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Question of the Week: Obsession

by Susan Henderson on October 2, 2006

Are you, or have you ever been, obsessed? Tell me your story.

*

Bruce Benderson is the author of THE ROMANIAN, a memoir of his obsessive love affair with a poor Romanian, interspersed with recounts of his New York visits with his dying mother.

Last spring, Bruce and I tried to find a time to meet for an interview in NYC, but our schedules didn’t mesh. When he was free, I was busy with my kids’ various events. When I was free, he was going to be out of the country. “Where?” I asked, and he responded with a long list of cities, including Paris. I sent off a quick email, then told Bruce I knew of a fine writer who happened to live in Paris and could interview him over drinks.

Wednesday, you’ll have the pleasure of reading the fascinating result:

McSweeney’s Kevin Dolgin

(this is me and Kevin at KGB over the summer)

and his deliciously R-rated interview with

Bruce Benderson, the first American to win the Prix de Flore.

For those of you with kids and bosses nearby, I just want to warn you that I’m still deciding which photos to run for the interview and may be posting a little partial nudity. (Come on, it’s Benderson!) Anyway, just be aware of that as you scroll down on your next visit.

Until Wednesday . . .

Oh! Did I forget to mention that you’ll be seeing Kevin Dolgin in cornrows?

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah Roundell October 2, 2006 at 1:46 pm

I am very much looking forward to Wednesday’s interview! You always have the best guests on here. I could go on and on about my own experiences with obsession. I so easily become caught up in someone or something and it begins to take over my life. I am also known to get an idea stuck in my head and not rest until I’ve done something with it which is where writing comes in. It provides such a release to get things down on paper. Especially when the obsession is with someone completely out of reach. I’ll write some wild fantasy or two or three and eventually this preoccupation I have peters out. Obsession in small doses where you observe boundaries can be quite healthy, but it’s a slippery slope.

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josh kilmer-purcell October 2, 2006 at 2:29 pm

“the romanian” is disturbingly honest and haunting. it made me not want to look in the mirror. highly recommended.

i have no obsessions that i can think of. i’m too lazy to follow through on one.

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Lance Reynald October 2, 2006 at 3:15 pm

cool guest this week.

for years I was onsessed with making myself into someone else. Not working at being the best me but just being someone else entirely. After that I tinkered with a bit of body dysmorphia, obsessively going to the gym and such.

my obsessions tend to be inward I guess. I’ve never found myself really obsessed with a person. I’ve always feared that if I was that would make me seem a bit stalker crazy; and I work really hard to appear less crazy.

in closing, now I’m off to obsess about answering the question of the week right…

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Kathy October 2, 2006 at 4:57 pm

With another person? No. How fine is the line between “over-the-moon, puppy-eyed” swooning and “I can’t imagine my life without you” stalking?

When I read this question through my newsreader this morning (pre-coffee) I thought it was more about little obsessions that could be could be considered personality quirks, and I am totally devoid of charming quirks except that I am obsessed with having every dish washed, dried, and put away before I go to bed.

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Shelley Marlow October 2, 2006 at 5:23 pm

Yes. In the past, I have been obsessed. Supposedly sexual obsession indicates a hard time in adolescence. This is true for me. I look forward to the guest interview with Bruce.

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Aimee October 2, 2006 at 6:22 pm

Current obsessions: the Detroit art scene, a Cannon Rebel camera, and writing something with, I Melted a Metal that I Wasn’t Supposed to Melt and We Had to Evacuate the Lab, as a title.

Do I obsess about things, yes. In the creepy stalker way or the Elvis fan club way, no.
Something gets in my head like an object I want, or a phrase, or an author. I will think about the object until I can buy it. Or I will find a way to use a phrase in writing, or I will read and read everything I can about and written by the author I have developed an obsession for.
For me obsessions are like hobbies. But, I think the term obsession is so close to stalking that people shy away from admitting to an obsession.
Previous obsessions: a guitar, an antique typewriter, Sylvia Plath,houses over 100 years old, and Dave Eggers. And no, I’ve never tried to get a bit of his hair or followed him or even sent him fan mail. I just read everything I could by or about him. Pretty harmless .

