Monday, November 18, 2013

My "Obsessions" and Me: A History

NOTE: This post was written while I was "off the grid" this past July.  I've been meaning to post it for months, but never got the chance until now.  Though some of my views mentioned below have changed, quite a few of the details I mention are ones I haven't already shared publicly.  Sure, it's long, but you know to expect that from me!

I never set out to be known for being "obsessed with" or "addicted to" anything, but, that's what ended up happening.  (This may sound familiar, but, keep reading.) I could blame it on having Asperger Syndrome, but, frankly, I think outside forces played a big part in it, as well.  Sure, the topics of my obsessions/addictions varied, but they still shared a common thread of sorts.  I do feel that I actually have made progress on that front; if you look at where I've come from, you'll see it, too.

Let's start at the beginning: When I was about two years old, my biological father--who was already divorced from my mother by that point--dropped off a Commodore 64 at our house.  He intended it for my sister, and she knew rather well how to use it, but she essentially couldn't have cared less about it.  I, however, took to that thing like a fish to water, and, even though the interface was text-based, I knew how to load various programs and do all sorts of fun stuff on there.  Though my immediate family--that is, my mom and my aforementioned sister--were fine with me having an interest in computer science, they wanted me to have other interests, so, they tried to teach me about roller skating, softball, and other outdoor leisure activities that kids all over the world have enjoyed for generations.  There was one problem, though: I had zero interest.  All I wanted to spend my spare time doing was watching television, reading books, and using that old Commodore; I had no need for playing outside or anything else that didn't relate to those activities.  That continued for years; even as late as when I was in kindergarten and first grade, I didn't like any of the classes my mom signed me up for…except for the computer classes.  One time, I attended a daycare program of sorts during spring break, and, after one session there, my sister asked me how I felt about it, and I told her I didn't like it because there were no computers there.  Her reply was, "It can't be bad just because they don't have computers there.  What's the real reason?" The "real reason" was what I had just told her; seriously, computers meant that much to me.  When that old Commodore started to break down, my addiction still continued thanks to me getting my first Mac for my seventh birthday.  An attempt to divert my interest by signing me up for swimming lessons did nothing except for cement my dislike of such activities.  I had a few other interests around that time--dinosaurs, the Peanuts comic strip, etc.--but they all played second fiddle to that terminal.

In second grade, things changed a bit.  When I was on my computer previously, though I had games for it, I sometimes spent my time on there doing activities that other kids that age--and even many adults--wouldn't consider fun, such as using spreadsheet or calorie counting software, or creating a family tree that wouldn't even be saved.  When I got two Lemmings games for my first Mac, I was addicted to them for a while, but that proved to be a bit short-lived when I reached an impasse in both of them.  However, when Christmas Day came around, I received a gift that changed my life forever: Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon.  My mom didn't know what it was when I first opened it; her exact words were, "What is that, a golf game?" It was actually a kiddie point-and-click adventure that starred a purple convertible--the title character--who accidentally gets launched to our planet's only natural satellite, and has to find his way back.  Upon starting it, I wasn't terribly impressed, but, once I figured out how to beat it, not only did playing through it become a daily ritual, but I spent at least a year or two gaga over everything related to that anthropomorphic car.  Toward the end of my third grade year, my teacher even reprimanded me for writing about Putt-Putt in my journal too much.

Around the time I started fourth grade, things changed even more when I got into The Magic School Bus.  Other than the normal problems an obsession would cause, two things made matters rather difficult for me and everyone who knew me at the time: One, it was almost universally disliked by my coeval peers, and, two, I believed it was real.  In fact, I had this whole doomsday plot in my mind where that crazy teacher from the series--whose name I won't utter here--was going to take over the world.  I talked about her so much, though, that some believed that I had a crush on her, and my repeated denials of that convinced no one; more on that later.

Another change happened in fourth grade, as well: I discovered the classic sitcom.  Previously, I had watched--and enjoyed--the reruns of The Cosby Show on my local Fox affiliate, but I was never obsessed with it; however, twice-daily airings of Growing Pains on the Disney Channel made me a big fan, to the point where, when I acted up, I would get grounded from it for two weeks.  (Anyone who is a parent will understand what I mean by that.)  I lost interest some time later because I thought I had seen all the episodes, but it continued to have an effect on me for years; I even did an eighth grade writing assignment based around the classic "Meet the Seavers" episode of GP, and ended up back into it for a while when I started high school.  Its influence is still felt to a degree in my life to this day.

