Friday, September 26, 2008

Reading-Triggered Obsessions

If I were a superhero, ragweed would be my kryptonite. Or maybe Ragweed Man would be my nemesis. The ragweed levels in the pollen count yesterday were "very high," which pretty much meant my day was shot. It makes me a little sniffly/sneezy and makes my eyes burn, but the main effect is that it saps me of all strength, energy and coherence. And since the medication to fight the effects also saps me of all strength, energy and coherence, there's not much I can do about it. I dragged myself to ballet through sheer force of will, but then had to lean on the barre to rest after each exercise and wheezed after every floor combination, especially when we did jumps.

I was okay for brainstorming, but when it came to actual writing, I just found myself staring into space and unable to string words together. So I gave up and let myself daydream the scenes I'd just brainstormed. Maybe if I can pull my head together, I'll be able to write those scenes today, and they should be pretty vivid after watching the movie of them in my head a few times.

One highlight of my day was My Anchorman filling in for the noon news (since the allergies have meant I'm definitely not awake for his usual shift). There was some minor snarking with the weatherman, but the really good thing was that it was the "adopt a pet" segment day, so I'd get to see him with a cute little animal. It turned out that this week's pet was a little dog that was fairly shellshocked (from a shelter on the coast, where she was during the hurricane, which meant she was the quietest Jack Russell terrier I've ever seen), so the SPCA guy just held her in his lap instead of letting her run around on the floor and try to make friends with the anchor like they usually do. I'd been kind of hoping to see how he'd react to that, but then I might have been a puddle of goo if he'd been too adorable with a dog. I did notice that while the SPCA guy was talking about the dog and the camera zoomed in for a close-up of her, this hand appeared from the side to let her sniff, and then she wagged her tail and licked the fingers, which was cute enough. It's important that a man be good with dogs. Not that I currently have one, but the way a man interacts with dogs can tell you a lot about him.

Anyway ... Something I ran across when I was digging up my Trixie Belden books reminded me that the obsession/reading habits thing can go both ways. While a lot of my reading choices were made because of the latest obsession, there have been a lot of times when something I read made me obsessed with something that I carried over into real life. Sometime around late first grade, I got a book that was a collection of bios of famous dancers, which, put together, gave a kind of history of dance. The cover is falling off, so I must have read and re-read it, and that was largely what spurred me desperately wanting to take ballet in second grade -- where I promptly became disappointed with how boring it was that ballet class was more about exercising than dancing. I'd taken a summer preschool dance program when I was three or four -- something my mom signed me up for when the growth charts indicated that, based on my height at that age, I would end up being something like five-foot nine, and so she wanted me to learn some grace to carry that height (I didn't quite make it to five-foot four). At that age, they may call it "ballet" but it mostly involves skipping around and waving scarves and stuff like that, so a real ballet class came as quite a shock. I re-read that book this week, and I'm amazed that I found it so inspiring that it triggered such a deep desire to dance. It also contained plenty of references to the fact that the first few years of dance training are almost all just exercising to build muscles to be able to really dance, so I shouldn't have been so surprised.

I don't remember if the horse phase was triggered by a book, or vice versa. I do remember reading Black Beauty, but I don't know if I read the book and became obsessed with horses or if I read the book because of a horse obsession. I know that girls around that age generally do go through a horse phase, and as I lived at a historic military post at the time where they used horses quite frequently for ceremonial purposes and we also lived very near the facility for horse shows and jumping competitions, so we often went over to watch them practice, I did have a fair amount of exposure to horses. I have a vague recollection of reading Black Beauty because some friends did, so it may be that their horse obsession triggered my reading which triggered my horse phase.

Sixth grade was a big year for reading-based obsessions. I read the Anne Frank diary, which triggered a lifelong fascination with World War II (the fact that I was living in Germany at the time may have had something to do with it). I read the Chronicles of Narnia, which led to The Lord of the Rings, and then a complete fascination with fantasy. I recall wanting to only wear this one particular nightgown that seemed like something you'd wear in a fantasy world, and then I had houseslippers with embroidery on the toes that seemed marginally medieval, so getting ready for bed meant a trip into Narnia every night. The second half of that school year, I think I obsessed over everything I read. I didn't just read a book. I lived it for a while. That may have had something to do with the fact that I was deeply unhappy. We moved to a different place in February, which meant changing schools mid-year. I'd been very popular in the old school, I'd been involved in the choir and band, I was a class officer, and my teacher was a neighbor. The new school didn't have a band, I couldn't get into choir coming in mid-year, and nobody liked me (I later found out that my teacher had prepared the class for my arrival by telling them how smart I was and that I was going to make them all look bad if they didn't do better. That would explain a lot.). The school also had this weird accelerated schedule, so there wasn't much in the way of recess, and there was only a short "snack" time to eat at your desk instead of lunch, and then the school day ended at two, which meant I had a lot of free time when I got home. With no friends, that meant I had a lot of time to read and live in imaginary worlds. That was also the year I read a book about gymnastics and got obsessed with that. I'd done gymnastics sporadically when I was younger, then read this book and wanted desperately to get back into it. The one good thing about the move was that the new place did have gymnastics classes. Oh yeah, and the castle on the hill over the neighborhood. That was cool, and I'm sure it really helped fuel the fantasy obsession.

I was going to say that I seem to have grown out of my reading influencing my real life, but then I remembered that one of the reasons I went to Oxford on a vacation was because of Connie Willis's books (though there were also practical matters, as it was close enough to London to be convenient, but far less expensive). And then I wrote an entire series of books largely because I wanted a Harry Potter-like world that involved more adult issues ...

1 comment:

Carradee said...

*grins and gives an electronic hug*

If there's an Earth Fare in your area, get a jar of Natural Factors brand Quercetin. It's a natural remedy that raises your tolerance for allergens. Takes about a day to build up in your system, but it works great!

Ah, reading-triggered obsessions. If I hadn't started writing to begin with because I couldn't find books of the type I wanted to read, then I'd have grounds for saying I didn't know what you were talking about…

*whistles faux-innocently*