Obsession With Story

Granted I no longer have to worry about a fax machine and rolodex, but I liked the image.

I have decided to put down the book I was reading, take a break from the research paper I was writing, and pause the podcast I was listening to put together my column for the week. And what better topic than that of story itself? I’ve come to realize I have something of an addiction with stories. I have a feeling this is true for many people reading these words right now, but I the idea has been stuck in my head since the weekend so why not try to flesh it out?

I guess the first thing to do would be to figure out if you yourself are a story addict. I’ve decided the best way to do this is by way of a quiz. I have no idea if this will work, but it should at least be fun. Here goes!


1)      When you leave the house you always make sure you have which of the following:

A. MP3 player and headphones
B. Something to read
C. Portable video game device
D. All of the above
E. None of the above

2)      Will you buy new books, movies, video games, etc. when you still have a large stack of unread, unwatched, or unplayed material?

A. Yes
B. No

3)      When packing for a trip do you regularly bring more reading material than would be possible to read even if you spent the majority of the trip trying to get through it?

A. Yes
B. No

4)      If you’re leaving for work and you’ve forgotten headphones will you turn around to go get them?

A. Yes
B. No

5)      Have people ever commented that you might die in an earthquake were the stack of books on your nightstand to fall on you?

A. Yes
B. No

6)      Do you find yourself in situations where you see people just being idle, like in line at the Post Office or on the bus, and wonder how they can stand even a moment of monotonous boredom?

A. Yes
B. No

Well if you answered anything but ‘E’ for #1 and logged a few ‘yes’s then you too might be obsessed with stories! (Granted, this was a very personalized quiz, but I trust you can see the point.)

I’ve been thinking about what that means; whether this obsession to be always absorbing information or narrative is a blessing or a curse. I’ve landed somewhere in the murky realm of mixed-blessing. I feel like I get a lot out of my drive to always consume more information. It makes me feel modern, up to date, and broad. Others have tried to persuade me that a little bit of quiet time every day helps them think, clears their head, or helps them regain focus. I think they’re probably right too, but I have my little quirks that allow me to step away from the flood of info input. For instance, right now all I can hear are the sounds of the birds outside and my own fingers on the keys. I prefer to write in silence. I can’t even really listen to wordless music without feeling distracted, and the same more or less goes for reading. I know people who can write while literally having Hulu playing a TV show on the same laptop screen! To me, that’s mind boggling, but it seems to work well enough for them.

Then there’s always the shower. Who doesn’t love to think in the shower? There are days when I have a lot of writing to do where I’ll take a break by taking a shower, like a mental reset button for my brain. I think it’s the bland confines, the white noise, and the comfort of it all that make it such an ideal place to think. The shower as a place to zone out and ponder has made me wonder if I’d enjoy a sensory deprivation tank, though that might end up being too much of a good thing. Anyone ever tried one? I’d love to hear about it.

I guess I’ll wrap this up by saying that I have no intention of fundamentally changing my drive to hear stories and new information about the world, I think its part of who I am. But I have learned some lessons about how to better interact with a world of people who might not feel the same way.

  1. Treat your headphones like an etiquette accessory. I got this one from hearing about how men used to tip or take off their hats depending on the person they were bumping into. Basically, if I see someone I want to just say a quick hello to while walking by, I flick one earbud out so I can hear what they’re saying. If I want to actually stop and talk, I take both out to indicate that the person actually has my full attention. It’s subtle and no one will likely ever compliment you for doing so, but I’ve found it makes a difference.
  2. Conversations are stories too. Being a good, active listener can be tough. But think about shows that are based entirely off conversations between two people. Those shows are only engaging if the people in the show are themselves engaged.
  3. Shower often. This helps you not smell bad.

What are your narrative obsessions? Do you too have trouble putting things down and walking away? Let’s talk about it in the comments!


Ryan Haupt has yet to turn story-telling into a career, but he does have some really good storylines stored as doodles in the margins of nearly all his notes. Hear his audio doodles on the podcast Science… sort of.


  1. I am in a constant state of listening to my iPod, almost always podcasts and very often the same ones over and over. I love having something to listen to and engage my mind while doing monotonous activities like driving or folding laundry.

    I’ve realized, however, that this can seriously impede my ability to interact with and appreciate the world around me. As such, recently I’ve made it a point to take a walk or bike ride without headphones often, giving myself the ever vital opportunity to let my mind wander and discover new things. This almost invariably leads to a nice revelation, be it an unblocking of a writer’s block or a new perspective on life events. Either way, I feel that it’s important in this day and age to make the time for thought.

    I wonder, sometimes, if it’s based in fear, this need to fill our minds all the time. That if we’re left with our thoughts alone, constantly, we’ll discover things we’d rather ignore. I dunno. Food for thought.

    As always, Ryan, a wonderfully interesting and personal article.

  2. I listen to music or podcasts or radio while driving and walking – commuting or just out for a walk around town. But not if I’m doing something else or with someone else. I don’t have headphones on while walking the dogs, for instance. I wouldn’t put headphones on while hiking or mountain biking – as I like to hear the space around me.

  3. I do international research for work so I ride a desk all day. The benefit to this is the ability to plug into anything online I want all day. I’m lucky enough that I can do several things simultaneously but I always have NPR, a podcast or sports radio on. If I’m translating a foreign document or on a webinar, that’s different but the ability to be plugged in and engaging in media all the time is a great way to spend the day.

  4. I feel people who do not love stories have failed to tap into the very thing that compromises…well everything. Words shape everything.

    • “Compromises?”

    • comprises. I never said spelling was important did I?

    • But you did say “Words shape everything.”