Yet another change happened just before I became a fifth grader: I discovered Scooby-Doo.  With my previous obsessions, I had always had a favorite entity; a "hero," if you will.  My favorite dinosaur was Spinosaurus; my favorite computer game was Putt-Putt; my favorite Growing Pains character was--who else?--Mike Seaver.  Though the blond-haired Fred was my favorite of the Mystery, Inc., gang, I had a crush on the prettier of the two girls on the series.  The same thing happened with later favorite series.  With Mork & Mindy, Mork/Robin Williams was my hero, and Mindy/Pam Dawber was my crush.  With Digimon, blue-haired Joe was my hero, and Sora was my love interest.  It first started with "those meddling kids," though.

Like many kids of my generation, I was a big time Pokémon fan around the time of Y2K.  However, I was also still into Scooby-Doo, which made my sixth grade classmates…well, uncomfortable.  They considered it "childish" and "uncool," whereas I loved it and put it on my binder for everyone else to see.  It was also a turning point for my obsessions; instead of just one limited topic, I was into two different ones, which had little to do with one another.  Around that time, my mom told me that I had a one-track mind.  I asked her what that meant, and she said, "It means you only think about one thing," so I asked her what that "one thing" was, and she said, "Scooby-Doo and Pokémon." I told her that was two things, "so I must have a two-track mind." She didn't like that.

Though we can laugh about that, what isn't funny is how those two fictional universes took precedence over almost everything else at the time.  About halfway through that school year, a longtime church member and father of four school-aged children--some of you may know who I'm speaking of--lost his battle with pancreatic cancer, which saddened the hearts of the entire church family and probably many others.  The church had a memorial service instead of a regular one that Wednesday night, and I was told not to run around and play in honor of the deceased.  I followed that rule…but I still didn't behave quite as I should have.  I spent the entire time hanging out with two guys and talking about--you guessed it--those "pocket monsters."  When the deceased member's youngest daughter got baptized--which is exactly what her father would have wanted--and everyone else congratulated her, I said absolutely nothing.  Even on the way to the service, when my brother-in-law asked if I had cried over that man's tragic death, I said that I just didn't "feel the need." He severely reprimanded me, saying, "Oh, sure; you cry when the store doesn't have any Pokémon cards, but you won't cry over something like this.  You really need to get your priorities straight."  I just brushed it off; looking back, I realize how in error I was.

Some time into my seventh grade year, at the age when most kids are discovering the opposite gender, my favorite celebrities--minus one; more on that later--were all guys.  Specifically, the boys in top-selling Christian bands dc Talk and Audio Adrenaline were my heroes, especially the former.  The only favorite female celebrity I had was Anne Robinson, the host of both the British and American versions of Weakest Link.  It's funny how I ended up discovering that show: I was in a serious funk after making a special trip to a nearby city for a Christian music festival, only to find that it was cancelled due to some unfortunate individual taking advantage of the concert promoters.  I didn't think I'd like that new game show, but I watched it anyway; after all, what did I have to lose? Not only did I end up loving the show, but Anne Robinson was hilarious; it brought me out of that funk, for sure.  That's a testament to the power of entertainment.  My mom said that I had a crush on that British host, and, in a way, that may have been true.

The above chronicle may be good, but there was a serious problem around that time, as well: It seemed that, as much as I adored the Christian music, my attitude towards others betrayed my so-called faith.  I looked down on those who listened to music I considered obscene--which was pretty much every coeval person I knew--and felt that my music was superior to theirs.  I was so frustrated by the bawdy, immature actions of those around me that I believed--this is no joke, and I do regret this--that such people weren't even worth the birth pains their parents put into having them.  It was like an exaggerated version of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11-12.  Many of my peers were probably more respectful towards their parent(s) and their fellow man than I was, but, because of what they listened to and how they appeared to me, they were worthless.  God loved them just the same as He did me, but I didn't realize that until much later.  It seemed that, even though I had the lyrics to Christian songs memorized, I wasn't applying them one bit.

