brightwanderer: Ariel from The Little Mermaid (Ariel)
I expect there are other names for this behaviour, but I call it "optimising". I think it's distinct from general perfectionism; it manifests in a specific way.

It's when you look at a task or goal and think that there must be one "correct" way to do it - one "optimal" solution, like fitting all the pieces correctly into a jigsaw puzzle.

It is not, in itself, a problem, necessarily, if you are someone who follows through on that thought, finding the optimal solution even if it takes a bit more time and energy than normal. It might be irritating for other people who just want a solution, any solution, and are, for example, quite happy to just buy that TV there rather than exhaustively compare all available TVs to find the "right" one, but for the optimiser, it's not particularly a handicap.

Where it becomes problematic is if you are someone like me, who has the first half of the behavioural pattern - wanting to optimise a solution - but not the second half - the ability/desire to actually do it.

It's a problem then because the process becomes:

1. A Task needs completing / A Solution needs finding.
2. There must be an OPTIMISED SOLUTION for this!
3. Finding the optimised solution requires more effort, time, money, or a better sense of spatial awareness than I possess. (Or - spoiler - there may not in fact BE an optimised solution.)
4. ........ so I can't start this task, ever, because if I do it WRONG and NOT OPTIMISED then something something something DISASTER CATASTROPHE RAIN OF FROGS.

One of several things I have had to consciously train myself to do as an adult is to identify that pattern and short circuit it by just picking a solution, any solution. Sometimes I lie to myself by saying this solution is "just temporary" and I'll find the OPTIMISED SOLUTION later.

For me, the things that tend to trigger it are often things that involve literal space. Tidying up the house, for example (which is why I'm thinking about this today, as I unpack after moving); I feel like there should be a RIGHT way for me to put things away in the bathroom (should I use that drawer for soap and so on? Or is there a MORE OPTIMAL USE for that drawer?!?). Should I divide my important documents this way, or that way? Is one of them MORE OPTIMAL? Packing to go on holiday - I can't put anything in the suitcase! I don't know what the BEST WAY is to put things in! RAIN OF FROGS!

I notice it as well when trying to draw out plans, diagrams etc on paper - timelines, tables, floorplans, maps. I hesitate to put a mark to the paper because WHAT IF IT TURNS OUT THAT MARK SHOULD HAVE BEEN MADE THREE MILIMETERS TO THE LEFT?! And in writing lyrics and poetry; sure, that line rhymes and fits, but what if there is a MORE OPTIMAL LINE that could be there?! What makes one line better than another? And in planning and plotting fiction (not in the actual writing of it; I don't agonise over which configuraton of sentences to use) when I'm trying to decide exactly where and when things should happen: I become paralysed by the conviction that there's an optimal solution to my plot elements, and that committing to any one part of the whole will invalidate everything else or break it or something something something RAIN OF FROGS.

For me, the solution is the same whether I'm putting things in drawers or plotting fiction: just shove it in there, for heaven's sake, and if it turns out there is a MORE OPTIMAL thing you could be putting there, guess what? You can take those things out of the drawers again later! And put them somewhere else! Or move that plot element over by a couple of chapters!

And the interesting thing is how rarely, really, those things do get moved later; how rarely it turns out that there truly is some sort of optimised solution that would be better than "just put it where you think it would be okay to go", how rarely it is necessary to repack the suitcase or rewrite the plot arc. And even when those changes do happen, it's usually not because of some overarching optimised solution; it's usually the result of small-scale, organic alterations that make it obvious, suddenly, that your life will be slightly improved if you put something else in that drawer, or the story will flow better if you move that plot element back by a day.
brightwanderer: Ariel from The Little Mermaid (Ariel)
Today for some reason I find myself thinking about Avatar (the one with the blue cat people, not Airbender). Possibly because at the cinema last night (where we saw Iron Man 3, which was AWESOME) there was a trailer for what appeared to be Fern Gully 3D (actually called Epic I believe).

I didn't really think much of Avatar. I saw it at the IMAX and in 3D (though that was actually the experience that convinced me I did not want to watch films in 3D) and yes, it was very pretty and the CGI was impressive, but it was just so shallow in terms of storytelling. But one particular thing bugged me, and felt like a thoroughly wasted opportunity, and it's interesting, because I think it's a classic example of a story being forced to follow a pre-determined path instead of the creator stopping and thinking about what the factors they've got so far could add up to.

