Dorothy’s Perfection Paradox
Dorothy’s tired. She’s been running around all day in this red poppy field and she’s sleepy. Technicolor makes the world look wonky: the yellow brick road is green and all the green rings are blue. She wants to tell the director maybe it’s time to take a break, let her hair down, have a cup of tea, some Sudafed, but she doesn’t know how to. Her dance teachers and voice teachers and evil mom are all like “if at first you don’t succeed…!” And “no pain no gain!” So Dorothy doesn’t say anything. She sings. Dorothy’s singing is technically perfect, but her therapist tells her that this is a bit of an issue. Her therapist says she has a disorder called “perfectionism” and is trapped in what Canadian psychologists Gordon L. Flett and Paul L. Hewitt have called the “perfection paradox.” This is when overconcern about making mistakes causes the afflicted to in fact, fail. But Dorothy doesn’t want her therapist to think that she is messing up because she is caught in this perfection paradox so she has to just try really hard never to fail, ever, to prove that she’s not suffering from perfectionism. That she’s at ease and chatty and talking nonchalantly with an elbow up against the wall with all her mistakes. Mingling and fraternizing and feelings-sharing. She asks: is quitting a mistake? Is losing your teeth due to amphetamine use a mistake? Dorothy just wants to know whether her pain is justified by the gain she’s receiving. It’s a whole lot of toxic dye seeping into her pores. So what if she sprained her ankle? Her coach would tell her that Gene Kelly did that Singing in the Rain gig with a 103 fever and not even a single complaint! A real man, a man with character, a determined man. Later, in her trailer, Dorothy plugs some stuff into Yahoo Answers. “Does quitting make me a loser,” and “How does one know when to keep going?” These questions seem so straight forward she’s sad when she sees how many responses there are out there. Only Americans have this problem, she thinks! Why can’t we just relax? These people on the internet remind her of her coworker, the lion, the one they keep locked in a cage, the one who walks back and forth and occasionally thrashes his head against the bars. But Dorothy is going to be so methodical about this. She’s looking for a definitive formula because Dorothy, like all perfectionists, depend on absolute form. She copies this into her google spreadsheet, called “AM I OK?” It says: “When to quit: when the amount of effort expended is not proportionate to future gains. When the present value—(PV) does not equal future value—(FV) minus the rate (R) of present value (PV).” But does this make any sense? Does Dorothy even know her PV-slash-FV? Sometimes feels like her PV is zero, or even negative zero, so maybe that’s not the best way to go about it. How else to say this? Dorothy wants to quit. She wants to go home to Kansas or wherever. And according to Oprah if you want to be a life winner the first thing you have to do is stop trying. How simple! Who wants to be friends with someone with “leechlike tenacity”? Now suddenly, to her surprise, in the comments thread of the Oprah article she recognizes one of her munchkin extras -- username: Cookie; city: Oz. He drinks a lot, she seems to recall. In the thread he writes: Are you smiling, or just fake smiling? Are you dancing? Or just fake dancing? Are you a mule? This was so ambiguous, like a koan! Dorothy suddenly had a revelation: forget Oprah! Koans were what she needed to give some meaning to this crazy, whacked-out world. Meditation and religious zeal! Dear Wizard, she typed: what is failure? The Wizard wrote back: Dear Dorothy, what is the sound of one hand clapping?