Just before I finished seventh grade, my mom introduced me to Diff'rent Strokes, and quickly wished she didn't, because I spent that entire summer and eighth grade year talking about it ad nauseam.  What made matters even worse was that my crush on the show--remember the whole hero and crush thing?--was an actress who, by the time I knew about the show, had gone from acting in "softcore" films to dying of a drug overdose.  (I will not utter her name; it is like a profanity to me now.)  Later that year, I got into Mork & Mindy and Growing Pains again thanks to reruns airing on cable (though not on Nick at Nite or TV Land, as some would assume.)  Not long after my eighth grade year ended, I realized how stupid DS was and switched back to my old favorites, especially the one starring Kirk Cameron.

It was November 2002 when everything changed big time.  (I think you long-time readers of my blog know what's coming, don't you?)  Just after I started high school in September of that year, Growing Pains--not only my favorite show, but, in my opinion at the time, the only thing on television worth watching--was removed from ABC Family's lineup, which left me with no way to watch it.  I was devastated, and mad at the world.  A kid my mom was taking care of happened to be well-versed in all things kiddie television.  He showed me Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, which I mostly found inane and pointless.  However, when he showed me Lizzie McGuire for the third or fourth time that November, I fell in love with both Lizzie and Hilary Duff, the actress who played her.  The show had everything I liked about the old-school sitcoms: family-friendliness, an attractive young woman in a starring role, hilarious comedy, and likable characters.  What made things even better was that Ms. Duff was around the age she was in the show--and, therefore, around my age--instead of being a kid in the show I was watching but actually middle-aged by the time I was watching it.  It wasn't long until other Mouse network sitcoms Even Stevens and That's So Raven--and their pretty female stars, Christy (Carlson) Romano and Anneliese van der Pol--found their way into my heart as well.

You may wonder: Why such a focus on famous ladies? In actuality, I had celebrity crushes as early as second grade; my first one was Amy Jo Johnson, the original Pink Ranger.  (Recent viewings of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers have showed me that, even at that age, I had good taste in women.)  Later on, I had a thing for the actresses Teri Hatcher--who, at the time, was pretty much only known for playing Lois Lane, not a Desperate whatever--and Catherine Bell, star of JAG.  I wouldn't call them "obsessions," though, because most of my friends and peers probably had no idea I was ever into those actresses, whether or not they knew of them.  However, around the time I was in eighth grade, my classmates and such began getting into relationships, albeit ones that lasted a mere week or two, if even that.  I knew that wasn't real love; in order to fight against that, I showcased my devotion to various actresses.  To me, that was much better than going from one significant other to another every few days.

My thing for Disney actresses and their shows continued for a while; however, it was during summer of 2005 that I experienced my very first celebrity disappointment.  One Sunday night during that time, there was a new movie on ABC Family starring Christy (Carlson) Romano, titled Campus Confidential.  I had been waiting to see it since I'd first heard about it; before the switch to Anne Hathaway and Ashley Tisdale the March prior, Ms. Romano was second only to the inimitable Hilary Duff when it came to favorite celebrities, and she still was one of my favorites…until I watched that dreck.  Not only did Ms. Romano's character spout off multiple profanities--in a "family" movie, no less!--but the sexual content was just too much for me.  The whole thing was so bothersome to me, I turned the TV off when the first commercial break started, and did a "venting post" on the dc Talk online forum on which I was a member at the time.  As most of you probably know, it wouldn't be the last time that would happen.

During my senior year of high school, I fell in love…but not with a celebrity.  This time, it was a classmate.  Despite the fact that it was somewhat obvious--at least, to others--that she was only interested in being friends, I became obsessed with her.  I had claimed that I had given up my obsession for her, but, what I had actually done was replace Anne Hathaway, Ashley Tisdale, and company with her.  That classmate even said, "Whether it's Disney stars or me, that much of a focus isn't healthy."  I'd had one romantic pursuit previously--in September 2003--and later had two more; they all went absolutely nowhere.  Each time, some big unrelated event happened around the same time; either the death of a loved one or some sort of severe weather.  (Were those signs from above? One wonders.)

