Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Obsessions: The downside of working at home

As a full-time writer, I have the luxury of working at home. But recently  I've seen signs that I need to get out more.

I'm not a music person, but I like to have some kind of background noise when I'm working. I used to keep the TV on, but that became too distracting. So one day when I was browsing for online streams, I stumbled across the local police channel. I could actually listen to every back-and-forth between the dispatcher, police,  and emergency units.

A new distraction--make that an obsession--was born. It took me a few days to decipher the codes and garbled transmissions, but I finally got the hang of the official communications.  We live a few blocks away from the fire station, and we hear sirens several times a day. I used to pay them little attention. Now I'm like a duck on a June bug, hitting that police stream to find out what's going on in my little town.

And I have to say, it's been a bit unnerving. It's not reassuring to learn that your local PD is on the lookout for an armed and dangerous thug who just escaped a police perimeter in a neighboring town. Or that the gas station at the bottom of the hill was just  robbed by a masked bandit who has been attacking places all over the area.

My husband, who also works at home but who has a structured, self-disciplined routine, recently gave me a strange look when I peered fearfully out the window.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"Looking for a silver Honda, driven by 5-foot nine guy who is possibly Asian," I reply. "He robbed the Chevron station. He has a gun, nine millimeter. "


My husband has learned not to probe my odd statements too deeply. I think he attributes my eccentricities to the fact that I'm a writer.

And truthfully, I rationalize many of my quirks as being a byproduct of a creative mind. For example, I figure I have to learn how cops really talk, so that helps me justify listening to the emergency channel for hours on end.

The truth is, it's just another one of my home-grown obsessions. I have others. I have an intense interest in volcanoes, for example. I monitor the status of volcanoes across the planet--I usually know when one's about to blow, long before you hear about it on the news. (News editors must not share my volcano obsession.)  Why? Well, for some reason I have this inner certainty that a major volcano is going to explode, a Krakatoa-level event that'll throw us back into another mini-Ice Age. (If it actually happens, it'll be hell on crops and the economy, but at least it'll take care of global warming.)

The reality is, I should probably get out of the house more. When I had a day job, I didn't indulge my obsessions nearly so much. I simply didn't have time. Maybe I should volunteer, do something useful. But I'd probably volunteer for something related to one of my obsessions, like becoming a Neighborhood Watch captain. Do they get to talk on the police radio, do you suppose?

But enough about my obsessions. Do you have any you can share?


  1. Yes. Reading writing industry blogs like Kill Zone. 8-) Seriously, it IS an addiction (makes me glad I don't drink or do drugs). I estimate on most weekdays I sacrifice an hour of my day (sometimes longer if a post really sets me to going) reading blogs.

    I want to quit. To cut back. But then I'm afraid I'll miss something cool if I do. It's a vicious circle.

  2. Lol--don't leave TKZ when you decide to detox, BK! I'm the same way...if I read something intriguing online, I'm off to the races. It might be several hours before I come up for air.

  3. A friend of mine always says "I don't have hobbies, I have temporary obsessions!" Me? I think just like a Bing Search Overload commercial, so I get what you and she are saying. In fact, in the time it took to post this comment, I've already loaded 3 different webpages in the background to surf when I'm done here. And so my day goes...

  4. I have a home office, too, but often go to Starbucks to get a little ambient noise and a sense of life going on around me. I used to have a Sharper Image noise machine (you know, plays waterfalls, oceans, etc.) and it had a city sound, distant sound of cars honking and echoes of street noises. Just like when I lived in NY. And THAT'S the sound I preferred to write to when I was home (unfortunately, the thing went on the fritz. If anyone knows where I can get another like it, please let me know)

  5. Beth, I've read that every time we open an email or do anything else online, it delivers a tiny jolt of dopamine to our brains. That's supposedly how we build up the habit, or obsession, of web surfing. Jim, I like the idea of a noise machine. I'd prefer a white noise machine to help me sleep, however--that way, if a siren goes off in the middle of the night, I won't be tempted to find out what's going on!

  6. Kathryn, you should live up here for a while. We've got volunteer fire & EMT depts to keep you tight with first hand information, (I spent 3 years scraping up MV & SM accidents) and volcanos, (Spurr, Redoubt, Iliamna, and Augustine are within sight of Anchorage), 2 military bases for overhead fighter jets and roadside machine gun and mortar ranges, and windstorms, wild animals, earthquakes and tsunamis. So if you want things to worry about, in Alaska we've gottem!

    My own distractions lie within things like WikiPedia, GoogleMaps, and Drudgereport. I am a facts, maps and news junkie (as a kid I devoured paper encyclopaedia like some kids did comics) and can waste hours going off on tangential research that has little to do with my project.

    The up side is that this usually means a lot of people ask me questions when they need to know something. The down side is that most guys don't invite me to parties or on hunting trips because they're intimidated by the nerd.

    I'll have to research the psychology behind not inviting nerds on manly excursions like hunting trips, and maybe look up the history of hunting... and just what are mountain goats keeping secret from the rest of us that makes them stay so high up in the mountains....and what do they eat...and why does edleweise, my second favourite flower, only grow in alpine rocks...and why do pansies, my first favourite flower, not grow in alpine rocks.... and...see what I mean.

  7. Oh...I just saw a visual I need to define...

    In my previous post MV & SM accidents refers to "Motor Vehicle & Snow Machine" as opposed to Sadomasochistic weirdness...luckily I never went on a call for that kind of stuff.

  8. I am constantly bouncing around learning new things - useful for research but bad for butt-in-chair writing. Most have to do with cool new technologies.

    Anyway, I explore them voraciously until I figure them out. I play games the same way - to death. Once I understand them inside and out I generally get bored and move on until something else grabs my attention. I had to quit Farmville cold turkey but I still have some photos of my "petting zoo": http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=6573&id=1747793828

    Oh, and those photos are *OLD*. ;)

    Thanks for making me laugh!

  9. Basil, sounds like Alaska is my kind of place! Didn't know what I was missing for worry-wart material...

    Oh my God, Daniel--Farmville! I get constant invitations or requests for stuff from people playing that--I send the stuff off when I can to be polite, but I've never actually figured out how to play that game, or what the real purpose is!

  10. I love the elephant and the reindeer in your petting zoo, btw!

  11. When I was growing up, my father worked at home. It was teleworking before it was called teleworking, and he worked at home 5 days a week except when he had to go in for meetings. After he was laid off, he became an independent contractor and continued the same trend. Though he's retired now, he associates the house with work and actually has to leave to get away from it;

  12. I can be a bit of a news junkie...BBC, CNN, nyt, abc, pbs...then if I am really trying to avoid writing I start on entertainment news. I can get sucked into E! in a heartbeat! Thankfully I never switch on the tv though...and I am very glad I cannot tune into the police radio because I would be just as bad as you listening in!