Obsession (Not the Fragrance)

The word “obsession” reminds me of those Calvin Klein TV commercials from the 80’s. You know, the ones featuring a beautiful couple gazing passionately at one another, in the shadows, and ending with the woman whispering something mock-profound, like: “Where do I end and you begin? Obsession.” (If she really doesn’t know, then she’s got some serious identity issues.)

Obsession is a word I know well, and not because of Calvin Klein. I also am familiar with “obsessed” and “obsessive” and “obsessive compulsive.” I know these words well because, well, I become easily obsessed. It’s (only a little) comforting to know it’s a trait I share with other Aspies.

The object of my obsession changes. Not day to day, but more like year to year. I’m not someone who, for example, devotes his life to building model trains. I don’t think I could devote my life to anything. With me, I get deep into a subject, and it’s like I sink my teeth into it and can’t let go. Or a better metaphor would be that my teeth get stuck and I’m forced to chew and chew and chew until I’ve finally devoured the subject, to the point that no one wants to hear anymore about it. Ever. Again.

Over the past year, my obsession has been tennis. (Were you surprised, given my last post?) That includes not just tennis players, but tennis tournaments,  techniques (I’ve spent MONTHS practicing my “kick” serve), strategy, the history of tennis, ranking the greatest players, and perhaps most of all, tennis racquets (or as some prefer, especially those who have a pathological hatred of the French, rackets).

For the uninitiated — and that includes close to seven billion people, I’m guessing — there are hundreds of models of tennis racquets. Thousands, if you include historical racquets (I can tell you about the development from wood to metal to graphite to present day graphite blends, if you’re interested … which you’re probably not).

Different racquets have different characteristics: flex/stiffness, size of the face, how “headlight” or “headheavy,” the size of the beam, the length of the racquet, their swingweight. And then there are the strings, which are as important as the racquet. There’s multifilament and the newer polyester and nylon strings. But the gold standard is still natural gut. (It’s not cat gut, by the way, but cow gut. I’m not sure which is more disturbing, but it smells when it’s wet — ponder that.) Besides the type of string, the tension is important too; pros, and even casual players now, use everything from super loose (45 pounds per square inch), to being so tense the strings frequently break (75 pounds per square inch). If that’s not complicated enough, most players now use a hybrid mix of two types of strings … which often have different tensions!

The only silver lining is the practical application of this knowledge, that is, it helps me choose a racquet, or should in theory anyway. But what it’s done mostly is make me question whether my racquet or strings (or grip, or vibration dampener, or anti-sweat gel or whatever tennis-related thing I’m obsessing over) could be better. I’ve tried out about 40 different racquets over the past several years and only recently did I find what I think might (I cautiously say “might”) be The One. So, to a large extent, it’s knowledge just for knowledge’s sake. It also leads to new obsessions, like the one that is supplanting tennis (but that’s for another post).

Obsession is also distracting. Not distracting to me, but distracting to what I’m supposed to be doing, whether at home or work (or, in the past, at school). I’ve read Asperger’s books pointing out that being obsessive can be a positive, because detail-oriented people who can focus on a single topic for long stretches without interruption are often valued. In other words, obsession is actually less, not more, of a distraction. That view was recently validated when German software company SAP announced it’s actively seeking to hire Aspies. And I find some truth in it: every group, family or enterprise needs different personality types to function effectively. But for me, it’s a perpetual struggle to hold back the obsession demon, to concentrate on all the many work or home tasks I’m supposed to, rather than the particular subject I want to. (Case in point — I’m at work, and yet writing this blog; in the interest of full disclosure, though, I don’t have much work to do today.)

I’m not sure if, on balance, my obsessive nature is a positive or negative, although I’m leaning toward the latter. But I also know that fighting it only makes it worse, and makes me unhappy. So I try to manage my obsession the best I can, to let it run free until it (hopefully) tires itself out. There’s also the pharmacological route. But that too is for another post.

Hmm. Maybe my next obsession should be time management techniques.

(Any thoughts on techniques to manage obsessions are welcome.)

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4 thoughts on “Obsession (Not the Fragrance)

  1. My obsession is music. I can listen to it for hours and hours, exploring new music online, posting the best of what I find, though no one seems all that interested. 🙂 Someone told me today I have great taste in music. Finally! Haha. Anyway, I do find that when I am particularly stressed, it’s all I want to do. When I went back to school this year, I actually had to limit my music time, or else it would swallow everything else. I think part of it is a way to process emotions for me, but if I could do it all over again, go back to my early teens, I would’ve studied music more intensely, maybe even been a DJ, not kidding. I do have other interests, being recently diagnosed as well, it seems Asperger’s and all the literature I can get my hands on, that is my present special interest, but a great one to have. I am immersed in it now, and it’s all I can talk about, even though I can see other people thinking “is she still talking about that?” It will subside eventually, but not until I know everything there is to know about it. I think it’s a great trait to have, and yes, we possess abilities to focus like no one else, and it must be appreciated for what it is. Allows us to understand things on a level that no one else does, and if you can find someone else who shares your interest, you’re gold!

    • Music is important to me too, but I doubt I share your expertise. 🙂 My current musical obsession, which I know is pedestrian, is music from the 60s. I enjoy it all in its eclectic glory — the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Neil Young, Elvis, the Who, Super tramp, etc. But I’m curious to hear your recommendations, which I’m sure are more refined and unique.

      It’s interesting that you use music to process emotions. I think I use music to evoke emotions, but maybe it’s partly processing too. When I feel sad or depressed, I often play something upbeat and optimistic (the Beatles seems to work well, at least their earlier songs), and it instantly changes my mood. It’s scary, in fact, how quickly it changes! I even developed a musical ritual before taking exams in law school: on the way to the test room, I would play U2’s “Desire” to get me to focus on the task at hand.

      And sometimes, when I want to feel a deep emotion, something like sadness, but I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, I play a song like James Taylor’s “Carolina on My Mind.” That always almost brings me to tears, for some reason. I guess it’s the beauty he describes, or the intensity of his feelings, which I, well, imitate. I wish I understood why I use music this way. Maybe you have some insight? How do you use music to process your emotions? … And what would you play, if you were a DJ. 🙂

  2. I find when I’m sad, I need to hear music that matches it. So the opposite to you, I guess. Fast music can irritate me if it doesn’t match my mood, same with sad/slow music. I love to dance and sing too, so it is a truly personal experience for me. Music affects me on a deep level, maybe allows me to access parts of myself that I feel out of touch with. Interestingly, as my marriage went on, longer than it should have, I noticed I listened to less and less music, the unhappier/detached I became. Since we split, I listen all of the time, the way I used to do. A few weeks ago, I had a very difficult and sad experience, and found that I absolutely could not listen to music to match my mood, for fear of its effect on me. I was already feeling it enough, didn’t need any help.
    If I were a DJ, I would just play the best music of all kinds, back to back, blended seamlessly. 🙂

  3. Pingback: My Evening with Dr. Sheldon Cooper (But is he an Aspie role model?) | Undercover Aspie

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