Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Obsessions

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I've always had an addictive personality -- not for substances, but activities and subjects. When I was a kid, I watched my classmates drift through interests, picking things up and putting them down again. They'd be enrolled in multiple sports at once, quitting and starting new things constantly as they and their parents searched for something that would stick. Kids around me had phases, periods of intense interest that they would soon shed.

I would find something that fit and become obsessed. My life has become an accretion of interests, like a black hole constantly sucking new matter into itself. I've been obsessed with books and language since before I could speak or write. That love has never wavered. Everything I adored when I was little -- villains, comic books -- continues to define me to this day. I have never grown out of anything, I've only added new obsessions and deepened my love for the old ones.

We all write about our obsessions, the stories and ideas and images that get into our minds and won't get out. Ideas cling to us like ghosts, benevolent or frightening, and we have to write them out to keep them from haunting us. We write out our love affairs or uncomfortable fascinations, the obsessions we are proud of and those we are ashamed of alike.

We write out our obsessions so that we don't become consumed by them. I write about villains because it is my oldest love affair, has defined my romantic life both real and fictional. When I was five I thought I would marry Captain Hook; by nine it was the Phantom of the Opera. In writing about villains constantly, and identifying with them, I've managed to avoid actually wedding a monster or a ghost. I have, along the way, become more of a villain myself, but in a way I am proud of.

Writing about our obsessions develops our relationships to the ideas that shape us. Since I was a very little girl, I thought of myself as smart and physically strong, and I railed against a world that told me I should instead focus on being pretty and nice. In the fourth grade, a principal told me I shouldn't wear lipstick because it made me look like a whore (I was nine). Over time, the cognitive dissonance between what I was capable of and what I was told I should be contented with led me to define myself as a feminist.

Writing my obsessions has taught me to value my aesthetic choices. I love many subjects that aren't always considered valid, or high art, or worthy of study: comic books, fantasy novels, heavy metal, mixed martial arts. In writing about them, giving them space and time and consideration, we not only add to the critical discourse that surrounds the things that we love, but we become more confident in our voices, and choices, in doing so.

I've never been very good at forcing out pieces on material I am told that I should like or respect; but on the topic of my obsessions, it's all I can do to foce myself to shut up once in a while. With so much work to do and only so much time and energy to do it with, it just seems better, easier, and a hell of a not more fun to write about everything that I adore.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots is a music writer, poet and editor based in Toronto. She writes for a number of publications, both in print and online. Natalie's second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems For Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press in the Spring of 2012.

Go to Natalie Zina Walschots’s Author Page