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Carolyn Burns Bass October 2, 2006 at 7:50 pm

I obsess over whatever I am working on at the moment. Just got back from a travel show and am obsessed with destinations I want to explore, to promote, to write about. Obsession is passion burning at full flame, requiring constant attention to keep it from boiling dry.

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Robin Slick October 3, 2006 at 10:42 am

So when I saw this question yesterday, I started writing my answer in longhand and filled up three pages in my journal. Man am I glad I didn’t post it before I saw the other responses. You people are all way too normal. Or, most likely, I’ve got a really bad case of Obsessive Neurotic Disorder. So I’ve shortened my list, knocking off stuff like “fresh peach gelato” and “all British rock guitar gods”. Here’s the abridged version:

(1) I am so obsessed with my writing that I’ve been known to actually go back and edit something that has already been published;

(2) Yeah I’ve had obsessive relationships but I can’t talk about them here because Google will pick it up and my kids will find out just how sick their mother really is;

(3) Speaking of my kids, I’ve been obsessed with them since birth, but in a good way. (Well, except for maybe the first two years of their lives when I stood over their respective cribs all night and never slept because I had to be sure they were still breathing) But all I really want is for them to be happy, stress-free adults who never wake up nauseous because they hate their jobs or significant others…and so far, that’s all fallen into place so maybe in a year or two I’ll be able to breathe again myself;

(4) Neil Gaiman.

So now you know. And yes, I promise I will visit that nice psychiatrist again soon and this time I will take her up on her kind offer for some meds.

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Susan Henderson October 3, 2006 at 2:34 pm

Sarah – I’m so glad you’ll be here tomorrow. I just now chickened out on the partial nudity – this is me thinking out loud. Yeah, I think I’m like you, I am happiest if I have a few manageable obsessions. It’s just my nature, and it can provide the drive to get certain projects done.

Josh – Yeah, isn’t it haunting? I hope you’ll be back tomorrow to talk with Bruce.

Lance – I can’t even wait for you to write a book about that kind of obsession! But you know that already.

Kathy – I wish I had that quirk. Unfortunately, I just have all the other ones.

Shelley – I’m so glad you’re here! I never heard that before, about sexual obsession being related to a difficult adolescence. You’re going to love the interview tomorrow. Make yourself a cup of coffee first.

Aimee – Oh but doesn’t Dave Eggers have really cute hair, the way it seems to grow straight up? A lock might be nice. The obsessions you list seem fascinating, and you’re right they sound more like intense but fleeting hobbies.

Carolyn – That’s a great definition of obsession. I think I’ll quote you on Friday. I feel like I might operate on that level all the time. Maybe it’s an Aries thing?

Robin – Robin, I’m so glad you’re back from vacation. I missed you! I have to say, my response was the same: um, you mean you don’t toss and turn, walk into trees and do absolutely unreasonable things when you’re obsessed? You mean it’s just me? But no! It’s me and Robin together, whee! I edit things that have already been published – that’s not normal? And I’ll talk about my obsessions on Friday. The trick is just narrowing it down so I don’t make too long a post!

(BTW, I’m gong to have a British rock guitar god here in two weeks. Consider it a present.)

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mikel k October 3, 2006 at 3:29 pm

i was obsessesed with
the bottle(i bet) when
i was a baby.

i was obsessed with
crackers and recess
in kindergarten.

i was obsessed with
a girl named Molly
in the second grade
she played footsies
with me.

i was obsessed with
getting a gold star
from the nuns
in catholic school.

i was obsessesed with
basketball and tennis
from jr. high through
high school

i was obsessessed with
the cheerleaders who
road the bus with us.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted October 3, 2006 at 5:15 pm

I obsess about everything – keeps me off the streets.

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n.l. belardes October 3, 2006 at 7:12 pm

Obsessions?

But I’m still in denial.

I’m in Robin’s boat. Though I would take a step further and suggest just like Susan is being chicken, folks on here won’t even be partially nude about their obsessions. They want to appear normal.

