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Weekly Wrap: Our Obsessions

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I once had a crush on a boy at my pool named Win. He was several years older than me. I was eight. And I wrote him a note containing a long piece of blue yarn. I told him I loved him and as a sign of my love I’d be wearing a piece of yarn around my neck; and if he loved me back, he must wear the enclosed, matching piece of yarn.

If you look at any of my swim team photos that year, you can see I’m wearing a blue string around my neck. He never wore his, the bastard.

That next school year, because my heart had room for another, I also fell in love with my teacher. Many of you know the story so I won’t bore you with the re-telling, only the ending. I had fully believed my teacher loved me in return, until he committed the unthinkable and humiliating act of treating me like a student, complete with a patronizing lecture. I still loved him, of course, but it became a raging love, and I took the apple I’d given him earlier in the week, peed on it, and placed it back on his desk.

Oh stop. Didn’t you ever have a little fit?

I don’t have a photo of me walking into a tree the day beautiful Ro’ee passed me on campus. But I do have this photo of me practically standing on this poor diving coach’s feet (this is the summer before I started high school) because I just wanted to crawl inside of him if I could.

And isn’t that the way of obsession? In private, obsession is like finding yourself in a trance on the exact balance between rapture and throbbing pain. In public: embarrassment.

A girl may even send that diving coach a picture like this:

I’ve come to learn this about myself: I must like something about this painful state or I wouldn’t seem to seek it out. I must like to have things just out of reach and feel the fire that builds in seeking to have it.

Writing is like this for me…a desperate yearning for the words I may never reach. I don’t know, I kind of like intangibles. Love, art…the fun is the struggle to get it right.


Thank you for your answers this week: Sarah, who puts her obsessions into her writing and lets wild fantasy take place; Josh, who says he’s too lazy to follow through with obsessions (does dressing in drag count? I guess not); Lance, whose obsession used to be making himself into someone else: “Not working at being the best me but just being someone else entirely” (I smell a BOOK DEAL); Kathy, who is obsessed with washing, drying, and putting away every dish before she goes to bed; Aimee, who develops obsessions for authors and then reads everything they’ve ever written; Carolyn, who says, “Obsession is passion burning at full flame, requiring constant attention to keep it from boiling dry;” n.l., who calls me chicken shit and then continues the conversation over here, where he’s set up an east coast/west coast type rivalry against LitPark (check it out; I was very entertained by it); Terry, who thinks obsession and fixations are probably necessary to help a writer to go the distance in writing a book; Shelley, whose novel focuses on love obsessions and jealousies; chingpea, who thinks about what it would be like to have someone obsessed with her; Lauren, who, if she talks about her obsessions, won’t have time to get any work done; Joe, who admits to all types of obsessions: psychosexual Freudian attachment, compulsive behavior, and an idee fixe (which I almost pluralized but thought there are so many French folks in the park this week, I don’t want them to see how rusty my French has become); Darrin, who says, “Obsession is like a drug that keeps you going,” but a drug with side effects; Utahna, who talks of the obsession-like focus of preparing for a new baby; Mikel K, who’s obsessed about everything from alcohol to punk rock, but methinks the heart of his book deal is his obsession with having to be somebody going somewhere; Carol, who says youth was filled with romantic obsessions that caused suffering, but now she likes to think her obsessions have transformed into passions for political and social change; Brad, who, among other things, obsesses about Obama running for president in ’08; and Tish, who obsesses about everything from germs to success to failure to death to the wording of emails. Thanks to all of you! And thank you to my friend, Kevin Dolgin, and to the amazing Bruce Benderson for such a memorable interview.


Mr. Henderson is in Hollywood today for the screening of his movie at Mann’s Chinese 6 Theaters. He’s up for Best Drama and Best Short Film. He left for the airport with Fragile Things, which has a cool little pastry paper-like cover. But if you do what Mr. Henderson does (i.e., take the book cover off), it’s kind of embarrassing and Barbie-looking with it’s big blue butterfly on a shiny white background. Luckily, Mr. Henderson never gets embarrassed.

