Non-fiction Fix: Magnificent Obsessions

In the film The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Janeane Garofalo’s character hosts a radio call-in show for pets and their people. In response to one caller’s fussing, she asserts that “It’s okay to love your pets. It’s just not okay to love your pets.”  It’s meant to be a gentle jab at people who take the care and pampering of their respective Fluffys and Mr. Bunny-boos a little too seriously…but what, exactly, does “too seriously” mean?

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not canine couture is a good idea, you could probably swap any noun into that sentence and have a little bit of a point…unless, of course, it were a noun of which you were particularly fond. People’s hobbies and interests are very much like their romantic choices: from the inside, it’s a match made in heaven. From the outside, the attraction isn’t always apparent.

For example, loads of people enjoy playing Scrabble. However, only a comparatively small sample of the population loves it enough to play competitively.  The same principle applies to growing roses and competitive eating, just to name a few other activities that have gone pro.  What is it about a hobby or other leisure pursuit that makes a person want to pursue it so single-mindedly, with such focus?

I’ll be darned if I know, but I think it’s great! If you stop and think about it, just about everybody you meet has some sort of hobby, pursuit, or interest that makes them happy, an identity beyond who they are at work, school, or even, sometimes, the bosom of the family.  And occasionally, these interests evolve into quests, like Richard Koeppel’s desire to see every bird on earth, Ammon Shea’s endeavor to read the Oxford English Dictionary (yes, all of it), or Mike Walsh’s adventures while bowling across America. Julie Powell mastered the art of French cooking. Angela Ruggiero broke barriers in hockey. Countless kids across America excel at spelling.  Anything that could conceivably be done for fun has the potential to morph into somebody’s magnificent obsession. In my humble opinion, the appropriate responses to such diversity and originality in the human animal include “Woohoo!”, “Yippee!” and “Huzzah!”

Quite frequently these great loves spring up around television shows or films; however, just about anything can capture an individual’s imagination, from chess to filmmaking to no holds barred fighting.  Authors themselves don’t get off the hook so lightly, either. What is it that posesses a person to spend a good portion of her/his life researching, say, pencils, hedgehogs, or milk? And, of course, traditional activites such as stamp collecting and scrapbooking continue to be popular as people share their interests with family and trusted friends, creating new generations of happy hobbyists.

This means that anybody you see in public on a given day could be a lot more interesting than s/he initially appears. The impeccably dressed executive sipping her soy latte at the local coffee shop could be a whiz at balloon sculpture or a champion stepper. The perfectly inoccuous gentleman sitting across from you on the bus could be a master of barbeque or an air guitar impresario. And even folks who express external signs of belonging to one interest could also be involved in one that’s completely different.

What a world, eh?

Now it’s your turn: what’s your passion, hobby, fandom, or obsession? What one topic would you write a book about, if you had world enough, and time?

–Leigh Anne


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2 responses to “Non-fiction Fix: Magnificent Obsessions

  1. MA

    This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read because it gets one to think and look beyond just what they ‘see’ in their daily life. Like for example one of my favorite things to do- I don’t know if you would call it a hobby unless I pair it with my knitting/crafting/painting etc.- but I LOVE to zone out to heavy metal. I eat it up like a pumpkin pie! Who would have thought?

    Great post Leigh Anne!

  2. Oh wow, thanks M.A.! I think metal definitely counts as an interest/hobby, though I’ll defer to Tim for a ruling. ;)


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