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I’ve been to Rome a number of times in my life, most recently in 2016. If possible, I like to visit the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli, where Michelangelo’s statue of Moses is located. The statue is phenomenal, of course, but there’s a particular reason for my fascination.

If you look very carefully at the right knee of Moses, you’ll see an indentation, or scratch, in the marble. Go ahead click the photo on the right.

Michelangelo spent years creating this statue. When he was finally finished, the statue had become life-like to him, so much so that he threw his hammer at Moses, commanding him to: “Speak, damn you!”

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I like the story because it underscores how real art can seem, how connected the artist can become to his/her material. However, this is not the reason I go to see the Moses statue.

Instead, I’m fascinated by how in spite of the blood and energy an artist can give to the work, it can never be perfect. This statue is deeply flawed, yet not because of the scratch. There is something much more obvious that is wrong…the horns coming out of the head of Moses.

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The horns are dead wrong. They are not supposed to be horns, but rather radiant beams of light, the radiance of the Lord. Indeed, horns suggest the devil, not the Lord. So what’s going on here?

It turns out, the mistake is not the fault of Michelangelo; but rather of a medieval scholar whose translation was incorrect. This monk translated beams of light as horns, and the sculptor therefore created horns on the head of the most sacred of Jewish prophets. A shame, right? Yes, a damn shame considering how great an artist Michelangelo is.

What’s instructive for me is that no matter how hard we try, there is no perfection possible in art. In fact, that may be the soul of art…the imperfection that is intimate with beauty.

My favorite expression addressing the impossibility of ever reaching perfection is from novelist, E.M. Forster:

A work of art is never finished. It is merely abandoned.

That’s certainly true of this statue and Michelangelo. He threw his hammer at the cold marble and walked away.

I mentioned on Facebook and Twitter last week that I received a very good professional review of my book, A Family Garden. The reviewer said the book was:

A beautiful book. Funny as well as heartwarming. The story arc and character development are fantastic. I really enjoyed it, and recommend it.

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Great praise, yes. Warranted if I may say so. Unfortunately, the reviewer also said the book was plagued by simple typographical errors. Damn, I hated to hear that! I couldn’t let it stand. I had to go back and do a thorough copy edit.

So, I’ve spent the last week carefully proofreading the book and making all the tiny, and annoying, corrections to punctuation, quotation marks, paragraph divisions, and the like.

And guess what? I couldn’t help but tinker the teeniest little bit with word choice here and there, even a sentence or two. Then I stopped myself. I commanded myself to stop this kind of editing or it would go on forever.

Yes, I abandoned the book. I let stand what I had spent nearly four years writing, chiseling, perfecting, and finishing. “Speak, damn you!” I said to the book. “Go your own way! You are mine no longer!”

The new, patiently copy-edited version of A Family Garden is live and available in all formats on Amazon. Get yours before someone throws a hammer at your screen and breaks the damn computer!

Remember what happened to Rome:

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