Saturday, June 07, 2008

I Can Quit Any Time I Want To*

There's an interesting thread on one of the Ravelry forums/groups right now entitled, "Are you a fiber junkie too?" Mostly it's a humorous discussion of the size of our respective fiber stashes, the hordes of equipment we've accumulated, and how we can't seem to pass up a deal on fiber, be it fleece, roving, or yarn.

However, this thread also has me thinking about the nature of addiction, and how we throw that word around so casually. True addiction is not funny--I've watched people battle uncontrollable dependencies on tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and gambling, and I've seen the havoc wreaked upon family and friends by their actions.

OK, this is getting waaaaaay too serious. Let's do a little etymology. No, not bugs, that's entymology; etymology is the study of words and their origins. According to Michael Quinion on his Website World Wide Words, the word was first used in written literature by William Shakespeare in 1598 to describe a strong inclination; in Henry V, the Archbishop of Canterbury marvels at Henry's knowledge of theology, saying that "His addiction was to courses vain." (Henry V, Act I, Scene 1) The word continued to be used in that fashion until the early part of the 20th century, when it was co-opted to describe someone with a dependency on a drug. By the 1990s, use of the word had expanded. Michael Larkin and Richard Wood of Nottingham University presented a paper to the Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group in February, 1998 on this phenomenon, noting that the word has become “a scapegoat for the nineties — a moral label for what society feels isn’t acceptable. Lots of people are being called addicts when they’re just engaging in unusual behaviour." Under this definition, somebody that enjoys walking briskly every morning, or sitting down to relax by spinning some yarn on their wheel, could be considered just as much an addict as the junkie attempting to score his or her next fix.

I think many people (usually) outside the sphere of the "addict" use the term is because they do not understand the difference between dependency on and passion for something. Dependency requires that one surrender to the object, whether it is a drug or something that triggers an adrenalin rush. It is the object or the action that is in control, and the demands of the object or action are given first priority by the person.

On the other hand, passion causes the object to surrender to the person. It is the person that is in control, and while they may enjoy their pursuit, they are able to put it aside when necessary to focus on other tasks at hand. A fiber addict may enjoy buying and processing raw fleece, then spinning it into yarn to knit, crochet, or weave with, but they will not sacrifice the basic needs of themselves and their family simply to buy more fiber. The person is in control (even if we whine that we have no willpower, before bragging about our latest finds.)

We need a new word. I vote "avocation" (an activity taken up in addition to one's regular work or profession; a hobby). When I hear the word, I smilingly think of the quintessential Londoner pottering about his backyard garden after work, changing the plants in the carpet bed and moving the garden gnomes. For many of us, our fondness for the fiber arts is an avocation--we have good jobs that support ourselves, our families, and our growing stashes of fiber. We mess about with fiber as a way to relax, to express ourselves artistically, and to make the world a little bit nicer through our efforts. Our families may think it steals a little time away from them, but we come to them richer for our time spent focused on the beauty found in our collections of fibers.

*but why would I want to?