Thursday, May 05, 2016

Taking it to the max: The life of a serial obsessionist

   I’ve always been mad for the rush of falling head-first into new things. It’s a habit that made my love life a bit challenging for many years, but I’m much better at channeling that intensity into more constructive pursuits now that I’m older.
     Whatever it is that I’m falling into, it’s got all my attention.  
     If it's romance, you're going to feel profoundly treasured, at least for a little while (and much longer if you're Paul). If it’s a work project, I’m going to be your dream employee, because I will think non-stop about that project from a million different angles to get it as right as possible. 
     If it’s a recreational pursuit, just accept that I'm going to be beating on a duct-tape-covered tire in the basement for a couple of years (my taiko phase). Or bringing home yet another finch for the enormous and cacophonous bird enclosure in the living room window (caged-bird phase, although damn, the baby quails were cute). Or returning from the paint store with armloads of discounted spray paints in strange colours and textures (reviving-tired-furniture phase).
     My choices haven’t always been healthy, but they’ve definitely been diverse. Body-building; “mixed-tape” CDs for every occasion and everyone I knew; photo videos for every family member’s birthday; a rather odd period when I built and decorated giant picture frames and hung the unusual creations all over the house. When an obsession’s got me, you'll know it.
     The really big obsessions drive my career choices and my romantic relationships. The lesser ones guide how I use my free time. Most last four to five years. Some are shorter but no less intense, like when I got obsessed by the sheer wrongness and stupidity of the leaky-condo scandal and could barely talk about anything else for a year and a half.
     The intensity dies down eventually for me, but no obsession goes away completely. It just assumes a less high-profile position in the hierarchy of my interests.
     I still enjoy bird-watching, for instance, but no longer feel compelled to note every single cheep and who might be making it, or to keep a stack of eight or nine bird identification books always within arm’s reach.
     I still care passionately about issues around sex work, but I no longer pin unsuspecting people to the wall at social gatherings with heated rants about why they should give a shit (well, not as often, anyway). I can drive down a Vancouver residential street now without checking every apartment for signs of moisture ingress.
     Working in journalism and communications all these years has been a perfect career fit for my obsessiveness. The work is fundamentally a series of short-term projects that really suit an immersion approach. I was very happy at the Times Colonist for 15 years because there was no shortage of new civic or social issues waiting for me to obsess over them.
     My spare-time obsessions have been more variable. My current one, which is still very much in its early heady days, is learning how to accompany myself as I sing and play the accordion.
     I’ve been through several versions of this obsession – let’s call it “Jody Experiences Music.” Performing music and singing have been life staples since long before my pre-teen cousins and I first picked up brooms to "strum" in the Saskatoon PMQs where they were living and pretended to be The Beatles. But every new manifestation is a rush.
     Just on the music front alone, I’ve been a piano teacher; singer in a band; choir accompanist; taiko performer; house-party pianist; seniors’ home entertainer; amateur opera singer (that was a particularly weird one). I spent two summers not too long ago testing out busking in Victoria, but gave it up after I realized passers-by assumed me to be a sad and desperate homeless woman left to eke out a living with my accordion.
     I’ve secretly dreamed for decades of a gig playing music to an inattentive crowd in some sleepy beachside bar somewhere in Mexico, and suspect that my current accordion/singing obsession is related to that. Last week I also caught myself wondering about joining a choir again when we’re back in B.C., or starting a strange little band dedicated to playing surprising covers in surprising ways.
     Like I say, there are dark sides to my obsessions. Just ask Times Colonist editor Dave Obee about my Andrew Yam period, which he had no choice but to endure for one long year back when I was a columnist and shared a tiny office with him. Or talk to my kids about the time when they were teenagers and I would snatch whatever food or drink they were about to consume out of their hands and ask them if they had any idea how many carbohydrates were in it.
     But mostly I’ve loved this life of serial obsessions. It drives me to learn all kinds of things I wouldn’t have thought to learn. It pushes me out of my comfort zone to have new experiences that I wouldn’t have thought to have. It helps me shed that which has lost meaning, making room for something new.
     There can be a blah period in between the end of one obsession and the start of another. I don’t like it, but it’s necessary. You need a little breathing time between the fading light of the last obsession and the dazzling brilliance of the next one. (Every new beginning is some other beginning’s end.) Plus the whole point of obsession is that it’s a surprise, which means you never see it coming.
     But then it’s there, so sweet with its promise of discovery and newness, luring me up to play the accordion in the overheated second bedroom when I ought to be working, rekindling my hopes for a late-life career as a Mexican lounge singer. And just like that, I’m in love again.