A Lifetime of Socially Acceptable Obsessions

Every once in a while, something happens and you’re allowed to be really focused on the news. It’s “current events,” after all–responsible adults respect those who are aware of what’s going on in the world. When there’s big news that affects your community, no one will think twice about you watching live feeds, keeping a few tabs open on your browser with local, national, and international sources, you know, to get a few viewpoints on these very important stories.

Those are the times are when I’m in trouble. Those are the times when my partner has to give me a news curfew. Those are the times I need to add more structure to my day, because if I could I would lose half my life to reading news. Even though there is no way I could use all this information–I’m not a late-night talk show writer or a news analyst, nor do I have a job in politics or academia. I’m just a guy who absorbs this information and allows it to burn a hole in my stomach lining. Oh, and when history inevitably repeats itself, it lets me groan, “Oh my god, we just went through this 15 years ago. Have we learned nothing?!”

The news became a nice go-to for my obsessive data collection because of its respectability. It’s not weird or nerdy, and there is and will always be a steady stream of it. I cannot know it all. It’s not my first obsession, though. Growing up I was a sponge, like most kids, but to the point where my parents and teachers knew I was a little different. So, thinking back to what I can remember as my first obsession, I was very interested in biology, and since my mom worked for an obstetrician-gynecologist, I had loads of information available to me. Mind you, I’ve never wanted to have a child, but I had to know everything about how I was made. Picture a 7-year-old me asking questions like why isn’t it standard to do ultrasounds during labor so you could better see if something started to go wrong–that’s not a normal second-grader question. And yes, I was that kid who corrected all the other kids when they spread those terrible lies they were told by their parents. (I killed Santa for them, too, of course.)

As I got older, I pivoted on my obsessions. Teen idols were perfect. Plenty of fodder there, and it came with a bonus “regular tween girl” veneer. Instead of plastering posters around or having a collection of magazines, I had friggin’ dossiers on my selected celebs. Somewhere in a box in a closet I still have my three-prong pocket folder with sheet protectors for all things Michael J. Fox. I did things like watch the movie Better Off Dead a bazillion times and write out the script. When I was, I think, 13, I bought my first Interview magazine and learned about Andy Warhol–he was the best thing to ever happen to me. I could obsess about the man who obsessed and collected and examined everything to the point that it became a joke. My obsessions and collections became art. It was a beautiful validation.

Then in high school, I was on the forensics team. My first event was radio news. You showed up and sat in a room with an armful of the morning papers–remember, this was before the internet existed–and you wrote a 10-minute (?) radio program. There was so much news. We always got the Sunday paper at home, but nobody had ever really turned me on to it. Seed planted and cultivated. I was still doing weirdo stuff, like I wrote out the lyrics to every song by The Cure, to be kept in a binder, even though most of them were readily available in the cassette liner notes. But the news was really taking root.

Anyway, the pattern continued and here I am today. I’ve added lots of structure to my life to keep myself from getting lost in these special interests. For instance, on top of my 9-5 job, I have a daily exercise routine, a Duolingo lesson, setting up a nonprofit, and researching and writing about this newly discovered diagnosis. And on top of that, I live with another human and two cats who all make sure I take care of myself and our home. Whatever hours are left, I can freestyle-obsess about whatever I want without worrying that it’s taking over.

But honestly, yes, in times like these, with a pandemic (with so many stats!) and a very important election, social awakening, climate-related disasters left and right, and the rest of the world being the rest of the world, it is still hard to not get sucked in and lose track of time. It takes a lot of energy and a lot of inner dialog to keep my time management in a healthy place. So no, I’m not tireless or a machine–I’m just good at being the boss of me.

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