(This is something I think about a lot. I once read an article that quoted a writer lamenting the advent of modern technology as ruining all stories FOREVER. He said you couldn't write Romeo and Juliet now, because they'd just be texting each other and there'd be no tension. I have spent a not inconsiderable fraction of my life since working out several dozen ways you could tell the exact story of Romeo and Juliet in the modern era, just to spite him. I actually think that the mobile phone age is a gift to writers who want to use that sort of communication blackout in a moment of crisis. Fifteen years ago, I knew the numbers of my family and friends by heart. Right now the only numbers I have memorised are my mother's landline and my own mobile. If I lost my phone I couldn't even call my partner or sisters from memory.)

So back to Avatar. There was a lot of entirely justified criticism that it suffered from White Man Syndrome - the main character (white dude) enters the world of a group of native non-white people (in this case blue cat aliens) and proceeds to totally save their culture and home by being waaaaaaaay better than any of them at the customs and skills they have spent generations perfecting. It's insulting as hell, of course, but it specifically pissed me off about halfway through the film, when the Evil Colonel Dude takes away the avatars and leaves the main character and allies stranded in their totally-not-as-cool human bodies.

If you absolutely had to have the White Dude save the Natives singlehanded? This was the perfect moment for him to do it using the skills he had and they didn't. He was inside the human base. He had access to their technology. He and the others could have gone on an awesome sabotage spree, assisting the people of Pandora by getting into the systems they didn't know about, using all their Human Traits (tm) to overturn the operation from within. It still would have been iffy in terms of Big White Hero Saves Less Advanced People, but at least it would have been specifically using his skillset.

Instead, they grab their avatars, bust out of the base, go set up in a mobile home in the mountains, and proceed to fight the human threat by riding dragon-birds and throwing spears - but way, way better than the people who've been doing it all their lives, of course. Somehow, one extra White Dude on a dragon-bird just made all the difference.


The film was lazy and shallow and problematic on many levels, but that moment was the one that just lost me as a writer. There was so much they could have done with the human protagonists in their own bodies at that point. And they were right there! In the HQ! And instead of doing something with it, they just leave.

(And let's not even get into the "it's totally better to euthanize yourself and transfer your mind into a swanky new alien body than to have to live with a disability, lol" ending...)
brightwanderer: Ariel from The Little Mermaid (Ariel)
About a month ago, there was a story being linked here and there on Teh Internets: Hair Stylist Keeps Armed Robber as Sex Slave. In case it disappears (it is already inaccessible on its home site), here is the text of the report.

Hair Stylist Keeps Armed Robber as Sex Slave )

What bothered me at the time, and has continued to bother me since, to the point where I am writing this unfashionably late, is the fact that the story was universally linked as "funny". Or at the very least, bizarre and quirky. The jovial tone of the write-up above was adopted without exception (at least that I saw), and the first time I read it, I snickered along with it, and prepared to send it on to people I knew...

And then I flipped the genders in my head.

Suddenly it wasn't funny any more.

The whole thing - the article and the attention it received - very neatly avoided the more correct headline, which should have been, "Hair Dresser Rapes Armed Robber". Flip the genders. Imagine a woman who attempts an armed robbery, is subdued by a man, who then takes her away, does not call the police, and repeatedly rapes her before letting her go. Imagine the outcry if the police declared "We don't know what's going to happen now" in that instance (well, one hopes - I suppose it is, depressingly, entirely possible that there would be no outcry, that people would feel vaguely that it was justified, as though rape were an acceptable stand-in for the criminal justice system).

More than that, whole tone of that write-up is deeply disturbing. The use of the phrase "sex slave" keys straight into the porn world, and implies that the lack of consent is only cosmetic; a "sex slave" is a fantasy being who obeys your every whim and who exists only to give you pleasure. The writer tells us that the woman "had her way" with the man: a cute, coy phrase that suggests a playful dominatrix. The underlying assumption is: you can't rape a man. He's always willing. He'll never turn down free sex. Men don't say no.

(To which one is tempted to respond: so how come there are so many single women bemoaning their lack of boyfriends?)

To finish up: the same article rewritten with the genders reversed:

Hair Stylist Keeps Armed Robber as Sex Slave - Looking Glass Version )

Strange? Yes. Unusual? Yes. Funny? Not so much.


brightwanderer: Guardian Sol from Celestial Chronicle (Default)
Helen Bright

January 2017

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