He’ll be staying with his soul mate in Geekdom, an actor from Frasier, American Dreams, and Bones. And I warned him, if I feature this person on my blog, I’ll be scouring my photo albums for some doozies.

Have a great weekend, and stop back tomorrow for a conversation between two authors who never meant to have their books categorized as Chick-Lit.

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  • Lance Reynald
    October 6, 2006

    those are some intense obsessions there Susan.


    good thing Mr. Henderson came along when he did…

  • Carolyn
    October 6, 2006

    I just want to know what HAPPY SCHOOL means.

  • Jordan
    October 6, 2006

    I’m not sure if you’re aware of this yet, Sue, but litpark has become the place on the web where writers want to get seen hanging out. We’re all wearing little blue strings, because we recognized the one around your neck, even after it’s physically gone.

    I love it here

  • Sarah Roundell
    October 6, 2006

    Reading the obsessions of your youth brought so many of my own flooding back, thanks for sharing, Susan. Great summary this week and applause for everyone opening up on here about a subject that some find difficult to spill the beans on and others can’t spill enough.

  • n.l. belardes
    October 6, 2006

    OK, chicken shit girl. I declare two winners. I know, it only counts if I declare on my own West Coast blog (Can you see me making some kind of West Coast Lit Gang sign?) Winners: You and DW. DW is on my blog and was Buck Owens drummer for nearly 4 years before Buck recently passed on. DW’s obsession is very revealing as was yours.

    Buck Owens performed regularly at his own historic dinner restaurant in Bakersfield, performing many of his hits from the Bakersfield Sound…

    Congrats. I will be sending your blue string obsession medal in the mail.

  • Susan Henderson
    October 6, 2006

    Lance – I think Mr. Henderson has only been able to tame me so much.

    Carolyn – The diving coach was leaving for college and I gave him the Happy School picture so he’d remember me. I’m pink just typing this.

    Jordan – You’d wear a blue string for me? I love you.

    Sarah – Applause for Sarah!

    n.l. – Who is Buck Owens? I ask because when I interviewed Buck Lewis (he animated half the movies you can think of), I kept mistakingly saying Owens and I didn’t know why. Looking forward to your LitGang sign. (But we’re still better over here, sign or no sign.)

  • n.l. belardes
    October 6, 2006

    Buck Owens had a loooong string of country hits back in the 60s. The Beatles covered his song, Act Naturally. Buck became a wealthy man from his country radio stations and his show Hee Haw. Sadly in Hee Haw he allowed his cool urban cowboy image to turn Hillbilly. He was one of the first people to rock out Japan before those TV days…

    Buck had a resurgence with Dwight Yoakam with the song, “The Streets of Bakersfield”. (Trivia: Yoakam was the bad guy in Hollywood Homicide)

    When talking Nashville and country music, the “Bakersfield Sound” out of Bakersfield has been the only country music to really rival. That’s why Bakersfield is called Nashville West, although I call Bakersfield Old Nashville West and LA the New Nashville West.

    Right now Merle Haggard is touring with Bob Dylan (#1 album in the country right now, more than 150 shows) and opened for the Rolling Stones. He was Buck’s friend, and they were once married to the same woman, Bonnie Owens (at different times of course). He also represents the Bakersfield Sound (Country music with a Telecaster guitar)

    Merle had a 6-minute standing ovation opening for the Stones.

    Musically, Bakersfield is known for Buck, Merle, Monty Byrom (Bighouse) and Korn (Nu-metal). There’s a thriving music scene in Bakersfield with punk, alt, alt country, metal, Latino ska… but where’s the country? In LA, except for all those who come to the Crystal Palace…

    I went to Buck’s viewing in his restaurant… a casket on a dance floor surrounded by red-white-and-blue flowers. Surreal.

    I’m not a fan of country music. You can’t tell by what I just wrote. But I was a fan of Buck, and am a fan of Merle and the alt country movement that I wish was stronger in Bakersfield.

    The closest I truly get is my kids playing wilco songs in my living room (violin and guitar).

    My own personal concerts.

    And so Bakersfield alt country lives.

    For country I go to the Palace, eat home cooking at the dinner restaurant, people-watch, and listen to friends like Fatt Katt, Catfish, Paul Cartwright, and Buck’s back up band the Buckaroos…

  • Claire Cameron
    October 6, 2006

    That diving coach is a fox.

