been to one of these before, and it had been ages since I’d run to meet random shadchanim on street corners like we were arranging some sort of drug deal. I’d called my friend Idy beforehand, an expert shadchan-hopper — she’d even joined a worldwide shadchan tour last summer — and what she described would’ve left a lesser person mildly terrified.

I rang the doorbell.

Okay, so I was meeting 15 shadchanim. Dressed like a schlepper — Bleeper Number One. With an absurd resume; Bleeper Number Two. Attached to a photo my mother took the evening of my very first date, 11 years ago — Bleeper Number Three. I was wearing a suit, in the picture. With a dickey.

From inside, I heard footsteps approaching the door.

And shoulder pads—

My dismembered face suddenly flashed before me. The other picture. Chayala’s artwork.

Ugly duckling phases.

Blooper Yoga.

Why am I doing this?

To break that perfectionist streak. To break that fear of failure, of mediocrity. The footsteps from inside grew louder, and suddenly, crazily, as though discrete parts of my consciousness were strewn together in Picasso-like fashion, I felt the cold panic of facing instantaneous velocity questions, the tension of clocking in late, and bizarrely, a pang of sadness for quitting Chayala’s art class. Because that was something I’d done — or hadn’t done — because I’d been too scared to fail, trapped by the shackles of perfectionism…. And I wasn’t sure Blooper Yoga really changed anything.

I should be joining an art class, not pretending to one-up myself by—

The door opened, and a well-dressed woman with a perfectly coiffed sheitel stared at me, from my Payless shoes to the messy curls of my not-ironed-for-the-first-time-in-12-years hair. She recovered quickly and smiled, as a vision of our Blooper tally, updated weekly in an Excel file, popped into my head.


Blooper Yoga — Cumulative Score:

Toby: 91 points

Dafna: 91 points

“Come on inside!” she gushed.

And suddenly, I knew exactly what I was going to do.

“Wrong address,” I said breezily, and hightailed it out of there.


Toby lived across the street from me, so I parked in my driveway and trekked over. She opened the door before I even knocked, a huge grin splitting her face.

“Well, he-llo!” she crowed. “Let me see the kallah maidel! You got it on video?”

“I didn’t go.”

“You didn’t— what?”

“I didn’t go,” I repeated.

“But it’s Imperfect Monday! You were going to— what happened?”

I glanced at my watch, a feeling of satisfaction spreading over me. “It’s Tuesday, actually,” I said. “It’s after shkiah.” I know this sounds crazy, but — rules were rules. I couldn’t quite break them… but could manipulate them. A bit.

“Shkiah is in ten minutes.”

“Not according to Rabbeinu Tam.” I had no idea if that was true.

She paused. “It’s Monday,” she said finally. “You reneged on the competition. And we were tied before, so however many points I would’ve gotten for removing the nine folders, 22 subfolders, and 49 sub-sub folders from my computer and re-saving all 98 files on the desktop—” she thrust her chin out—“then I win. I win!”

“You win,” I agreed, and she ogled me in disbelief.

“You mean I won?” She gave a frenzied victory dance. “I won! I won! You lost! Ha! I won!”

I waited a beat.

“Well,” I told her, “depends how you look at it, right? I mean — I deliberately lost the competition. On a Monday, according to some opinions. That is my Blooper. And my bleepers—”

“That doesn’t count,” Toby said quickly, but I saw a flash of uncertainty cross her face.

“Okay, whatever.” I mentally tallied in five bleep-points for being so reasonable, and Toby must have guessed what I was thinking because her eyes narrowed.

“It doesn’t count,” she repeated.

I shrugged. “Sure. Congratulations.”

And I left.

Which would’ve been a perfect exit line, except it had started to rain outside. Yuck. I automatically tried shielding my hair from the downpour, grimacing as I hurried down the steps and crossed the street.

I lost a competition to Toby. I’d get over it, of course. I wondered if Toby would, though, that knowledge that I was able to hijack myself into losing. She’d never have been able to do that. To me, especially not. Her competitiveness — that was nothing new, our dynamic had always been like that. But what was up with her constant let’s-see-who-can-do-this-better challenge, anyway? For me, it was that terrorizing fear of mediocrity that both pushed me forward and paralyzed me; I was rivaling with myself, if that makes any sense. I wasn’t sure what rooted Toby’s competitive streak, though.

Whatever. Not my problem.

The air was fresh with the smell of summer rain, gushing down in torrents, and I finally gave up trying to protect my head, lifting my forehead and letting the rain pour down. There was something invigorating, cool droplets soaking my face, as I mentally filled out my Bloop-Card. Blooper: Lost a competition. Bleeper: My hair is a disaster. Points: Who cares?

Showers of freedom; liberation of Man.

I started laughing and raced up the front steps. I caught my reflection in the front window — hair drenched, hanging in soggy clumps around my face, wide grin — and automatically stuck out my tongue.

Dafna Landy, work in progress.

(Originally featured in Family First Issue 553)


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