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My Obsession (er, Passion)

Looking at the definitions of obsession and compulsion that include very negative overtones, I'm going with describing my life's animating passion: story-telling.

I love to read or hear stories told by others. Stand-up comics are my heroes and novelists my idols.

I also love to tell stories (verbally or in writing, although I'm a lot better on paper, after about three jillion revisions). If I don't have a good true story to tell, I'll simply make something up. (It's not a lie if it's a Story!) Making up stories is so much fun it's become a kind of sub-passion of its own.

I used to think I was anti-social because I prefer to go places by myself most of the time. I actually am highly anti-social, but that isn't why I like to go places alone (it is why I generally prefer not to go out at all, but that's a completely different discussion). I prefer to go out in public alone so I am free to eaves-drop and spy on people around me. I listen to snippets of conversation (often writing them down if they're especially pithy) to use later in a story. I watch interesting-looking people and make up stories in my head about where they are from, what they are up to now and what they are going to do when they leave that place. Those snippets of conversations or characters sometimes resurface months or even years later at the most opportune times when I'm working on a novel and I need an interesting anecdote, quote or character.

I used to have yellow pocket folder labeled “Ideas”. It contained an incredible assortment of paper napkins (mostly with food or wine stains), matchbooks, note paper, torn-out magazine pages, and god only knows what else, each one with a scribbled note about an interesting thing or person I saw, something I overheard or an idea I dreamed up while I was supposed to be doing something else. I probably still have that folder somewhere, because I could never part with such a treasure. These days I don't write down ideas on napkins. Now I've gone high tech: I email them to myself. I have a folder in my Gmail account called “Writing” where I save all kinds of things from cool quotes to sketchy outlines for novels. I browse through that folder when I need ideas or inspiration.

There is probably some kind of clinical diagnosis for my obsession with words and stories. I don't want to know what it is, and I sure as heck don't want to be cured. I may not exactly live in the same Reality as the other people around me, but that's okay with me because I'm not very interested in regular old, ordinary Reality, anyway. I live in my own tricked-out version of Reality, which I savor and cherish with all my heart and soul.

Others often say I live in a dream world. I used to resent that, until I faced the fact that it's true. I live in a fictional world of my own creation that is not terribly unlike Lake Woebegon, only without the Lutherans and Swedes (mine happens to be populated by German Catholics and Southern Baptists – which is a story all by itself).

I have stopped resenting others for telling me I should grow up, quit playing make-believe and face Reality. Instead, I feel compassion for people who have only one Reality that they can't change whenever they want to, to make it more beautiful or entertaining – or, even, just for the hell of it. How sad for them.


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