  • Claudia
    October 6, 2006

    Speaking of obsessions, I haven’t read this but it looks interesting…


  • Robin Slick
    October 6, 2006

    Sue, it takes a lot of nerve to post that you peed on an apple for your teacher to eat. I’m trying very hard not to picture in my warped brain the whole scenario from start to finish, but well, you know I’m one sick puppy.

    And as a follow-up to that, as per your request, okay, okay, I am copying obsession #1 from my own blogpost today:

    You want to talk about obsessions? When I was fourteen years old, I was so obsessed with a boy (Gary II…I had like seven Garys in my life…I think their mothers were all in love with Gary Cooper and it was “the name” of the fifties and sixties) our first date was my accompanying him on a night of crime. Yep, he was a fourteen year old hoodlum who took me on a rampage with a piece of metal pipe which he used to crack open everything from parking meters to the change machines at the local laundromat, after which, when we scored $5.00 in quarters, he treated me to a can of warm beer he’d been hiding in his jacket all night and a gave me my first hickey on the counters where you fold your clean clothing. I not only saved the piece of pipe in my memory box, I saved his cigarette butts.

    And now you know how sick I really am.

    Ha ha – I just remembered something I haven’t thought about in years. After I got that hickey, I was so paranoid I wore turtleneck sweaters for a week, even to bed. My way cool mother never ever raised an eyebrow at me and I’m sure she knew what I was hiding, but for some reason, it was important to me that she didn’t see it.

    I would however be humiliated by my said mom at breakfast a few years later when Gary III and I were dating and she innocently replied “Oh, by the way, Robin, I washed Gary’s handkerchief — I found it on the basement floor.

    Ahem. I don’t suppose I need to go into any details here about that, huh.”

    But trust me on this, you really don’t want to hear about my latest obsession over a dead guy. Well, maybe you do. I had a lov..I mean, I knew a guy and I kind of held him up as the perfect male and I was extremely jealous of his wife. Anyway, I just read his obituary and am having a very hard time coping with the fact that he’s really gone — especially as I’ve spent the last ten years walking out of my way to avoid his house, even though I have to pass it to go most everywhere. I only recently learned how he died…and did you ever have a gut feeling that something wasn’t right? I mean, I knew he could not have died of something as pedestrian as a heart attack (he was 53, though)…and sure enough, 3 weeks after his death a newspaper article appeared…he was hospitalized for depression and hung himself. I have not been able to stop obsessing over him in that hospital room…ugh…you can just imagine the various scenarios running through my brain, and this morning, without even thinking about it, I avoided his house again, even though there’s no chance in hell (well, maybe in hell when I join him har har) I’m going to bump into him ever again. But for some unknown reason, I refuse to accept he suffered from depression because he seemed so normal, so perfect…and the fact that he actually killed himself. I’m rambling, I know…but even my family has no idea about how traumatized I’ve been since hearing the news…and I’ve decided this is actually going to be my next novel because the circumstances surrounding how we met, how we ended our friendship, and now his untimely and unimagined suicide are that insane and off the wall.

    So yeah, Obsession in My Middle Name.

    Okay, time to go have some chocolate covered pretzels (my other obsession)…I was so out of sorts today I swung by a candy store on my way home. Bleh. I’ll have to diet for a month to undo the damage of a half hour of eating. But so, so worth it.

    So um, Nick B….do I qualify now?

  • Lance Reynald
    October 6, 2006

    ok, now I think I have obsession envy.

    but if I start to spill here and now there’s no point in that book I’m almost finished writing then huh??

    and I do have such grand dreams of one of the Big 5 buying it in a 2 off deal. 😉 I guess that itself could be an obsession if not for the fact that if they don’t I’ll be just as pleased with an indy as long as it gets me a round or two with some pals at KGB.

  • n.l. belardes
    October 6, 2006

    Robin, because LitPark is my new rival, I can’t just up and give you one of the awards that I’ve so carefully handcrafted from blue string and precious-metal covered apples (twice peed on I should add).

