Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I renounce fish

original image by CAUT via flickr

John Laroche: "Look, I'll tell you a story, all right? I once fell deeply, you know, profoundly in love with tropical fish. Had 60 goddamn fish tanks in my house. I skin dived to find just the right ones. Anisotremus virginicus, Holdacanthus ciliaris, Chaetodon capistratus. You name it. Then one day I say, "fuck fish". I renounce fish. I vow never to set foot in that ocean again. That's how much "fuck fish". That was 17 years ago and I have never stuck so much as a toe in that ocean. And I love the ocean."
Susan Orlean: "But why?"
John Laroche: "Done with fish."

Adaptation (2002)

I've been rekindling some of my old obsessions recently, and I must say it has been an altogether wonderful experience. Mainly because in the throes of depression, it's pretty much impossible for me to be obsessed with anything that is outside the twisted horrors of my own mind. To be able to feel this kind of intensely focused love for anything at all is a definite sign of recovery.

I've always had them, obsessions, ever since I was old enough to grasp the concept of dinosaurs. I've gone through a long list of them between then and now, exchanging one for the other while some of them resurface unexpectedly like the old friends that they are. I don't know, maybe it's a genetic thing, because my youngest sister has just traveled 5000 miles to attend a party for Hobbit-fans and this makes me smile. If you are at all daunted by the insurmountability of genuine human interaction, obsessions are what helps you cope with life.

They get a bad rep though, which is funny since the internet's self-help section is filled to the brim with talk of passion; find your passion, pursue your passion, live your passion. I find it to be a pretty arbitrary semantical divide, which seems to be mostly based on what we deem 'useful'. Someone who eats, lives and breathes architecture, we call passionate, yet someone who follows the lure of aSoIaF fandom all the way past the early stages of 'R+L=J' and into 'Benjen = Daario' and 'the trees drink human blood'-territory, we call obsessed.

But obsessions are random by nature. We don't get to choose what knocks us off our feet. There's this stupid notion that everybody can "find their passion", and that this passion will also happen to be something they can make money from, but sadly this is bullshit. Some passions may allow you to make a career out of them, but the vast majority of them won't. That's no reason to relegate the latter to the sole confines of teenage bedrooms, because obsessions serve a higher purpose than that. They are what makes people come alive.

There's this incredible line in the movie 'Adaptation' (which I quoted above, and is one of my all time favorites), uttered by Meryl Streep:

Susan Orlean: "I suppose I do have one unembarrassed passion. I want to know what it feels like to care about something passionately."

I think this is just about the worst possible state of mind anyone can be in, and I've been there more than once. It tends to happen to me when I get too hung up on reality for long stretches of time, which then leads me down an infinite regress into nothingness.

I'm not an opponent of reality, per se, but it can drag you down pretty hard if it is the only place you ever dwell. I'm one of those people who needs to cultivate some kind of private head space where the magic happens in order to survive. A place filled with dragons, dark romanticism and Ewan McGregor naked and covered in glitter, to name a few. This is not how grownups are supposed to function, I guess, but I'm all in favor of what works these days. If your love for some story or concept or work of art can manage to enthrall you so completely that it helps you escape whatever dreary realities hold you captive, I think you should celebrate that. Bask in its glory.

From a philosophical standpoint, I get that being obsessed with objects and concepts is very much inferior to the supposed holy grail that is intersubjectivity. But that last one is notoriously difficult to achieve, and if anything, our obsessions can help us to build bridges towards one another.
The evolution of human interaction in the internet age has been discussed to death and it bores me, but I will say that it's a whole lot easier to find people who share your passions than it once was. It also gives you a wonderful shortcut to cut through all the bullshit get to know you stuff and get straight to the good bits. Just think of how lonely those Bronies would have been if it wasn't for each other. We can all make fun of that, and then retreat to our boring everyday lives and have meaningless conversations about nothing.

Stephen King once famously said that the one thing that makes characters fascinating are their obsessions, and I fully agree with him. An enamored mind can be a glorious thing. At a certain proximity, you can almost hear it buzzing with excitement at every new tidbit of collected knowledge. I like to be in the presence of it. Nothing pleases me more than to hear people talk about what makes them tick, even if it isn't what I'm down with. I don't care if it's entomology or space travel or whatever kind of mystical woo you are into. If it gets you off, I want to know.