If you’re a writer, you’re not normal.

And don’t even try to justify, because I will just scream denial.

I am still obsessed with an ex-girlfriend. And I think she’s obsessed with me. We live thousands of miles apart and haven’t seen each other in 5-6 years. Yet we talk all the time. We talk like we’re lovers, but we’re not–though maybe in our heads. I’ll have to ask her. She’ll probably laugh at me.

The rest of you including Susan are chicken shit. I’ll send my kids directly to this blog. Why not let them see one of my obsessions?

Maybe they can relate.

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Terry October 3, 2006 at 7:21 pm

I sometimes obsess about not having enough obsessions to write. One needs to obsess, I think, to become so fixated that that one can write one novel or one book or one short story. Too, I sometimes obsess about being too obsessed about my lack of obsessions, and vice versa, likewise.

Or otherwise.

I forget.

Blessings.

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Shelley Marlow October 3, 2006 at 8:23 pm

My first novel, Lesbians of Arabia was all about love obsessions. Swann transfers that obsessiveness from one love object to the next. In the chapter Swann in Anguish, Not Even Chocolate Can Help Her, my protagonist obsesses jealously over her current lover who is having other affairs.
One line from that chapter:
“Your wild eyes blue with grief, mockingly humorous, patronizing, your red hair with its gray roots, straggly, a poodle cut, short on top, long on the sides, curly, ambiguous, short and long hair at the same time, opening and shutting the door at the same time. ”

The chapter ends with her using a chocolate bar to take her lover in a slightly punishing way.

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Jordan October 4, 2006 at 12:42 am

I obsess over fictional people. I tend to fall in love with fictional people, in fact. Often things that have a series quality. Philip Pullman’s trilogy “His Dark Materials” got me pretty obsessed and then copycat writing (nothing for the public to see). I was obsessed with Six Feet Under, the HBO show, and truly, achingly devastated by its end, even though I knew the actor himself was not really dead, but the character was and i was heartbroken for weeks. I was the only 15 year old I knew obsessed with the show Twin Peaks, then the X-Files (oh god, what am I revealing to you people?)…I see that I tend toward television programs. I obsess over epic stories of humanity’s fate and over dark, passionate, slightly fucked-up romance.

I like to lose myself (though strangely, never in drugs).

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n.l. belardes October 4, 2006 at 1:24 am

Shelly: how much of YOUR obsessions are in that novel. Someone totally fuck you over and you shove chocolate up their nose?

Terry: You’re being too vague. Spill.

Jordan: Your obsession reads like a bad zombie movie. I don’t think you really obsess over TV. I think those shows represent real people who you aren’t telling us about…

Susan: If you’re obsessing about obsessing, then there must be someone’s house you keep driving by. Maybe it’s your own? Tell…

OK, that’s enough. My kid promised to come on here and talk trash. I think he’s a chicken too.

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chingpea October 4, 2006 at 5:51 am

obsessions… obsessions… i’m obsessed with wanting to know what everyone’s true obsession is.

i also have an obsession with wanting to become people’s obsession to see how far they would go and how brave they can be to obtain the obsession. curiousity, it’s a dangerous thing. :)

good thing it’s only an obsession or i’d be in serious trouble… LOL.

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Susan Henderson October 4, 2006 at 12:49 pm

Mikel K – Thanks for that.

Lauren – I’d love to hear more.

n.l. – I think people have many complex reasons for not wanting to expose too much and I’m going to trust each person to stay in their own comfort zone. If your post frees someone up to say more, then great. I just hope it doesn’t do the opposite. (I’ve got my eye on you, okay?)

Terry – I’ve missed you around here.

Shelley – I love that – opening and shutting the door at the same time.

Jordan – I fall in love with dead authors and fictional characters all the time.

n.l. n.l. n.l. – I’m happy to see someone help to push our limits as writers, but not in an antagonistic way and not in a way that makes people afraid to speak up or be themselves. Maybe, until we all know you better, you can keep your comments related to your own writing and your own process, rather than commenting on how everyone else should do it, all right?

chingpea – Welcome! I wonder if I would like being someone’s obsession or not? I’m pretty claustrophobic. Looking at your post, I’m guessing you have the beginning of a story to write.