    • This is vague and made me sound like a douche. What I meant was people who think that aren’t interested in stories have probably never stopped to realise that in some form they are. All people do is tell stories in some fashion or another. Whether you want to take a religious stance and say its an echo at God’s ‘In the Beginning was the Word’ or whether its an evolutionary quirk that has allowed us to become the dominant life form (or maybe you like a little of both) people are stories tellers. Now some are consciously pursuing stories for the sake of stories other merely know they like gossip or American Idol but at the end of the day everything is shaped and given character by the words used to explain it or describe it.

  5. That mini shower comic strip made my day. Thanks!

  6. I do believe this attachment to one’s mp3 and/or mobile devise is a defense mechanism/fear response to yourself or the world around you. There’s nothing wrong with listening to whatever to pass the time, I do that, but when its to the point where you can’t make a move without the damn ipod: That’s a problem. I have yanked the headphones right off people’s ears (friends and such) to let them know how rude it is when someone is speaking to you and you can’t enact courtesy.
    Since my last device broke I have not bought another, I have dusted off my cd collection and am seriously thinking of buying a record player (turntables) so as to really walk away from what I see as a self-imposed handicap.

    • Well said.

    • that’s a fine line kinda thing. Either people are too plugged in as you say, or they are trying to drop a hint whenever you demand they pay attention to you. =p

    • @CaseyJustice: Cheers mate!

      @wallyTGM: You’re under the assumption that I go around looking for people wearing earphones to drop worthless trivia on and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Even in a social setting, there’s things you have to say and for that person to be so dismissive is just plain rude.

    • I think drawing a hard line either way is a little ridiculous. I live in a college town and have often seen two students walking around downtown, talking to each, both with earbuds in. To me that’s more than a little silly. However, yanking earbuds out of someones ears and purposefully regressing to CD’s because certain people use an MP3 players in a rude manner sounds a little crazy too. I mean what is the line? People often talk on their cell phones when checking out at the grocery store which I find to be incredibly rude. That said, I’m not going to go out and buy a rotary phone and think that will fix the problem. Technology is neither inherently good nor evil, rude nor courteous; it’s all in how we use it. And it’s up to us to use in properly and responsibly. Blaming an MP3 player for someone being rude is kind of like blaming the stove for burning your dinner.

  7. I tend to do my best thinking when i’m taking a shower, sitting on the ol’ throne, or walking the dog. Especially at night, the dog walking thing is great….lots of quiet and my dog is fairly OCD so she has a “flight path” down to an almost checklist of places to walk and trees and things to smell, so i’m basically on autopilot.

    At work i always have my headphones or speakers on, mostly listening to podcasts. My office is full of chatty people (including myself) so its important to put up some barriers so i can focus. I’m not into music much anymore, so I tend to listen to a wide variety of podcasts ranging from comics, pop culture, news and sports…. Basically i need to assimilate data and listen to stories……because i am borg. =)

  8. I have my headphones on all the time, and I just bought a music bullet because a) it’s awesome and b) my mp3 player used to have built-in speakers until I dropped it in a full sink. I crave audio all the time, and that’s all podcasts/talk radio

    I also tend to take one earbud out preemptively when I know I’m on my way to meet someone.

  9. Cool article, it got me to realize what a story junkie I am as well. I freaking HATE reality TV because there is no story to most of it. An argument could be made that we are watching the story come into being as things happen, but many are scripted to a degree. Give me a well-crafted, well-acted, intelligent (or funny and offensive!) show any day over that crap.

    I’ve gotten into audio books over the last few months. I can listen to them in the car and at other times when I can’t read. Sometimes I switch back and forth between reading the book and listening to the audio book, if it’s something I am really into (like Game of Thrones).

    I also do some good thinking in the shower and come up with solutions to many problems in it. I can relax and let my mind explore the problem from other angles. It kind of cuts you off from the rest of the world.

    • Hey kennyg, can you stay focused on the narration of audio books? I’m curious about this since its something I’ve never tried.

    • Depends who voices it and if they are any good at story reading. Its an art. If you go on to librivox.com you’ll quickly find many people who cannot read stories well. A few can. Also I’m slightly pernickety with who reads my stories to me. Tolkien, Shakespeare, Dickens, Dahl should only be read by English, preferably older, men. I know that might be bad but that just sounds right to me in a way. Poe and Whitman need to be read by Americans.

  10. Considering this is a Fanboy site for comics maybe every article should end with: Shower Often.

  11. I used to be really into the whole sensory deprivation tank think. It started out all cool with crazy colors and the meaning of life, but then I took it too far and devolved into an ape.

    But seriously, I really really related to this article. I totally do that headphone etiquette thing.

  12. Great article. I’m definitely addicted to stories; whether it’s a movie or a book/comic, or a TV show, I love hearing/reading/watching stories. I have a decent pile of to read/to watch stuff, and sometimes I have to remind myself–when I contemplate another purchase–that the story isn’t going anywhere, I can read/watch it when I finish the pile at home.

    In regards to the headphone etiquette, I wish more people thought about how rude this habit is. Ryan, I appreciate that you make a conscious effort to be polite while earbudding. I LOVE music, and I listen to it often, but some people need to chill with the constant earbuds. I recently started going back to school, and the halls/walkways are filled with people who walk slow, and don’t respond when you say “excuse me” to get past them. Others have abruptly turned around and walked right into me, because they are oblivious to everything around them except their precious music. I get it, music makes a boring stroll through campus more bearable, but I think some folks are missing out when they choose to ignore the rest of the world. At the very least, listen at a volume that doesn’t drown out everthing else.

    Sorry if I went into rant mode there.