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Overthinking things

I won a Spider-Man figurine while at the podcast booth at Stumptown Comics Fest. The podcasters had it to give away, and quickly thought of an trivia question which I had a chance to answer. It was an easy one: "Who is Peter Parker's publisher at the Daily Bugle?"

And this went through my head. Wait: the Bugle's never been bought by a corporate conglomerate, has it? Because then J. Jonah Jameson would have a boss and maybe that boss would be the answer! No.

So, the answer is "J. Jonah Jameson," and I won the figurine (and mentioned on Mary-Suzanne Lamkins's new podcast, Radio Stumptown, that Jameson was "my former editor's role model *"), so I thought my way out of that trap. One I'd thought myself into.

Hi, I'm Chris, and I'm an over-thinker.

Occupational hazard of being (as I phrase it) "one of the English Major people." We look at words that were written years, decades or even centuries before, and work to wring more meaning and interpretations out of them. Was Author X saying something not obvious? If so, MAYBE WE'LL FIND IT.

...Which can also equal "seeing what's not there." I love this anecdote: Harlan Ellison once met a man who talked about the "true" meaning of Ellison's famous short story "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream." Ellison told him that this theory had nothing to do with what he actually meant when he wrote it, that the man wasn't really "interpreting" the story but was reading what he wanted to read in it. When the man insisted -- "the artist never knows the true meaning of his work" -- Ellison replied "OK, you read it, which character's black?" The man didn't know who was (Ellen).

...Which can also equal "trying too hard." You may have an original thought about a work, a thought that's never been thought before, but you may have to stretch really far to get there. People who thought they knew all about Brad Bird's politics from watching The Incredibles probably hadn't seen The Iron Giant, based on a story adaptation Bird wrote and which Bird then directed. (Also, the Underworld movies are not dramatizations of the fight over the gold standard. And Apollo 13, the recreated Saturn V aside, has NOTHING TO DO with phallic symbols.)

...Which can also-also equal "Paralyzed." Thinking about conflicting requirements on a job? Maybe you're under-thinking about something important while focused on something ultimately less important, but you can't tell that yet. I've had cases where I wasn't told enough to be able to tell, especially on jobs. Made me more likely to guess wrong. Frustrating. And, for much lower stakes, what happened to me on Mary-Suzanne's show. At least I got past that block quickly. Dead air in broadcast is deadly.

Overthinking can be the way to being creative, but only as long as you're getting ideas down and doing something with them. It's too easy for me to get hung up on the thought Are these ideas good ideas? instead of just using them.

Here's (possibly) creative overthinking. On Monday, Nov. 25th, 2002, I wrote

Star Wars prediction: Palpatine/Darth Sidious -- one is a clone of the other, Darth Sidious uninhibited in ways that Palpatine is inhibited.

So Senator/ Chancellor Palpatine really is doing what he believes will save the Republic, though Darth Sidious knows it will result in the end of the Jedi, and power for him.

So in Episode III: Palpatine will be confronted by Darth Sidious. And killed.

(Perhaps Palpatine's rapid aging is the result of cloning gone awry.)

That's not what happened in Revenge of the Sith. I also really didn't think what I'd thought of would be what actually happened. It's not needed for the Star Wars story. But based on what we'd seen in the first two Star Wars prequels, and with Revenge of the Sith still two-and-a-half years away from release at that point, it could've been what George Lucas had been aiming for. Another example: after The Empire Strikes Back came out, there was fan speculation that Han Solo would have some connection to the Force, and go from being a skeptic in the original film to being comfortable with the Force and able, perhaps, to use it in Return of the Jedi. Again, not what happened, but what could have happened based on the evidence up to that point...

But that's story's finished. And I'm not going to be writing for Star Wars, even with Star Wars TV projects and print projects going strong.

After all, a good reason to think and risk overthinking: There are stories that aren't finished yet. The Fisher King myth -- yes, what inspired the very good, thoughtful film The Fisher King -- gained currency around the 12th century, when Chrétien de Troyes wrote it down in his telling of Perceval. de Troyes didn't, however, write an ending: he almost literally wrote We'll get back to this, then never did. Other thinkers have attempted, based on the myth's different written-down forms, to figure out the myth's true ending. An end that makes sense based on what story elements we've been given, and one that is satisfying...because the non-satisfying ending in that case is probably not the most true ending. It's like the example I like to use of if The Shawshank Redemption had ended with Andy Dufresne being rescued by aliens. See? Doesn't fit. So how should the Fisher King myth end? Nine hundred years later we're still not 100% sure. And you were annoyed at how Lost ended.

This overthinking can be used for good, because that's what it is: THINKING. "It's important to think, Anne," Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) says in The Fisher King. "It's what separates us from lentils and people who read books like Love Song."

Are we thinking enough? Are we thinking well? Am I thinking enough? Am I thinking well?

* He was joking. J. Jonah Jameson hates almost everything and is smoking his way to having uclers in his ulcers. My newspaper editor was a pretty mild guy, but who always liked that image of Jameson looking through photos and declaring "Crap, crap, crap, crap..."


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 12th, 2012 12:01 pm (UTC)
Actually, I'm pretty sure the Bugle was bought out at least once, by the Puma.

JJJ was still publisher, though.
May. 12th, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
Which also would've hung me up, had I known that. Thanks for the knowledge, though.
May. 12th, 2012 04:01 pm (UTC)
The sad thing is I don't even READ Spider-Man. But I used to browse the old Handbooks like crazy. :)
May. 12th, 2012 09:16 pm (UTC)
The "English major" problem goes for History majors, too. I get frozen by the simplest questions, determined to give the most accurate and thorough answer I can...
May. 16th, 2012 11:14 pm (UTC)
Great book. Dumb title.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


Whale fluke
Chris Walsh

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