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Lance Reynald October 4, 2006 at 1:45 pm

chicken?

awright….time to throw down.

here Susan, hold my stuff……we’ll go see who’s chicken.

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n.l. belardes October 4, 2006 at 2:35 pm

Just kidding. Please ignore my last comments. I’ve ruffled feathers, and was only having fun. Peace to all!

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Susan Henderson October 4, 2006 at 2:49 pm

Everything’s cool, guys. No worries.

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LaurenBaratz-Logsted October 4, 2006 at 2:49 pm

“Lauren – I’d love to hear more.” I’m going to do the thinking here for you and suggest that maybe you wouldn’t? Because if I start talking about the things I obsess about I’ll get obsessive about talking about it, then I’ll never get any work done, I’ll go broke, I’ll be out on the streets and, with nowhere else to go, I’ll come visit you, at which point we’ll have plenty of time to discuss my obsessions.

It’s a vicious circle. Best not to start.

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Myfanwy Collins October 4, 2006 at 3:33 pm

I’ve been thinking long and hard about this question–hmmm, obsessing over it actually! I have an obsessive personality and so the list is long and sad.

But to throw out some specifics: one thing I do every day (or nearly every day) is read my horoscope (from several different sources).

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Joe October 4, 2006 at 5:46 pm

I spent a while wondering which definition of obsession you were going by. If you meant a psychosexual Freudian attachment to a person or thing because of a short circuit in a critical developmental stage leading to compulsive behavior. Or, if you meant something more benign like an idée fixe like Homer Simpson and donuts.

Then I stopped worrying when I realized the answer in either case would be yes.

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Darrin October 4, 2006 at 6:25 pm

I’m in the same boat as Terry in that I find an obsession helpful to finish a creative project. In the fleeting moments when I feel the obsession slipping away, the real mass of what remains to be done instantly appears and seems way too daunting to even consider.

Obsession is like a drug that keeps you going. It befriends the monkey on your back.

But the drug could have side affects, like keeping you from spending some time away from the project and getting some fresh air every once in a while. So there is a balance, for sure.

Is this kind of obsession normal or not? I don’t know. Maybe other people are systematic, and divide-and-conquer: they make a schedule and casually chip away at their project until it’s done. With plenty of sleep.

By the way, I already have a small list of edits for the next edition of my book. But I’m not obsessed about making those changes.

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Utahna October 4, 2006 at 6:47 pm

Ooo yeah, have I ever been obsessed! Right now I like to think I’m more like…focussed. On getting ready for my expected baby. (Woooo, so excited!) And on getting writing sent out.

Obsession is a favorite topic for fiction–to read and to write. A favorite fictional obsession that comes to mind right now is Nora Flood and Robin Vote in Nightwood.

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mikel k October 5, 2006 at 12:54 am

further obsessions with possible further explanations
by mikel k

in college i became obsessesed
with beer and bourbon
making out and sleeping in

and when my friend
margaret bowman and several of
her chi omega sisters
were killed
i became obsessessed
like the rest of tallahassee
with trying to figure out
who could have done such a
mean and evil thing

thanks ted bundy

after college i became further
obsessed with alcohol
i went on the road
hitchiking for a bit
up and down the east coast
fascinated with such a
lifestyle

nowhere to be
nobody to answer to
i could have stayed out there

but i was obsessed with
having to be somewhere
having to be somebody

in la i was obsessed with the beach
but not so much as with the buzz
and the buzz lead me to atlanta
where i got obsessed with punk rock

i obsessed with going to clubs
and writing about bands for my
music column “backstage pass”

the buzz started getting me locked up
and i started obsessing on just what
had got me locked up the night before
and how i was going to get out.

