Last week, Joyce Maynard and I were both keynote speakers at the Stanford Writers Conference. I feel like a bestselling multiple-book author by osmosis. Joyce mentioned that she suggests writers make a quick list of their obsessions, so they can see what the next book will be about (or something to that effect). This reminded me of how I used to tell the writers I would teach that there is no reason to try to hide your greatest and smallest hopes and fears, as well as all your strengths and weaknesses, because they will all be obvious from your writing no matter how hard you try to conceal them.
So, this week, our "Weekly Blog Topic" (delivered via email to all our Authors and Members) was "What are your obsessions? Your passions? Your fixations?" A la Alan Black, I am making a list. I'm also just going to pick one of those, my obsessions. First, a definitions from the authoratative interweb, rather than a real dictionary:
- Compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety.
- A compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion.
According to my online source, the mystically named "answers.com," it also has meanings specific to Sports Science & Medicine (A thought that persistently recurs despite attempts to resist it. An obsession provokes anxiety and dominates a person, although the person regards it as being senseless), and in Psychoanalysis (The term obsession refers to images, ideas, or words that force themselves into the subject's consciousness against their will, and which momentarily deprive them of the ability to think and sometimes even to act). The term is derived from the Latin obsidere, which means "to sit before," "to lay siege to," and figuratively "to control an audience." From this is derived the noun obsidio, which means "detention," or "captivity," and figuratively "a pressing danger." A bibliography referencing Freud and others, and containing any relevant attribution for all this can be found at: http://www.answers.com/topic/obsession.
Out of the two standard definitions above, I would like to express a strong preference for "2." That is "a compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion." The first definition would be a list that would provoke most people to write terrible, inaccessible plays in France (a list that might include death, regret, being unable to change, and other terrifying subjects). So here is a list of my personal top ten most common compulsive, often unreasonable ideas or emotions:
1. That I have to become a better, smarter, kinder, happier, more effective and more mature person immediately
2. That I have to I have to write all of my books and stories before I die and that they have to be really good
3. That I am not doing enough to be a perfect partner, and that someday when I am a parent, I will not be doing enough to be perfect at that either, and that somehow related to this is that neither Abe nor I can ever die
4. That I am Batman
5. That Abe and I will have a forties-style supper club someday where we sing every night and raise our children
6. That I cannot let anyone down ever
7. That Red Room will become the greatest online community in the world and change lives and become a cultural institution and that it will be a beacon of hope and no one will hate it or sneer at it cynically
8. That feminism will prevail/that feminism will never prevail
9. That I must collect and hoard all cultural artifacts that have any sentimental meaning for me or anyone
10. That maybe it's not too late to guest star on my favorite television shows from the seventies and if so, what would happen in that episode
And as it turns out, my advice is true: All of these things are obvious in my fiction and nonfiction, so no reason to hide them.