My compulsion is to write. I can’t not write.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines compulsion as a : an act of compelling : the state of being compelled b : a force that compels and 2 : an irresistible persistent impulse to perform an act (as excessive hand washing); also : the act itself In other words, an obsession.
What got me thinking about compulsion in general was a documentary I saw the other day called Herb & Dorothy.
The Vogels were a New York city couple with a modest income—he a postal clerk, she a librarian—who managed to amass an extraordinary collection of minimalist and conceptual art in the post 60s. They amassed it through their compulsion to buy. During their off-work hours, they would prowl Soho and any other place a struggling artist hung out and buy up to six or seven pieces at a time. They couldn’t not buy a painting by a budding and promising artist.
What was also striking about their acquisitions was the fact that they had little room to display them in their tiny apartment. Art work hung on every wall, and when space ran out there, they hung the canvases on their ceiling or jammed them into every conceivable corner, including under their bed. They became both collectors and hoarders.
They also had no idea how much their art collection was worth. It was never about the money. It was about what they felt compelled to do. It was their bliss. Mind you, they had an eye for talent, and they used it to bolster the egos of the artists who struggled to make ends meet. It was a win-win relationship.
At the end of their lives, when Herb and Dorothy’s energy had petered out, and Herb had to hobble from one artist’s studio to another hunched over with a cane for support, they gave their entire collection to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It took several block-long moving trucks to empty their apartment. It was a puzzle to all how they’d managed to cram what they had collected into that tiny space.
Their compulsion reminded me of my own, my need to write. Mine wasn’t always like that. As a child growing up with immigrant parents, one of whom was illiterate, I would never have dreamt of becoming a writer. Though an honors student, the subjects of language and literature were a challenge. As I look back, I think it was a matter of confidence that I didn’t pursue writing at that time. But once I hit my 20s, I began jotting notes here and there, trying out a short story or a newspaper article, and entering an essay contest in a major fashion magazine, for which I won an honorable mention. I proceeded to buy journals which I filled right to the margins. But though I scribbled every chance I got, writing took a backseat while our children were growing up. It didn’t put food on the table.
I admit to being driven to write. The first thing I do now when I get up is put the coffee on and hit my computer. I find, that if I don’t create something new, there is something missing in my life. It’s like I need that jolt of new words on a page to settle me, much like a drug addict who needs a fix to calm his spirits.
Yes, writing is an obsession of mine, but it’s a positive addiction, much like running, that gives you a natural high. It doesn’t hurt anyone and brings me a sense of accomplishment, and in that, there is much satisfaction. I also sleep better when I’ve used my imagination to take me to a place I haven’t gone before. And for that reason, I have no intention of breaking, what for me, has become a delicious habit.
How about you? Are you compelled to do something? Some compulsion you wouldn’t mind sharing? I’d love to hear your comments.