(perhaps to be cont…)

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Carol Novack October 5, 2006 at 3:11 am

After men ah pause, I can’t say that I relate to the word “obsessed.” I used to fall in love at the drop of a hat with colorful plummage. I would’ve DIED, but I swooned & suffered. So I was obsessed with this one, that one, and even that one & suffered & suffered; but eventually turned romantic obsessions into actions of other sorts (eg, political, legal/constitutional battles). I now relate to the word “passionate,” albeit its absurd limitations & flights of fancy/fantasy. I am “passionate” about my magazine, my writing, my self-exploration, getting it all right before I fall into the Black Hole. Knowing there’s no getting it “right,” only process, going through process & feeling free and delighted enough to keep on, keep on trusting … process.

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Brad Listi October 5, 2006 at 5:54 am

I’m obsessed with earning a living as a writer. Boring, and probably totally unoriginal in this forum, but entirely true.

And I’m pretty much obsessed with my girlfriend.

And I’m kind of obsessed with Barack Obama.

I really want him to run for president in ’08.

I think he might be The Chosen One.

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Susan Henderson October 5, 2006 at 11:32 am

Lauren – Ha! Great.

Myfanwy – I hope you didn’t pick up your horoscope habit from me.

Joe – I need to tell you that your blog post yesterday is one of the best pieces of writing on the tough, tough subject of 9-11 that I’ve ever seen. I’m going to link it here:

http://joe-minus-net.blogspot.com/2006/10/first-time-i-visited-world-trade.html

Darrin – Hi! I’m going to quote you on Friday’s Weekly Wrap.

Utahna – How great to see you here! The amazing thing about pregnancies and babies is that bioloby demands that you obsess about them. It’s hardwired obsession. I want to read your recommendations.

Mikel K – Thank you for your poem. I didn’t know you had a Bundy connection. I’m sorry.

Carol – Welcome! And what a wonderful commentary on obsession turning into passion. I almost wonder if you might expand that and publish it somewhere.

Brad – I’m so glad you’re here! I need to catch up on the latest nervous breakdowns.

I love Obama, too. But my Google friend is backing Mark somethingerother from Virginia, and that makes me think the money and publicity will overwhelm his chances. Oh yeah, Mark Warner.

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Tish October 5, 2006 at 1:16 pm

Everything. That’s what I obsess over. Germs in public places, success, failure, if I’ve offended someone in an email, the real meaning behind people’s words, death (gulp).

It’s exhausting.

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Leroy October 19, 2006 at 3:09 am

I’m not sure I have obsessions. I have passions, which can last for hours or sometimes years, but when does a passion become an obsession?

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Susan Henderson October 19, 2006 at 6:46 pm

That’s a wonderful question, LeRoy! It would be fun to write a story and try to discover where one turns to the other.

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stacy barton November 10, 2006 at 1:20 pm

in my life i only have two natural states – obsession and non-obsession. any middle ground is gained largely through medication, barefoot walks and the drink of the irish gods…guinness. grin. glad to have found your site.

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Susan Henderson November 11, 2006 at 12:19 pm

Stacy – Welcome to LitPark! I love what you said here, and boy, do I relate.

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kerrie _ March 20, 2007 at 7:42 pm

i have just seperated from my partner of 14 years.he ended the relationship.i think the grief and rejection has lead me into a full blown and very damaging obsession.i think about him and us constantly.i never get a break from this craziness.i become enraged at the thought of him getting on with his life and my rage brings about compulsions that i must carry out regardless of the serious consequences.i then promise myself not to act on these overwhelming compulsions again.but i do , over and over again.this obsession has taken over my life.i think up elaborate plots to ensure he cant enjoy his life, carry out my plans,then regret my actions afterwards….till the next time.i tell him how much i love him after i continue to harass and attempt to destroy him.this cant be love.i am a recovering drug addict but i fear this is my new addiction/obsession.i imagine what he may be doing and run with it.i feel the need to know his every move his every thought.i hate that my entire head space is taken up thinking about this.dont think about it then?thats just it….i cant help but think about it..i only have a rest from this when i am asleep.it is exhausting doing all this thinking,wondering,plotting, regretting,….obsessing.

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