Origins of obsessions

David Brooks wrote a column today in the NYT on what fires us up, our real desire. He talks about two men who were obsesses with each other’s ideas. It returned me to my musings on my obsession with language – right now I have added several more books on linguistics from my shelves into a special “to read” spot in my room. I just determined to acquire all seven Harry Potter books in the languages I’m reading in and use them for my read-only process as opposed to other reading where I underline and check out words, slowing me down considerably. I already have the first H.P. book in most of my languages. I have a post from a man who had tried to learn Polish by taking university courses and after several such gave up – grammar, grammar, grammar. Then he found H.P. in Polish and struggled through the first volume and then read all the others and now handles Polish well.
Why this obsession on my part? I attribute it my dad who was separated from me by divorce but whom I visited frequently, big occasions for me. He worked in the big city and I identified with a nearby small town. He was a hotel-restaurant manager and when I’d visit him, he’d take me into the kitchen where he’d introduce me to the staff, many of whom were foreign: Poles, Filipinos, Mexicans, Chinese, French, other Latin-Americans, Japanese, and so on. Despite living next door to a Polish-speaking family and on the edge of an immigrant community, social divisions kept me from recognizing all these East and Southern European languages as interesting. My dad spoke Italian and often discussed it with me and taught me words here and there.
So I think what happened was I began to associate foreign languages and foreign people with my dad and my desire to be close to him. To this day, when I pick up a grammar of whatever, I feel like it will bring me into contact with its speakers. Not entirely irrational but obviously quite an emotion foundation.

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