Thursday, January 30, 2014

Artistic Obsessions

Lately I’ve been reminded of a certain facet of my personality which I thought had perhaps faded away with adolescence.  When I was eight, you see, I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time (I read everything at age eight, whether or not it was age appropriate – I had a reading addiction).  Then I read the book again sixteen times between then and my high school graduation at seventeen.  That’s slightly more than two readings a year.  Not to mention that I also read and reread The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, plus all the scraps and pieces that I could find in the Books of Lost Tales that Christopher Tolkien published, apparently to feed the mania of people like me. 

In the middle of that period of frantic reading, the Peter Jackson movies came out.  My parents had chosen to limit their children’s exposure to pop culture quite strictly, but they made an exception for those movies.  We even went to see them in theaters.  Of course, that only served to fuel my obsession.  I knew detail upon detail about the history of Middle Earth.  I more or less understood the etymological roots of Tolkien’s languages (though I was at least not obsessed enough to actually learn them, thank goodness).  The first story I wrote stole its mythology and geography wholesale from Tolkien, so I can say he basically got me writing.

Still, I remain unapologetic (if somewhat embarrassed).

Details are essential!
You see, the things I’ve been obsessed with always seem to make a very strong creative mark on me.  From Tolkien, I’d say that I learned the value of working out the world of each story in great detail – something that applies in fantasy and regular fiction alike.  Also, I learned to appreciate words and their beauty.  Tolkien knew how to write with excruciating loveliness, and he gave me the ambition to do the same. 

About the time I went to college, though, my decade of Tolkien obsession came quietly to an end.  Suddenly there were new ideas, new books, new movies, and my mind went gallivanting away into such territories.  The next obsession took a little while to emerge, and was far more unexpected than Tolkien.  It all began when Vasnefy introduced me to a Japanese animé.  I don’t know how she found it, but we watched the series, and then both became intrigued and went off to discover more.

That was when I found out about the infinite reams of manga that the Japanese produce.

I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I’m reasonably visually oriented.  Suddenly there was an entire, untapped world of beautifully drawn graphic novels, telling a huge variety of stories.  I began to read and kept right on doing so for three years.  Sometimes, now, I ask myself what the appeal was.  The greatest number of those manga are not particularly memorable or influential.  They certainly made their impression on me, though.

I think the element that pulled me in was the depiction of Japanese culture (something I knew little about but found intriguing) combined with the presentation of ordinary kids doing (mostly) ordinary things.  I went to an all girls’ school in primary and secondary school, and my parents are not the most sociable.  My social life was limited to a unisex education, plus interaction with family and a select few friends.  It was fascinating to read stories of kids about my age going to school, thinking about their future, interacting with friends and romantic interests.  I guess maybe manga gave me a vicarious experience of a different kind of growing up than I went through myself.  I can definitely say that it gave me a whole wealth of ideas about how people outside of my own life would act or think.  That's incredibly helpful for a writer.

Once I had really grown up, though, the attraction faded.  I even thought I’d outgrown my tendency to obsess.

Wrong!  It’s still there.  It’s funny to discover how one’s personality really doesn’t change all that much.  It might express itself differently, but the same basic tendencies remain the same.  What is my new obsession, you may ask.  My answer: Doctor Who.  I have become a fledgling Whovian
Maybe the time vortex looks like this...
What lured me in was a combination of assurances of how good the series is from friends and interest in several of the actors who have since appeared in other movies or shows.  I thought I might as well give it a try.  I watched the first episode of the revived series just for fun, thought ‘oh, interesting and funny!’ and then went back to doing various other things.  But when a chance arose to return to it, suddenly I found myself sucked in (as if by the Time Vortex itself!) and I’m now almost done with the 5th season, after only a month of watching.  I fully expect to plunge into the classic series once I’ve watched all the available episodes of the new one. 

At first I thought it was just me getting absorbed (this has happened before with other shows), but then I found myself beginning to apply literary theory to the show.  Then I found myself feeling inklings of inspiration for new stories of my own based on the show.  I gave in at that point and admitted that I’m obsessed.  I don’t mind it though – it’s definitely waking up my mind.  What inspiration I’m finding is a story for another post, though, as this one is going on rather long. 

For now, I’ll just end with a question.  Does anyone else have artistic obsessions or fixations which provide inspiration?  Do your obsessions change with you, or do they stay the same?  I’d love to read your answers in the comments!


  1. I would love to explore all of my artistic obsessions. I really enjoy working with my hands, typing words, writing words or even small crafts.

    As for Dr. Who - interesting fellow. I watched some of the special which told of how they changed some of the people, the doctor himself or other characters. Watching Dr. Who is also like watching older episodes of the original Star Trek - the visual effects are part of the humor.

    Cheers, Jules

    1. I agree that it would be wonderful to have time to investigate all the art forms that intrigue us...I suppose the fact that we don't have enough time means that it's better to focus on a few things rather than many. Even so, I wouldn't mind having a chance to try out everything that interests me :D

  2. I read Tolkien when I was 8 too and everything else I could lay my hands on ! Yes, I go through obsessive stages and even though they eventually pass, I still return to them and get as much enjoyment out of them as I did the first time. These creative obsessions are vital for our creative development, they influence how and why we write. Though I have to admit that I tend to get music obsessions nowadays - it's Muse right now!

    1. Oh gosh - I revisit my Muse obsession about every 6 months. Their lyrics are the best! I'm glad to meet another Muse fan in you :D