You never forget the bad things that made you feel good.
There is something inhabiting me peripherally, a sticky, tentacled monster, whose arbitrary grasping and releasing results in my habits, attachments, and obsessions du jour.
Anything could consume me – a task, an author, a recreational activity, music, a scenario of events. The fact that I feel compelled to quantify characteristics of obsession and attachment is in itself symptomatic.
I procrastinate like any proper human, with repetitive, useless tasks such as picking up my phone every few seconds and manually checking my multiple emails accounts and my four thousand social media profiles. Sometimes I do this on my phone even while sitting in front of the computer. But the rest of the time, I’m obsessed with something that involves productivity of a singular nature. It could be exercising excessively for a couple of months straight, or reading a two-thousand page book in two extended sittings, or indulging the urge to fill, sand, and re-stain every surface of wood in my apartment.
Certain obsessions ravage entire days and invade dreams, others are a gentle companion – not unlike human relationships.
Some obsessions, piano playing for one, are recurring, like an on-again, off-again affair.
Sometimes the Monster’s attack is a one-time deal. Overdosing on Sweet Lady Jane cake slices of every flavor in one visit pretty much ensures never setting foot in that cake shop again. Other times, an obsession retreats into a dormant state and a second merely covers it like a blanket. For example, I might abandon the study of Russian and pick up the study of guitar. The language and music bug don’t wander too far for too long.
Although an obsession can last between twenty-four hours and a full year, most average about two weeks, because they’re often creative projects.
There are obsessions that leave no trace, like the foolish notion to take an automotive course so I could understand my car. Others have staying power and settle into the domain of hobby: hiking began as an obsession with health and my failed attempts at regular exercise. I forced everything on myself, the gym, at-home leg lifts, ballet, weights, and finally found what stuck – hills, open air, canyon views. At those times, I thank my Monster.
Be it cake, my car engine, or some guy, the obsession’s eradication is as sudden as its propagation. But my Monster’s release mechanism operates on its own accord. This can be problematic, say in the middle of writing a play, which would then remain indefinitely unwritten.
It sounds as though I’m forgoing accountability by keeping the Monster separate from myself, you say? Tell that to my Monster, and it’ll wrap its tentacles around you until you’re convinced otherwise.
If my latest preoccupation is unproductive and forces me to take preemptive measures, its addictive properties are telltale in the withdrawal I feel. I once had a gossipy but oh-so entertaining friend with whom I talked every morning on the phone while I sprinted about the kitchen making coffee and cleaning up. Eventually it became distasteful to me to have my psyche infused with constant doses of other people’s foibles, fetishes and general fallibility. So I severed the daily chatter, and not surprisingly, the friendship faded soon after. My Monster didn’t take kindly to having had no say in the release, and retaliated. I was saddled with weeks of withdrawal in which I dragged my feet through that same kitchen and didn’t bother cleaning up. To this day, I miss my chatty gossip queen like I miss cigarettes. You never forget the bad things that made you feel good.
Speaking of smoking, either I tricked the Monster or it tricked me – I forget which – with a usurping obsession that dealt with my chronic longing for cigarettes: Rather than be pestered by a constant state of smoke deprivation, I became transfixed with the constant state of unbreakability – the not giving in.
The productive obsession du jour and orbiting attachments give focus to me, the host creature. It’s the Monster’s way of creating something to look forward to at all times. If the Monster neglects its duties, the host creature finds a vacuum within herself, and likens her daily navigation to sleepwalking, or having severely blurred vision. A lapse between two obsessions can be particularly vegetative. If I’m obsessed with my apartment, I decorate it, clean it, have dinner parties it. If the obsession releases, motions towards home-making are reduced to none. That my belongings continue to be freakishly organized is because simulating control is a lifelong hobby. If I am obsessed about a date, I wear wrinkle-free clothes and brush my hair. If I am obsessed with a book, I suffer a sense of loss when it ends, so that when I start a new book, I resent the new characters for a few chapters for not being the old ones.
If I’m obsessed about my future, I do everything right.
So, I suppose, the next order of business might be getting the monster to love balance?
Two constants about the Monster:
One, there must always be an obsession present for the host creature to function properly, or at all, since often the mode of functionality is synonymous with the obsession itself.
Two, while an obsession can co-exist with several unrelated attachments, there can only exist one obsession at a time, by virtue of its nature.
Preoccupations of late of varying degrees and duration include: editing footage, Raskolnikov, font design and history, snow, organizing upward of five-thousand photos, Russian, succulents, Hergé, a douchey dude, decorative pillows, coastal roads, Tsar Nicholas II, drum rudiments, modern Rome, and olives.
Having an obsessive personality doesn’t need to be counterproductive if you channel your Monster and make it work for you. As propeller towards activity on my part, obsession is at worse a personality glitch, at best, anti-depressant and speed rolled into one. Either way, when I’m not obsessed, I am depressed, and when depressed, I stay in bed.
I’d rather be obsessed than take pills.
Image source: Julia P (autumn_bliss) via Flickr.
Originally posted on Black Box Warnings
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I enjoyed rereading this, Gunmetal. I’m glad you’ve brought this post back and made it accessible. I get a chance to enjoy it once again. This time around it reminds of me Stephenie Meyers’ “The Host”. If you haven’t read it, it is worth a look. Sounds kind of like your monster, but with a physical presence. The movie sucks – don’t bother. Keep up the good work!
Thanks for your encouragement, Paul. “The Host” sounds creepy, must check it out.
Holy tentacle monster! I love the art in this one. Must keep reading
Once I found this particular art and included it, I couldn’t imagine the piece without it.
GG I thought I lived a passionless existence, now I wonder if it’s just obsession-less. Perhaps I shall become obsessed with a certain Geisha…hmmm…it would be easy to move from savouring your delightful descriptions at first reading to then move onto re-reading again & again to explore the nuances, deconstructing your beautiful weave of words in order to reverse engineer your dark wit and deep insight into my experience. Great art too, is that yours? It looks like it’s something you’d do. LLH&R RED
Red, I sincerely doubt your existence is passionless…
“…re-reading again & again to…deconstruct your…weave of words in order to reverse engineer your dark wit and deep insight…” That’s some artful and intriguing feedback — I love it, thank you.
I wish the art was mine! I found it on Flickr. Creative Commons. The source credit is at the bottom of the post.
This was absolutely spectacular! Congrats on quitting smoking btw. I have had to let friends go here and there too because the relationship was no longer healthy and/or had run it’s course. Great piece of writing and I loved how candid you were, Gunmetal 🙂
Thanks a lot, Mike. I did quit smoking several times, but this last time stuck. It’s been seven or eight years.
This was the single piece on BBW that was the inspiration behind my own post. Exquisite writing.
That means a lot to me, thank you.
Glad to see you put this one up here. I’m in agreement that it was probably the strongest piece I ever read on BBW. Beautiful, powerful words and writing.
It’s good we were all able to retrieve our posts. It’s fair to say the majority of them were powerful — I have a very vivid memory of the “rose” one.
Amazing writing as always, GG. I once told a guy I knew that he was the most fascinating person because he knew about all sorts of things, had a lot of talents, and seemed to be able to blend into any conversation. He told me to thank his obsessive personality, and its relentless pursuit of knowledge and experience. This reminded me of that to some degree.
Ha! I’ve known people like him myself. They’re indeed fascinating. Put a good heart in them and a nice face, and we’re kind of screwed… Not necessarily in a bad way.
I thought I had read this before, and I had. Still as good as I remember. I am glad you can embrace the inner you. don’t be a stranger.