by John Bloner, Jr.
This is the first of two articles on the subject of obsessions. Next week, I’ll share insights from other artists and authors on this subject.
“You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed,” says Iowa Bob in the novel, Hotel New Hampshire, by John Irving.
Some lines stay with you. I read Irving’s novel forty years ago and still think of this phrase nearly every day. Obsessions – read: passionate interests – are the fuel of life.
Many people are wedded to a single obsession. John Irving comments, “I am compulsive about writing. I need to do it the way I need sleep and exercise and food and sex; I can go without it for a while, but then I need it.” He’s published fiction and non-fiction for over 50 years.
I’m not like this. I’m promiscuous with my passions. I dally with one until something younger and hotter comes along. Does that make me a cad? A dilettante? A dabbler? A hobbyist with attachment issues?
In the 1990s, I was obsessed with my gold-colored, Schwinn-built road bicycle. I nicknamed her Church, because her skinny seat was my pew every Sunday’s summer morning. Church and I traveled the backroads of Kenosha and Racine County, slowing down to see horses and cows in their meadows and speeding up to escape the jaws of farm dogs. I pedaled 50 to100 miles on many weekends, either alone or in the company of the local riding club, and once crossed the State in a week’s time, exploring the Mississippi, the hills around Baraboo, and the forests of Kettle Moraine.
By the end of that decade, I’d had my fill. I parked my ride for good.
I found a new passion, the Native American flute, captivated by its lonesome sound. My breath filled these instruments made of African Padauk, Alaskan Yellow Cedar, Curly Redwood, and Black Walnut, hand-carved and polished by many craftsmen. I listened to recordings of Mary Youngblood, Keith Bear, Gary Stroutsos, and R. Carlos Nakai and traveled to hear many of them perform their music. I marveled how the song of the Native American flute could change behavior of wild animals, witnessing a flock of sparrows circle above me and a squirrel perch motionless on a rock while I’ve played.
One day, the music ended for me, too. I haven’t played these flutes in years.
“But why? How can you detach from something you’ve invested so much of your soul into?” Meryl Streep, as Susan Orlean, asks in the Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman film, Adaptation. She is quizzing an orchid thief, who’s told her of his abandonment of his pursuits: most recently, his tropical fish collection.
“Fuck fish. Done with fish,” he replies.
She may as well have asked me the same question. I would have replied, “Fuck bicycles. Done with bicycles. Done with flutes, too.”
Over the last ten years, I’ve invested my time and soul into publishing the work of artists and authors, both locally, nationally, and internationally, through several imprints: Southport Press, Left of the Lake, LLC, and the Krazines. I spend hours each day, seven days a week, to assemble a monthly magazine, Moss Piglet, that less than 50 people will read.
I enjoy giving opportunities to people to see their work in print and to share it with others. Last year, Moss Piglet, published over 80 artists and writers in our dozen issues. This year, we’ve expanded in several issues to over 60 pages
In July 2021, Spectrum School of the Arts & Gallery in Racine will welcome us to exhibit our work in their beautiful space on the DeKoven Center campus. We’re also looking to host a couple rural sketching adventures in summer or early Fall.
Like bicycles and flutes, I recognize my passion for publishing will fade. I’ll move on to something else one day. Astronomy intrigues me. Mathematics, too, even though it was my worst subject in school.
Why do my interests shift? In search of an answer, I found it 1.6 billion miles away in the planet, Uranus.
“Uranus is the astrological planet of chaos, the unexpected and doing things differently,” writes Aussie astrologer, Kelly Surtees. “The underlying mission . . . is to inspire, encourage or coerce you to make a change that gives you freedom. The goal is to help shift you into a more inspiring existence, one that is aligned with your authentic self. Safety, security and playing it safe hold no interest to Uranus.”
Surtees offers there are specific changes you’ll experience at certain times in your life. For example, those who are in their late 20s or in their mid 50s may experience changes in jobs and responsibilities.
I’m in the midst of changes of a different sort after retiring from my job in city government over three years ago. What I’m experiencing, according to the seventh planet from the Sun, is a time of adjustment and frustration, similar to the unsettled self of my early adulthood. At that time, I didn’t need an astrologer to tell me my life was changing. I found the news on a Neil Young record.
On the day after my 22nd birthday, I visited a Racine record store where I purchased Neil’s new LP, Rust Never Sleeps. Rolling Stone Magazine said of this album in 1979, “For anyone still passionately in love with rock & roll, Neil Young has made a record that defines the territory. Defines it, expands it, explodes it. Burns it to the ground.”
I put it on my turntable as soon as I returned to my apartment, loving the folk-sounding side one, reminiscent of Young’s Harvest recording and its classics, Old Man and Heart of Gold.
Side two was something else. Neil straps on his 1953 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, nicknamed Old Black, and lets loose with one of his best songs, Powderfinger, with a lyric that resonated with me then and continues to ring hard and long to my soul today.
I just turned twenty-two. I was wondering what to do.
“Fuck, yeah, Neil! I’m wondering, too!” I said to my vacant living room. I was suffering in a factory job I loathed and feeling like I had no future, My gut was growing an ulcer, and I was cutting my flesh in order to have some control over my pain: emotionally and physically. I was a mess.
In the few years which followed: I received a pink slip from my employer and moved to Eau Claire to begin college. My ulcer healed and my wife didn’t lose faith in me. Love saw me through.
As I experience my 64th trip around the sun, I’m less obsessed by material objects of books, instruments, records, and making magazines and more by cosmic things. I want to know why the universe is seemingly left-handed. For an aging lefty like me, a Forbes magazine article was a welcome report.
I enjoy learning how everything in the universe – you, your dog, our neighboring galaxy of Andromeda – is a part of a mathematical structure. My father-in-law gave me this news forty years ago, but I didn’t believe him. Why would a universe speak in the language of mathematics when I sucked at it so much?
And I cannot wait for the end of October when the James Webb Space Telescope launches. The Webb, an infrared observatory, is the largest, most powerful telescope ever made. It will orbit 1 million miles away from the Earth, communicating with large antennas in Spain, Australia, and California, as it peers back into time to show us how our universe was formed.
Before I leave this life, I want to learn the answer to another question: What is dark matter? It makes up 85% of all matter in the Universe, but we cannot see it; we can only measure its effects on objects in space. Perhaps, we can hear it, though, say some scientists.
Nikolai Tesla said, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”
Turns out those old Coca-Cola commercials were right about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony.
For next week’s article, I’ll share the obsessions of several artists in the Kenosha and Racine area. I enjoyed hearing of their passions and discoveries and hope you will enjoy them, too.
Thanks for reading. See you next week.
Featured image for this post is by Beyond Timelines at Pixabay.