Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Obsession Questionnaire

Our culture is suspicious of enthusiasm. A kid who is crazy about dinosaurs or a game; a teen who is always on social media; an adult who spends all his free time perfecting his imaginary world - all are likely to be told that they're overdoing it, that they're obsessed, that they're wasting their time and should be doing something else.

And, okay, sometimes that's true. We've all heard the horror stories about the couple who let their real baby die while they looked after a virtual one, the gamers who died because they couldn't get off the game, the artists who starve or sponge off their relatives, the writers whose marriage breaks up because writing takes precedence over the marriage, the little old ladies who cannot stop crocheting doilies.

But think about Professor Tolkien, using his spare time to create, first imaginary languages, then vast complex worlds, mythologies, and cultures to provide the context of those languages. Could The Lord of the Rings have become a global phenomenon if he hadn't built it on this foundation of apparent wasted time?

No. No more than Michael Jordan could have been paid to play basketball if he hadn't played and played and played for years before he ever went pro. No more than Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers could have become the perfect dance duo without dancing till their feet bled.

Before you sell a book, you have to write one. Before you get hired to illustrate, you have to put together a portfolio. And before you do either of these things, you have to spend a lot of time doing things with no obvious relationship to reality. Things that look, to people who aren't doing them, like obsessive time wasting. And you have to do it knowing that there is a very good chance you will never be paid for anything related to what you're doing, even if you get very good at it indeed.

After all, the demand for doilies will always be less than the supply churned out by people who like to crochet.

So how do you tell when you're crossing the line?

Well, look around you.

Is your family healthy? Can you remember their names? Do you know who their friends are? Have you spoken to everyone who shares a residence with you in the last 24 hours? Did any of these conversations involve subjects other than your Project?

Is the cat happy?

When you hear a loud crash and smell smoke, do you get up and take steps to understand what happened?

When did you eat last? Was it real food, or junk? Who prepared it?

Can you see the floor of your house or is it so covered with dirt and junk that you have to follow little paths through it?

Did the work you are contracted to do - either as part of paid employment or as part of your obligation as a member of your household - get done? Was it done well, or did someone have to come after you and do it over?

How many projects, of any kind, did you in fact complete during the past year? How many did you start? How much of this ratio (which is bound to be depressing in and of itself) is due to your own choices?

Under what circumstances do you choose The Project over:
Your health?
Your loved ones' health?
Making money?
Spending time with your loved ones?

Does the way you conduct The Project allow you to do so in conjunction with the above priorities?

Answer those questions, and be honest with yourself.

If you actually have a problem, the answers will point you straight at it. But you probably don't. You've probably just internalized the idea that if you like it, and you're not getting paid for it, it must be bad for you.

Also, feeling guilty is the least fun and constructive way to procrastinate.

Get over it.

No comments:

Post a Comment