We have a malaise out here, a kind of sickness. It is weird, actually, because it seems healthy but I’m not sure it is. It makes you stronger in a way but it might even kill you. I call it ‘obsessive project syndrome’ or OPS. And, while it is not contagious in the city, it is remarkably common out here and it has annually recurring symptoms. Like malaria in a jungle.
To be fair, I don’t believe the disorder originated here. I think the sufferers came with it. The disease likely incubates in the city, and festers for a time, but it is held in check by other obligations in the early stages. It breaks out when there is less resistance or demands from others.
Those under great stress suffer from a similar syndrome – they keep it together until the pressure is off and then they allow themselves to let go, give in to the feelings. Go nuts. In that way it’s a bit like post traumatic stress disorder, only the symptoms center on projects and it mostly afflicts men.
Early signs of onset include tool-gathering, workshop building, junk collecting and a growing collection of out-of-print how-to books.
And out here the ground is very fertile for the confluence of just-the-right chemistry of issues and projects as the disease takes hold, the symptoms grow unchecked, the disorder expands and, eventually the sufferer is consumed by it.
Mind you, a lot of stuff gets built during the virulent phase.
I, thank God, am largely immune. I was born that way. Some people are just lucky. Call it laziness, attention-deficit or just plain lethargy…whatever…….I am blessed with a natural resistance to hard, physically demanding projects. And, where I might succumb, trust me, there is no sign of discipline or even continuance, let alone obsession.
I struggle to finish projects and I am aiming for smaller and fewer, not more.
OPS is the irresistible desire to undertake yet another project. In severe cases, this desire becomes an obsession and the victim’s life is consumed by larger and more challenging projects as the sufferer, of course, ages and the needs for such projects diminish.
There comes an embarrassing time when an 80 year old is discovered gathering materials to build a bridge from one island to another or is designing the 50 foot historically correct wooden Viking sailing ship he wants to build.
“Not using power tools this time. Gonna build it like my great, great, great grandfather in Norway- ‘Leif‘ somebody or other – – just using wooden pegs. Got the keel laid down last week. Giant, old fir. Gonna use an adz, a mallet and a chisel to shape the keel right where the tree lies. Build it right there. Just like the old days. When boats were boats!”
Typically, physical suffering seems unexperienced (as if the brain is numb) and the afflicted simply die with a hammer in their hand. It is tragic in a sense (the boat remains unfinished) but, by and large, it is as good a way as any to go.
But it is not actual death we have to lament or fear. It is the consumption of time, the energy depletion and the bank account exhaustion that causes the most suffering. For the wife, anyway. The afflicted seem to be enjoying themselves. Kind of a demented state of bliss. And the more the sufferer delights, the more his partner suffers.
“Old fool has been out there since dawn! Whacking away at that old tree. We don’t need a replica of a Viking ship! And I am NOT making helmets with horns! What the hell is wrong with him? Can’t get him to go to town or out to dinner with friends. What am I gonna do with him?”
You think I exaggerate? You should get out here sometime. My next door neighbour is building the equivalent of a small battleship. The other neighbour is vying for a slightly larger one. Old guys in their 60’s whacking and chopping, bolting and cutting, drilling and sweating out in the sun all day. They start just after sunrise…….sometimes work in the dark…….sheesh…….