I’m looking for a fetish, as any postmodern hipster should.
Let me clarify: This is no run-of-the-mill panty fetish I’m talking about. That very concept rings cliche in this niche of oddity. In fact, a fetish of the overtly sexual nature is hardly of interest. I can’t check my e-mail without one of those sneaky XXX sights popping up on my screen. While sexual perversion could never really be called passe, I think it would be fair to say that it’s less than cutting-edge. And cutting edge is what we’re after, sisters and brothers of the new millennium.
In this space age of e-commerce and fast modems, we have everything at our fingertips — except time. And oddly enough, time, by its very nature, cannot be traded as a commodity whose value is relative to its scarcity. Time is the fuel to our existence (or maybe sushi-to-go is the fuel, and time is the vehicle), but it can’t be contained. It just lessens. The more we know and the more activities and duties we have to occupy time, the less time we have to occupy. If time were tangible (say, in the form of a walk-up apartment) and we found it growing a bit cramped, there would always be the option of trading up for something a little roomier, or renting one of those storage units overlooking the highway. But there is no 5-foot-by-5-foot cubicle designed to increase one’s ability to cram more action into a 24-hour duration, so the only alternative is to consolidate.
That means get rid of unnecessary pastimes. Remember pastimes? They were just that: things to pass the time. That was back when there was plenty of time to be had, back when time was killed for sport. Board games, Pictionary, Charades, double-dutch, casual car-talk, gossip in the backyard: These were the activities that filled short intervals of time. Of course, pastimes were rather minor-league, compared to the full-fledged hobby — latch-hook, raising orchids, canning, restoring a Model T, making a family tree. These were the big usurpers of time. Hobbies are what simply have to go; after all, who can come home from a 10-hour day at the office and start a batch of homemade rhubarb jam? If you want jam, go to jam.com. If you want time, throw out a hobby.
However, there are psychological ramifications to the hobby-axing I’m promoting. The human psyche has a need for escape, and, historically, hobbies have provided just that: escapes from daily stresses, changes of psychic scenery. Consider the builder of model airplanes: Is this person really an adult who wants to play with toys? No. He’s a CPA who dreams of piloting and keeps that hope alive with a few harmless hours of pleasant hobbying. Maybe it’s dreams that are the fuel of our existence. Be that as it may, dreaming takes time, and we’ve already dedicated close to eight hours a night to that pursuit — so the mind’s need to compartmentalize must be dealt with on different terms.
We do compartmentalize our lives: One part of the brain is for work, one part is for loved ones, one part contains TV Guide, and one part makes up witty e-mail headings. But the biggest part is no doubt the fantasy section, and that part must be put to better use. Fantasy takes up lots of space, because it requires accouterments. Vacation planning, scuba diving, dating, rollerblading, gourmet pastries: Do you realize you’ve been walking around with a cruise-ship, a dozen roses and an Easy-Bake Oven taking up precious psychic space?
That is precisely why I’m advocating the adoption of fetishes. Fetishes, by nature, are more obsessive than material. Of course they involve material objects, but that’s secondary to the emotional response. Whereas the hobbyist is in constant pursuit of fulfillment through production, the fetishist gains fulfillment through thought alone. Even Ms. Marcos, shoe-fetishist extraordinaire, could run a whole country into the ground while sporting some hip new slides. A fetish takes up minimal space and even less time, yet it satisfies the same need to escape daily routine.
We needn’t call it deviance, though any distraction is a deviation from normal routine. For instance, the jam-fetishist is no pervert. She prizes an array of jams, and pays homage to her morning toast with huckleberry, gooseberry, even rhubarb. She joins a jam-of-the-month club, spends an extra moment in the specialty-foods section, and gets on with her life. No five-day Monopoly tournament for her. No useless yard of hand-crocheted lace. She still has plenty of time for e-commerce, day trading and witty e-mail.
I haven’t picked my fetish yet; I’m giving it some serious thought. You, my millennial comrades, must do so as well. Choose your obsession with care, and you’ll be richly rewarded. The mind in all its states — deviant or otherwise — is the final frontier, indeed, and no doubt our most interesting resource of all.
[Alli Marshall lives in Asheville with her dog, Mollie, and is completing an MFA in poetry.]