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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!


#75. I obsess over certain tasks, and sometimes make things harder than they should be.

And if you need more convincing, I humbly submit Exhibit A. Namely, this freakin’ post and the other hundred that I wrote in this space. A normal blogger would just write the damned 100 things, and get on with their life. A sane person would quit altogether, and decide that there are better ways to spend several hours a day. Like staring out the window, or sitting on the couch, scratching various body parts with the remote control. But do I do these things? No. (Well, all right, I do the scratching thing sometimes. But only on parts that I don’t want to touch myself. So it’s okay.)

No, friends, I decide that ‘100 Things’ must instead become ‘100 Posts‘, and set out to write thousands upon thousands of words to make it happen. Words that precious few will read, and even fewer understand. (Mainly because many of the words aren’t used correctly, or spelled correctly, or put in meaningful sentences. They’re often lumped together, like aging strippers on a trash heap.) Did I have to write all these posts? No, certainly not. Did I want to write all these posts? Um, no. Not really. But I had the idea to write all these posts, and sometimes in my demented, scary little world, that’s all it takes. Please — please won’t you help me? Rescue me from this nightmare of mine.

Anyway, this little experiment isn’t the only monkey I’ve glommed onto my own back. Oh, no, the list goes on and on. Anything that’s worth dedicating just a few minutes of attention to is worth dedicating several dozen freakin’ hours of attention to, I always say. Or I will now, anyway, now that I’ve thought of it. Good thing I’m writing this shit down.

You see, when it gets right down to it, I’m a perfectionist. I know, I know — you can look around this site and find enough errors to disprove that statement. But hear me out. I do believe that anything worth doing is worth doing with minute, almost psychotic attention to minute detail, and with arbitrary rules and restrictions that make it nearly impossible to complete. In other words, I like a challenge.

And very few things in life are challenging enough when they’re first presented. Most situations need a little ‘spicing up’. And so, I up the ante. As in ‘100 Posts’. Or take crossword puzzles. I work a lot of crosswords. Most of them are in Games magazine, which labels each puzzle as ‘easy’, ‘medium’, or ‘hard’. Fine. So just work the damned puzzles, right? Wrong. Oh, sure, I can ‘just work’ the hard puzzles. Those are tough enough. But if I’m working on a ‘medium’ puzzle, I can only fill in entries that cross words that I’ve already entered. (Well, except the first word I write in, of course. I said I make things challenging, not downright metaphysical.) So I’ll sometimes sit and stare at one of these puzzles for an hour or more, solving pieces of it in my head until I decide which clue to answer first. The ‘seed word’ is very important, you see. If I box myself in a corner with a bunch of hard words, I can never finish the puzzle, no matter how many other clues I can answer. It’s gutwrenching, not to mention a real noodle-scratcher.

And, of course, completely, totally fucking unnecessary. Who cares how I work the goddamned puzzle? Well, me, apparently. There’s some part of my brain that gets its rocks off by setting them up and knocking them down, even if no one else will ever know of the triumph. (And I don’t want to hear any snickery comments about parts of my brain having rocks, all right? Be good, people.) Anyway, the bigger the challenge, the better this sadistic little dirtbag of a brain segment feels when it wins. So the setups get more and more complicated, and convoluted, and consternating. The success rate goes down the shitter, of course, but the successes mean more, in whatever unholy scoring system this brain bit is employing. It’s a hellish bit of self-worth accounting, and it plays out over and over and over without pause.

I’ve tried a couple of tricks to slow the tide of ridiculous challenges, with limited success.

(I know, I know — therapy’s probably the way to go. Let a professional get his ass in there and root around. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. But that’s just another challenge, now, isn’t it? If I can fix it myself, then that’s the ultimate win. And penultimate win, as well; since I’ll be cured, I won’t be going around torturing myself with this crazy crap any more. So how cool would that be?)

Anyway, one trick that’s helped a bit is to just not get overly interested in anything in the first place. You know, play it cool. Feign disinterest, and see if I fool myself. As long as I’m not jazzed about anything, I can’t make up ways to make it the bane of my existence. Instead, I can just happily tool around, living my life and doing my trademark half-ass job. What could be better?

So, this works for a while. But eventually, that little pest part of my brain wises up, and sees the game being played. And so, it plays along, too. Suddenly, I can immerse myself in anything, and turn it into an unhealthy obsession. Got a stack of change? I’ll make sure they’re all ‘heads up’. Same for that stack of dollar bills. Oh, and that rack of CDs over there? I’ll alphabetize those. You want ’em subgrouped by genre or date? I can do either, you know. Just let me at ’em.

Clearly, I’m not well. Not well at all. I’ll give you another example.

Recently, I spent a good two weeks obsessing over a video game on my PC. It’s a baseball game, maybe my favorite of all time. In this two-week period, I probably spent ten hours or more a day with this game. Probably more on some days. So how many games did I play in that time? None. That’s right. Zero. So what the hell was I doing? Well, the game lets you draft a team of players, and then trade with the computer-controlled teams if you like. You can control not only your major league roster, but also the minor leagues, as well, all the way down to rookie ball. So in the first week, I designed the team I wanted to build. I studied stats, and player skill values. I crunched numbers, compensated for age, and projected performances. I tinkered and compared and evaluated until I was blue in the face. And then purple, and green, and then an unhealthy shade of gray. And then I did it some more. Finally, I came up with the team that I wanted. The perfect team. Nirvana.

So then I spent the next week trying to draft and trade to put that team together. Never mind that I could have temporarily taken over all the teams and just made my team. No, that wasn’t the point. Somewhere along the way, as I sat exhausted and drooling over the keyboard, I forgot what the point was, but I knew that definitely wasn’t it. So I played by the rules I made up. Get the guys I wanted, without ‘cheating’. And then clean up the minor league rosters, so that everyone had a certain minimum set of stats. Why? Goddammit, I wish I knew. I could have been watching the Simpsons all that time, or learning how to make wicker baskets, or frolicking naked through my back yard. But no. I had a challenge — even if it was one pulled together from thin air — and I could not — would not — let it go until I beat that bastard.

Which I eventually did, thank the gods above. (And below; I suspect they had more to do with it, actually.) Two weeks and umpteen hours of my life that I’ll never have back, but that ‘dream team’ of mine is ready, and sitting on my hard drive. Just, um… waiting. See, I played a couple of games after that, but my heart really wasn’t in them. The hard part was over with. And I was sick to hell of looking at that damned game screen. So, I’ve lost interest. And now these posts are the cause du jour. And soon, I’ll be done with them, and another hellish nightmare of struggle will take their place. And so on, until the end of time.

Well, the end of me, anyway. Obviously. Unless I find a way to shake this stranglehold. Hey, it could happen. You never know. But until then, I’m stuck with my affliction. At least I’ve become aware of it in recent years. I don’t have the ammo to stop it yet, but I’m learning its habits and patterns. I’m building data, to better fight the big fight when the time finally comes. I just hope I can finally lick it, once and for all. It’s strong and cunning, but I’ve got the rest of the brain on my side, and one day we’re gonna take this fucker out. I’ve got no intentions of sitting around the nursing home, sorting other people’s money by serial number for fun. It’s either him or me, and I’m not goin’ out like this, folks. I’ve got too much naked frolicking to get done.

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