Thursday, December 1, 2011

Magnificent Obsession

"My experience is nothing compared to what they have to deal with."
- Stephen Millhouse, walker for the homeless

I was struck by a recent story in the local paper about a man who decided to make a protracted forced march  for the homeless.

He decided not to concern himself with slings and arrows like our current 60+ mph wind gusts or anything else that might betide, but just to set out without another thought on foot for many days.

My first thought was of a friend who in high school around 1970 decided to try for the continuous pinball-playing record. He went for around two days, got his picture in the paper, and found out firsthand what it was to hallucinate due to exhaustion. I don't recall if it was a world record, but in any case he was handily outdone just a few years later by one Mr. Mowry, who went a full three days, losing feeling in his legs, among other things, on the way to  his victory .

The emphasis has gone down on continuous or repetitive events, at least in Guinness-Book-land - although 32 hours of continuous kissing was a notable relatively recent accomplishment - but certain people will always gravitate toward such things. And though there's something intuitive about that fact, what sort of personality lies behind it has remained somewhat of a mystery to me. I have never had the itch to run a marathon, deploy a hula hoop for a protracted time, or play Risk for 72 hours, just to say I did it, or have some particular sense of accomplishment.

One thing I did that ran somewhat in that vein was a commitment I made to myself, in the summer after high school graduation, to read a list of books, around twenty or a few more as I recall. It was a fairly dull, typically hot Sacramento summer, and blasting through a reading list in front of a fan seemed about right - "Franny and Zooey", "The Martian Chronicles", "A Tale of Two Cities", "The Wind in the Willows", and quite a few more provided punctuation to visits to a neighbor's swimming pool, lawn mowing, and getting the latest Mad magazine issue. I don't recall having the sense, at any point, of an impending deadline, or a feeling of "long haul", although as I initially assembled the list, it seemed largish.

And much later, I pursued my own version of the "Infinite Summer", D.F. Wallace readers' commitment to finishing his opus "Infinite Jest" in three months; mine was an Infinite Fall. But, again, that fall's activity didn't have that sort of "marathon" sense, and I wonder if I would have pursued it if it had. And I wonder if, on the times that I walked for ten miles and decided to pack it in rather than plan for twenty next time, I came to my senses or just wimped out.

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