Boy fights and lifelong obsessions

Levi and Bo. Can you tell who is who? Neither can we.

Watching dogs play is one of my favorite things to do. On Saturday, Celeste and I let golden twins Bo and Levi loose in Liz’s backyard and hilarious romping ensued. I kept saying “boy fights!” as their behavior just made me think of this. Observing Bo and Levi was very much like watching four-year-old boy children wrestle and play, get irritated with each other, cease all motion, and then start up again five seconds later. For those who share my love of boy fights/dogs playing, a more complete slideshow is on the ol’ dog blog.

In a related note, seeing Uggie on stage was the most exciting part of the Oscars for me.

I am finally reading Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak, Memory, and I’ve started the chapter where he describes the genesis of his deep obsession with butterflies. His fascination with and desire for lepidoptera began when he was very young. As a little boy, he was chided for “spoiling walks” by disappearing into the brush with his net, chasing after a fleeting colorful wing. When he was six or seven, he wept pitifully when his hefty governess sat down on a tray of his recent captures, crushing them to indistinguishable, ashy bits. Nabokov did not grow out of this mania for pretty winged insects. His research and scientific contributions to the field are still being discussed today.

I’m not sure why all of this surprised me, that Nabokov’s love of butterflies began when he was a boy and marked the duration of his life. It makes sense that our most passionate obsessions are formed and solidified when we are children. I think of Grace, who was fervently attuned to fashion even when she was a tiny thing. (She once wore a 101 Dalmatians bathing suit, a tutu, and crocodile-skin cowboy boots to church. My mother was tired of doing battle with her over what she wore and so the miniature fashionista had her day.) Today, Grace is still very much involved with the art of wearing clothes. Or there’s Kelsey, whose favorite game as a child was playing office or playing with her “work ‘tuff.” Kelsey still loves organizing, planning, and achieving in that wonderfully efficient and self-created work environment. (Good for her.) Sam, to my father’s great relief and joy, was fixated with sports, particularly any sports involving a ball, since he was a baby.

Me? Well, of course it has always been animals, mainly dogs, and reading. (I didn’t have invisible friends, like some children; I had invisible animals, which I somewhat creepily called “spirit pets.” I named them all and tore their photos out of National Geographics and encyclopedias and plastered them on the wall next to my bed.) There are some things we don’t ever grow out of and lately, I like remembering that.

Buzzing: Inheriting the family “crazy”

I want to BE this woman. Source: BBC.

Mental stability has never been one of my strong points.

This does not mean I am prone to hysterics or wild bouts of unpredictable emotion. From the outside, you would never know that I was psychologically shaky or possessed. I like to keep it quiet; my neuroses are pleasantly hushed.

More recently, I have been thinking of my brain’s inability to calm down, to move on, to focus as an inherited trait. Mental disturbance runs in my paternal family. It follows a spectrum, from clinical mental illness/borderline genius to sociable obsession. As far as I can tell, I’m definitely on the lower end of the intelligence slide with the manifestation of my instability rooted soundly in friendly obsessions.

My father is an interesting example of this murky family phenomenon. He is highly intelligent and extremely humble about it. As my grandmother likes to say, “You’d never guess that he was actually smart.” He jokes around and plays with the maturity of a 7-year-old. Yet he has three master’s degrees, in electrical engineering, computer engineering, and robotics; Mom says he was just a few classes away from his Ph.D. (but then I was born and ruined everything). He worked on an algorithm for years to figure out how to combine tracts of land in auctions; he solved it and was the first person to do so. He worked on the team in Boca Raton that built the first personal printer.  He programs computers in his sleep. Like his four siblings and parents, he has this genius thing working for him.

But he also is obsessive. I was thinking today that I am like him in this way. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit the genius bit, but I definitely picked up his inclination for obsession.

This is what I mean by “friendly obsession.” A sociable or socially normative obsessive personality, as manifested in my family, means that you have a tendency to get locked into one idea, hobby, or task and you are unable to let it go for a given period of time.

This is how it worked with Dad. Every few months or so, he would discover a new talent of his and make this new talent his whole life, his central pursuit. For example, he decided, when he was 30, that his new hobby would be tennis. He started playing tennis every day. He bought a device to string his own rackets. In a few years, he was playing semi-pro and winning state tournaments. A few years later, it was piano. He went out an bought a glossy, beautiful baby grand piano and plunked it in his office. He taught himself how to read music and started playing the piano every night. A year later, it was guitar. He bought five guitars and taught himself how to play them (and me, eventually). Then it was model airplanes. Then it was complex building and landscape projects. Then it was hockey. And so forth.

You see this obsessive trait played out in my paternal family. For my grandfather, it was bodybuilding. For my grandmother, it was shelter dogs and Dobermans for a while; now it’s NASCAR. For my uncle, it is his prized fleet of motorcycles. Everyone has their THING.

And I have mine. You know what it is without me having to say it again. In my own cycle of life obsessions, I don’t remember one being this powerful and affecting to my daily functioning. But there you have it. When I was young, I was obsessed with writing novellas and performing historical plays. In late elementary school and early middle school, my obsession with dogs began. Naturally, that one hasn’t died out. In high school, I was obsessed with guitar. College distracted me from this obsessive tendency for a solid four years, although it manifested itself in the continual drive to achieve and make straight A’s and write excellent papers.

Now, almost a year out of college, I find the obsession creeping back. It’s the more predictable, stubborn type. It leaks into my dreams and my solitary moments. Dangerously, it crowds out all other disciplines and interests. For Guion’s sake, I try not to talk about it (“it” being dogs, of course). This is going to be a long year, this Year of Patience. To keep my spirit aloft, I have devised a series of monthly goals (more drawn-out and relaxed versions of my Weekly Challenges) to keep me distracted from how long I have to wait for a puppy. It will be good for me. This is my new mantra.

Essentially, all you need to know is that I am an ideal candidate for becoming one of those Crazy Dog Ladies. You know the type. High-waisted jeans, outdated hair, fanny pack full of liver treats, screen print T-shirt with a cameo of her favorite breed? Yeah. That’s me at 50. Or earlier, if I’m not careful…