I want to know your dark side. I want to know what eats you, what gets you up in the morning and what haunts you in the middle of the night when you can't sleep. I want to know what makes you forget about the crushing meaninglessness of it all, about the unimaginable expansions of space and time that surround us, here, in this space and time because I happen to share this space and time with you and that is incredible. If that thing is God, well, fuck it, I want to know about God. And if that thing is the definitive extended Hobbit movie, I want to know about that.
If you'll tell me, I'll listen.

Only then, will I ever renounce fish.

In other news:
"I bet there's porn for that."
(continuing the series of things best not said out loud during a mindfulness class)


  1. I played world of warcraft for years purely as an escape from reality into a world where I was powerful and had friends that depended on me. I stopped playing a couple of years ago because I realised the obsession had become unhealthy and that it was raining my life. Still, if anyone talks about it around me I immediately lose my inability to talk to people I don't know and get engaged and excited about the conversation. It pisses me off sometimes that I can't interact with people the way everyone else seems to be able to, without being drun. So it's nice every once in a while to appear comfortable in conversation.

  2. Thank you for your thoughts. I think we tend to overestimate the degree to which "everyone else seems to be able to". I think that's a sham, and the only way to make it look easy is to not give away anything of yourself that hurts or makes you vulnerable. But then what you are doing becomes very superficial and very boring.
    I didn't want to appear oblivious of the dangers of obsession when it takes you over to an unhealthy degree, but I think that's a different blog post and I wanted to devote some attention to the other side of the coin here, because I feel that side gets all the bad press. ;)

  3. I don't know about obsessions. I have OCD, so for me they will forever be connected with unwillingly thinking of losing limbs 24/7, and the accompanying rituals. That was a fun decade in my life.

    I love Harry Potter to an extraordinary degree, though. It's my happy place when everything else fails. I will read about the possible sentience of mandrakes and the boundaries of agency that house-elves are subjected to. I will research magical means of transport for hours. Luckily there are academic books about that now. By crazy people, sure, but some of them are very good.

  4. That's awesome ^_^
    (not about the OCD, though, but about having a happy place like that!)

  5. I just stumbled upon your blog and I can't help but fall in love.

    "If you are at all daunted by the insurmountability of genuine human interaction, obsessions are what helps you cope with life." I can't express how much I agree with this. I've got an obsession with Harry Potter, cats and, um, closing doors. You do not want to see me in a room with an open door.

    Anyway, I'm really interested in Adaptation now!

    <a href=">The Myopic Misfortune</a>

  6. Aww, thank you! You should see it, it's great :)

  7. Interesting, I tend to divide passions into valuable ones and less
    valuable ones, but you make me doubt. Maybe I'm just biased by personal
    experience. I used to be addicted to games, but although I was obsessed
    with it, I think it was nothing to be proud of. When I try to suck at
    playing guitar, juggling or programming, I'm somehow proud of it. At the
    end of the day it feels like you putted your time to good use, even if
    it is pretty useless career-wise.

    I always made a distinction
    between 'creative' stuff or learning new skills (which I deem valuable)
    and other passions, but now I don't know whether this distinction fits
    the bill. Or at least I realize how personal this distinction is.

    I too enjoy people being passionate about something. It's awesome
    seeing someone being passionate if you know exactly what is like to be
    passionate. :P And it surely functions as a bridge, especially if you
    can find a common ground.

    Nice post, I like it when people make me doubt. :)

  8. "Putted"? ;p
    Thanks for chiming in, it's always great to get outside confirmation that what I'm spouting isn't pure nonsense. I also get the division between 'useful' and 'not useful', but I tend to sometimes drive that too far, as with the whole "10 000 hours"-thing. If I know I'll never be good at something, is it still "useful" to suck at it? I say yes, but then "useful" becomes just another word for "fun", and the division starts to crumble...

  9. Thanks for pointing out my mistake! I just figured out "putted" actually is a word, but most definitely not the one I wanted to use xD.

    Well, I interpreted the 10,000 hours-thing as being about "valuable" instead of 'useful'. Playing guitar is not really useful in my case, but it is worth it. Both watching television and playing guitar can be fun, but in my opinion playing guitar clearly is more valuable.

    I don't exactly know what makes something valuable though. Maybe the value is not in the skill or creation itself, but in the fact somebody is willing to put a lot of effort in something she or he values. It is what writing a blog, philosophizing and playing guitar all have in common... This would be compatible with your life heuristics. If you enjoy sucking at something, it means it actually isn't about that 'something' at all, or at least there is more to it than just being good at something. It is a cliché, but I think there is some truth to the phrase "it is not about the destination, but about the journey itself".