I AM OBSESSIVE compulsive. It's the reason I don't drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes. It's the reason I'm gonna have to swear off Dunkin' Donuts coffee . . . again. It's the reason I can spend days editing a single sentence when I've got a whole book to write.
My obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD for short - has gotten me into trouble in the past. Most of the time, it was because I focused my undivided attention on the wrong person, place or thing. I've learned valuable lessons from doing that. If you don't mind, I'll share a few of them now.
Lesson 1: If you meet a young woman and she talks with her father like he's a bum on the street, she's probably going to do the same thing to you.
Lesson 2: If it feels really good, but the aftermath feels really bad, you probably shouldn't be doing it.
Lesson 3: When your mom tells you to leave something or someone alone, she's usually right - even if she says it when you're 30.
Having learned those lessons through hard-won experience, I entered Phase 2 of my OCD: making my disorder work for me. Over the years, my obsessive tendencies have helped me to master computer-aided design, because I'll work on a piece until whoever is sitting next to me turns into a pile of dust.
Since becoming obsessed with my lawn, I have made a real difference in my community, too, primarily by forcing my neighbors to unwittingly enter the annual "best lawn on the block" contest.
The unfortunate thing about OCD is that once you've finished obsessing over a project (since I have about 50 jobs, there's always something to obsess over), you fixate on how the world will respond to your work. I think that's why I'm going crazy about my latest novel, "Payback."
Don't let anyone fool you. Writers care what critics think. And nowadays, with comment sections on every Web site allowing people to trash others anonymously, there are critics everywhere. Unfortunately, many of them have not mastered the fine art of dropping a kind word or two between the insults so they at least look impartial.
I miss the days when critics were professionals - people who actually got paid to look down at you. Sadly, when media outlets downsized the highbrow art critics whose ascots and poison pens kept writers in line, things changed.
Nowadays, we writers don't have a lot of professional critics by which to measure ourselves. We've been reduced to tracking our Amazon sales rankings like they're symbols on the New York Stock Exchange. Last time I looked, "Payback" was up 10,000, and I was waiting for a review from a guy named Maddog2020, whose greatest insights are usually delivered between belches.
Don't get me wrong. I can deal with shadowy Internet posters if I must. But I'd much rather put a face to the guy who's trashing me. I like to know I'm being insulted by some guy who's at least tried and failed to do what I do; a guy with an address, a mailbox and a phone.
I hate to imagine that the anonymous Internet critics are lonely folks with laptops and grudges, at home posting 50,000 criticisms a day. That image makes me sad. Not just for them, but for all of us.
If we measure each other's worth with fake screen names and unattributed criticism, we have to do better. If we'd rather be anonymously angry than openly supportive, we've got to better. If we get wrapped up in the opinions of people we don't even know, we've got to do better. Because when it comes to measuring our worth, the only opinion that truly matters is our own. If we are to be obsessed with anything, we should be obsessed with learning that.
Then again, for a writer like me, with OCD, it's kinda fun tracking sales numbers on Amazon. Especially when it's accompanied by angry criticism from a guy named Maddog2020. *
Solomon Jones' column appears every Saturday. He can be reached at