Over time, the nature of my crushes evolved as well.  When I first got into Hilary Duff, I didn't just like her show and her music; I was convinced that I would marry her one day.  Later on, I told others that Anne Hathaway was my wife; when an educational video on Shakespeare mentioned that the Bard "married Anne Hathaway", the entire class looked at me, and one guy even said, "I thought you were going to do that, [Siobhan]!" (I'm pretty sure even he realized that those two Anne Hathaways were not the same person.)  Later on, I became more grounded in reality, and realized that not only did I have almost zero chance with pretty much any single famous female, but, unless she happened to be a Christian--i.e., CCM singers Rebecca St. James or Kerrie Roberts, who have since gotten married--we were completely incompatible.  Even my so-called crush on Victoria Justice wasn't as it appeared; I loved her show and her music, as well as her squeaky-clean image, and I did find her somewhat attractive…but I had no desire to marry her.  As I once told a now-former friend, "Frankly, I hope that Victoria never proposes marriage to me; I'd hate to be the guy that turns her down."  I can imagine the tabloids would have a field day with anyone who refused a marriage proposal from a Hollywood celebrity, especially one largely thought to be attractive.  More to the point, I personally know quite a few ladies--some of whom are probably reading this--who are more attractive than anyone on Nickelodeon or Disney Channel could ever be, not just because of their looks, but because of our connection, the kind of which I'll never have with Victoria Justice, Laura Marano, or Zendaya.

You may wonder: Why have I kept the whole thing going? I've said before that it entertains people, and it does.  Being known for being a celebrity fan is a lot better than what I've been known for in the past.  However, the main reason is actually this: Because I am of the male gender, I always take more notice of females than I do those of my own gender.  When watching a movie or TV show, it's almost impossible for me not to notice the actress(es) or other female celebrities, even if she/they get(s) short shrift.  When Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was adapted into a movie, they seriously abbreviated the role of the French young lady Fleur Delacour, but that didn't stop me from taking notice of Clémence Poésy's portrayal of her.  I was a bit miffed when Fleur was totally omitted from Half-Blood Prince, but at least she made it into Deathly Hallows.  When I watched Power Rangers: Lost Galaxy, which was on my Verizon FiOS On Demand this past week for whatever reason, I immediately took notice of Valerie Vernon and Cerina Vincent, the actresses who played the two female Rangers.  The same is true for any other movie, TV series, or whatever: I'm more likely to notice the ladies.  However, since people tend to jump to conclusions, if I say that I like an actress' portrayal of a character, or a large part of a female singer's album, or even a female interior designer's re-working of a room, everyone starts assuming that I'm in love with that famous woman.  I'm reminded of the letter a girl sent into Nintendo Power, where she started talking about how, every time she talked about how great the games of Shigeru Miyamoto--creator of Mario, Zelda, StarFox, and Pikmin--were, her little brother would start chanting, "You love Miyamoto, you love Miyamoto!" She claimed in her letter to that gaming magazine, "I don't love him.  I just admire his games."  Unfortunately, maybe just because of human nature, if I mention that I like a female celebrity's work, people tend to respond in essentially the same way.  (Even if they don't outright say it, chances are, they're thinking it.)  Instead of fighting it, like I tried to do with that whole Magic School Bus thing in fourth grade, I've just decided to run with it, because I know that trying to get people to believe otherwise is a fight I will never win.

Here is my final point: The literature I have read about Asperger Syndrome says that, at some point, the obsessions go away.  It does take a long time; the book I have says that the final stage--something resembling a overpowering celebrity crush--can still be going strong well into one's twenties.  Still, I think--and this is just me; you might disagree--that I have passed that stage.  Sure, I do have a "special interest"--entertainment--but I've known others who felt the same way about history, animals, or other topics…yet they're not one bit autistic.  Then again, I never knew I was obsessed with anything in the first place.  As a kid, when I was told that I was obsessed with whatever or whoever, I felt insulted and outright denied it, even throwing it back on the "accuser" sometimes.  When I learned the nature of my condition, and that an obsession just came with it, I decided to make it work for me; after that, when someone proclaimed, "You're obsessed with _______!", I just replied, "Yeah; so what?" If I am obsessed with anything, it might be pretty ladies; it seems like I can't keep from interacting with them wherever I go.  That may sound weird, dumb, and/or problematic to you, but, for me, it's just the way I am.

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