    Oh, hell with it…

    OK, yes, I think I have to move you into the third slot for the Bronze apple. DW still gets second place because he was a kid in a nudist camp, and Susan still keeps her #1 ranking for kicking ass and being the original apple pee-er.

    This is all unofficial.

    Except on Paperback Writer… where we also hand out apple pie.

  • Shelley Marlow
    October 7, 2006

    Yes, these are very evocative stories, Susan and everyone. From the body language in that photograph,though, I think the swim coach had his, ahem, heart, pointing right towards you.

    Here’s one of my stories of obsession.
    At 17, I was obsessed with an artist that was two years older than me and one inch taller. She had long jet black hair and the face of an english preraphealite warrior in a helmut. She and I kissed long deep kisses. I would think about her all the time. Once I ran into her on my way home from a Sufi alchemical meditation retreat. She had taken acid. She said she could hardly see me because of the light coming off of my face. We kissed ecstaticly.
    I lived in Cambridge and she lived in Boston and invited me to a late night party at her loft. Even though it was in the middle of a snow storm, I ran to her party and ended up catching pneumonia. She brought me gladiolas while I was sick in bed. She was wearing all red.
    At one point, she asked me what I wanted with the relationship. She said she wanted to loosen grip and behold the mountain, a quote from the I-Ching. I took this quote to mean that she wasn’t sure if she wanted to see me romantically. It took a while to get used to the idea but when I finally accepted this, she phoned me from the Pentagon. She was having lunch with her father there and some of his coworkers. She thought of me because the Pentagon workers were so opposite from who I was in her eyes. She called to say she was interested in what I wanted in the relationship. I was confused and said I was ready to loosen grip and behold the mountain.
    In retrospect, I think loosen grip and behold the mountain means to let go of your desire for what you want something to be and see what really is before you.

  • Michael
    October 7, 2006

    my current obsession is attempting to decipher why i am addicted to my triple shot vanilla latte at starbucks though tomorrow it might be why i keep seeing the cast of rock star supernova wherever i go in hollywood…dont these people have hometowns of their own? like arsenio hall used to say its “something that makes you go hmmmm”

  • Susan Henderson
    October 7, 2006

    Claire – Isn’t he? God, you should have seen him play ping-pong.

    Claudia – Hi! Glad you’re here! Send me the html for that link and I’ll fix it for you. Right now it’s not working.

    Robin – Okay, Robin, I’m laughing like crazy during that first story and then plummeting on the next. I’m sorry about your friend. Both of those stories are worth reading in a book so hop to it. xo

    Lance – How come I have no doubts about your book?

    n.l. – A precious-metal apple on blue string? You are awesome. But this doesn’t mean the fight is over.

    Shelley – You mean it? You think the diving coach loved me afterall?

    I love the story you told and the I-ching quote. This you have to use in a novel because it’s spellbinding: She brought me gladiolas while I was sick in bed. She was wearing all red.

    Michael – Welcome! Now, is this the Michael I know with the tattoos?

  • n.l. belardes
    October 9, 2006

    The fight is never over, Susan.

    We all have to fight about something. And sometimes when we fight with each other, it’s just to make each other better at what we do.

    I know I need it: cold water in my face at least three times a day.

    And so do the people who won’t admit complacency rules their lives. Especially in the little city of Bakersfield, from where I write.

    Let’s get people to riot about words, books, ideas, music, life… and then let’s celebrate making a difference at the end of the day; even if the difference is minimal.

  • n.l. belardes
    October 9, 2006

    Shelley: that’s some good obsessive writing about a past obsession. Your words help me to loosen my grip…

  • Susan Henderson
    October 9, 2006

    n.l. – Awesome. I actually love to scrap.

  • Shelley Marlow
    October 13, 2006

    Susan, Yes! The coach’s body language looks at the least like a big crush and maybe even love.
    I rarely keep any of the writing in first person, but am going to consider this. That story is in my first novel, but fictionalized. I wanted emotional distance, but maybe that’s not needed.

    n.l. thanks for the cold water push to get me to spill!

  • Susan Henderson
    October 13, 2006

    Shelley – Thanks for making my day!

Susan Henderson