Tuesday, April 15, 2008
My Family's Disease
We suddenly take up a Hobby, or begin to collect things, or check out every book we can find in the library about a particular subject. Call it Obsession. Fanaticism. We pursue our interest with a single-minded zeal and ardor that outsiders - our spouses, lovers, and friends - find unsettling.
With some, the Passion is short-lived and one hobby wanes while another develops. Why, it only took me a few months to get over my enthusiasm for bakelite jewelry - the sky-high prices commanded for good pieces helped, I admit. And I started learning to make puff pastry.
Our Mother began quilting in her 50's. Then she went on to become an amateur geneologist - actually, she's so good and so thorough and has such high standards of authenticity that she's damn near professional, except for the fact that she doesn't earn income from it.
Brother Two, who was a bicycle racer as a teen, took up woodworking in his 30's along with Brother Three, and has a workshop full of expensive hand tools. He's making a bedstead for his son. His workshop is in the basement, because his restored vintage Triumph takes up all the space in the garage.
Did I mention that Brother Three used to be a particle physicist? Now he's into short wave radio.
Brother One is probably the most infected with Rampant Hobbyism. As a child, he researched World War II German airplanes; as a teenager, he singlemindedly pursued a future career as a concert French Horn player. I think perhaps the family affliction had something to do with his sudden and deeply committed conversion to Christianity; it probably also helped him become fluent in many Chinese dialects and language. Afraid of dogs as a boy, at 40, his devotion to dogs, obedience training theories, and proper canine nutrition is all encompassing.
As for me - well, I'm pretty easy-going in contrast. I took up gardening about fifteen years ago. I blame my ability to memorize botanical names on the fact that I ran with a pretty high octane garden club, living in the Pacific Northwest. We traded contraband slips of cultivars smuggled into the country from Sissinghurst. We took seed-collecting trips to the Himalayas. I ordered primula seeds from France.
Since moving to California, I've sort of gotten over gardening. There are other things to distract me. Mexican silver jewelry. Competitive swimming! The Democratic primary.
Back when I worked for the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, I learned of the national group called Circus Fans of America. At one stop, I noticed maybe a dozen townspeople clustering around one of our flatbed train cars, and taking detail photos of the tie-downs. Yes - they were circus fans with a specialized interest in circus trains, train cars, and train hardware. Not for them the more common interest in elephants, or trapeze artists, or clowns. For them, it was all about the ratchet handles.
The photo at the start of this post is a detail from this work of a fellow obsessive whose artistic genius far outshines that of my family.
Next time you think someone's a little weird...remember Simon Rodia and Watts Towers.