They Say We’re Obsessed Like It’s a Bad Thing

I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but my life has been a series of creative obsessions. In high school, I started altering all my clothes. Sure, back then, in The Dark Ages of Refashioning, it was mostly switching out the buttons for something funkier and adding beads and sequins and lots of embroidery.

Which, actually, is a lot of the same stuff I’m doing now, come to think of it.

Between then and now, I entertained obsessions with making everything from polymer clay jewelry to art dolls. During one memorable period, I spent every day for over a year teaching myself how to bind books The Real Way. And if you’re going to make your own books, you need to learn how to make your own paper, right? I spent rather a lot of time teaching myself how to do that, too. (I say “teaching myself” rather than “learning” because I never took any classes but just got in there and muddled my way through it, which isn’t necessarily the way I’d advise others to do it, as you could cut WAY down on the amount of time it takes you if you have instruction provided by someone who knows what they’re doing).

That sounds innocuous, doesn’t it? I spent a lot of time learning how to do various things, right? But I suspect there’s more to it than that for many of us. It wasn’t just going into the studio and practicing sewing signatures. When I say “obsessed,” I mean there’s more than that. We’re making the books (or paintings or clothes or dolls or jewelry or whatever), but we’re also reading about them and talking about them, researching their history and making notes in our notebooks. We dream about them and, often, find ourselves jumping out of bed in the middle of the night because our brain, relaxed and drifting, has suddenly realized how to solve some tiny little puzzle about construction that had us stumped.

And our obsessions tend to follow us out of the studio. While “normal” people easily make cocktail party conversation about finances or politics or automobiles, we kind of start to fidget unless we can find someone else who wants to talk about headbands or Coptic bindings. Because we’ve been researching and reading and dreaming about this, we have rather a lot of information in there, after all. Why would we want to talk about gas mileage if we can find someone who’s willing to discuss sewing cradles?

What I’ve found is that artists are often like that. Oh, not all of them–many of them are perfectly normal, non-obsessive-about-things people who can fit in perfectly in any crowd. But many of us tend to latch onto something that interests us–anything, even things that have nothing to do with our art–to the exclusion of all else. I remember several years ago when I’d just read about the North Atlantic Garbage Patch and had become fascinated by this huge, horrible thing out there in the ocean and then had to put down the book to go to a potluck dinner. I assumed that everyone there would find the North Atlantic Garbage Patch as mesmerizing as I did.

Man, was I wrong. I was just a little too enthusiastic about sharing the information I’d just discovered, and I quickly noticed that unmistakable edging away. You know: when people suddenly remember they left the vegetables on the grill and have to go check Right Now.

I think that’s how it is for many of us all the time. We’re totally enchanted by something, and it kind of dominates our lives and conversations. But you know, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s actually a very, very good thing. With anything, there’s so much to learn and discover. Focusing on what interests us lets us do that. Sure, we may not be the most scintillating dinner party guest, but who knows? We might be–because you never know when sharing your fascination obsession with metal smithing might be the spark that sets someone else on their own fabulous creative path. And that’s a very good thing, indeed.


You can read more of Ricë’s musings, rants, and obsessions at Notes from the Voodoo Cafe.


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