June 1, 2008 § 3 Comments

While struggling to meet a deadline, I noticed something interesting about myself: the perfectionism that sometimes paralyzes me as a writer is the same perfectionism that makes me an excellent researcher. It is, it seems, a double-edged sword, and one that I have probably carried since I was a teenager.

Sometimes, when I skipped school, I would take the subway to the Metro Toronto Reference Library and spend hours there looking things up. One day, it would be the etymology of words I liked the sound of; the next, it was newspaper coverage of an historical event I was curious to know more about. Once, I rifled through ten years worth of different magazines just to see what advertisements looked like in the 1950s. Then, as now, I considered this fun, although then I was more likely to be high.

Slowly, I am drifting toward history as the thing that I do, and it seems a fitting destination point for a life-long perfectionist. I am convinced that we are driven by our obsessions and neuroses as much as by our talents (if not slightly more so), and I am coming to think that the key is not to rid ourselves of them, but to seek out endeavours that are benefitted by them. Since they’re not going anywhere, we might as well put them to good use.

I just looked up the word “aptitude,” which is defined by the Webster’s 1828 dictionary as “a natural or acquired disposition for a particular purpose,” but also as a “tendency to a particular action or effect.” I like the ring of the latter definition, which makes no distinction between positive and negative tendencies but simply notes their mechanics. Of course, I also got a kick out of looking it up.

§ 3 Responses to Observation

  • leafless says:

    Aptitude. It brings back memories of my school days when I had to take an aptitude test every single year. Very painful.

    Obsessions inspire dedication. They are not always a bad thing.

  • un.slaked says:

    Christ. and i thought I was the only one who skipped school to go to the frickin’ library!!! Confession: once read an entire encyclopedia set from end to end (needless to say I was just about as sociable then as i am now which isn’t saying much *eye roll* so I had the time!)

    An insatiable thirst for knowledge; I’ve always believed that the day i lose THAT particular facet of myself – that burning, almost compulsive curiosity to pull on a thread and see what it unravels (eek! more threads!) – is the day I lose my very essence. If anything, it only grows fiercer, so i figure i’m good for a while yet.

    Channeling neurosis and quirks productively is something I struggle with immensely – and as such, still feel like i haven’t quite found what it is I do “best”, or what engages me most deeply (which is pathetic, i know). Focus is an issue because frankly, EVERYTHING is interesting to me, being cerebrally promiscuous. I have to work ridiculously hard to narrow my efforts and attention.

    Anyway, I’m glad you’ve managed to harness your diss-position, and ride it. You’re very lucky to be in your element.

  • Vila H. says:

    leafless: No, just sometimes…

    un.slaked: A whole encyclopedia? Madame, I humbly defer to your greater geekiness. :)

    I’m starting to think that it’s not a matter of what one does “best,” but simply what works at a given point in time. In this sense, the tendency toward action becomes something more contingent–upon happenstance, opportunity, and, sometimes, dumb luck.

    It is also, I suspect, not at all singular: presumably, there are loads of things we can do with our quirks, but time being what it is, we can’t generally do them all at once. Maybe it would help to think of focus as a temporary state rather than a life-long committment? Or, to put it a slightly different way, maybe you need to have some flings with your things? (Grins.)

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