Anatomy of an Obsession

Over the years I’ve had plenty of obsessions that dominate my attention and time. Sometimes it was a person – sorry to all the girls I was a little weird about back in the day. Sometimes it was a band – there’s a long list of artists that I got way into and would listen to, non-stop, for months at a time.

And sometimes it was an activity/hobby. Photography has been the most recent example. Before that there was modern electronics/tech in general, Apple products in particular. Running, Dungeons & Dragons, shortwave radio, Atari games, Pac-Man, the Star Wars universe, and baseball cars are others. There are dozens more I’m forgetting.

Over the last, what, eight months? I’ve shifted away from doing shit with my camera to wanting to hit golf balls. Thus I’ve turned over all the things I pay attention to that are ancillary to the main obsession and cause me to obsess even more. Through that process I’ve both examined how my addictions grow and laughed at myself for how deeply I fall for things that interest me.

Here’s a run-down of how my obsessions take over my life along with some observations of how they have changed over the years.

I’ve always been an information junkie. Throw in that I grew up as an only-child who was often confined to the house because my mom was constantly working, and from an early age I got creative in how to be obsessive within those constraints. I’m guessing it’s more fun to take on a new hobby when you have a sibling who is either interested in it, too, or that you can force to be interested in it. I learned how to make-do, though.

The first step was always reading everything I could find on a topic that interested me. I’d go to the library and check out books. At bookstores, I’d spend hours looking through the magazine racks finding issues that highlighted my interests, or searching the aisles for newer books than I could find at the library. Then I would read the hell out of this stuff. One thing about my family situation was that there wasn’t a ton of money to throw at whatever my latest infatuation was. So I often had to wait to get the gear I needed to actually start doing the activity. In the interim I always figured if I read everything available on the topic, I’d be ready to dive in once my birthday or Christmas rolled around and I received the equipment I needed. I wonder if there’s some master magazine subscription database somewhere in which I could look back and see how many strange magazines I had one-year subscriptions to because of one stupid hobby or another.

The modern addition to this is, clearly, the web. As my hobbies shift in my adult life, so too do the websites that I read and plug into my RSS reader. With social media eclipsing the traditional web for sharing information, I’ve rolled my interests into Twitter, Instagram, and the podcasts I listen to. Looking at all these accounts over time will show how my the people I follow wax and wane as my interests do the same.

If there is a TV angle, I’ll pull that in as well. When I was really into Italian soccer, I would tape the weekly highlights show that aired at something like 2:00 AM on the Prime Sports Network. The summers I’ve been most into baseball, I’m as likely to watch the programs dedicated to baseball news and discussing the game as the actual games. CNet used to have a really good computer show in the late ‘90s that I made sure I watched each week. In the case of golf, I’ve added the Golf Channel to my most watched channels after years of ignoring it.

I think most of us take on hobbies not just to participate in something, but as an excuse to buy things. No matter what your pastime is, there is always something shiny and new that you can go out and buy in hopes of making your experience better. I’ve tried to temper this a little bit, but when I was younger I would sign up for every catalog available for whatever I was interested in at the moment. Our mail carrier was probably like, “WTF is wrong with this kid?” after seeing all the random catalogs that he had to jam into our mailbox. I remember passing golf equipment catalogs around in class my freshman year of high school with other geeks.

My current version of that is stopping in at my local Golf Galaxy or the PGA Tour Superstore at least once a week. I don’t buy something every trip, but I will test putters for half an hour, look at club sets or clothes, all while trying to avoid the sales people who really want me to go through a club fitting. It is both more fun and more dangerous than flipping through catalogs. More fun as the products are right there in my hands. Dangerous since it is awfully easy to walk out having bought something I really don’t need.

It’s worth throwing eBay in, too. You can spend hours looking at used camera lenses or discontinued putters while doing the mental math on whether the savings is worth the possible issues with each item.

Put this all together and I realize that I often spend more time considering an obsession than actually doing it. That’s not unusual; the guy who rebuilds old cars on the weekend will likely spend more time from Monday through Friday planning for his projects, shopping for parts, etc. But my ratio is probably a little more extreme than most. Because of that, I often am better at knowing about things than doing them. I believe that all goes back to my childhood when I sometimes had to put the doing part off until my mom could afford the new toys I was interested in.

Anyway, I’ve laughed at myself a lot lately for how much time I spend thinking about golf. It has been funny to realize I’ve been doing that my entire life and there are clear patterns to how I do so, even if the technology changes.

Here are some of the ways I’m wasting time these days, mostly centering on golf.

Podcasts I listen to regularly:
General: Roderick on the Line, Back to Work, Road Work, Reconcilable Differences, Omnibus
Tech: Accidental Tech Podcast
Golf: No Laying Up, The Shotgun Start, Chasing Scratch, The Golfer’s Journal Podcast
Photography: The FujiCast

YouTube channels I subscribe to:
Golf: No Laying Up, plus a lot of random videos that get suggested
Photography: Denae & Andrew, Matt Day

Forums I Read: No Laying Up’s Refuge

Throw in books and magazines and S was telling the truth when she told her med school buddy we went out with awhile back, “Have D tell you about his new golf obsession.”