I had seen this creature and I adored it. We used to have a plethora of possums in South Florida before they became road kill and I admired how they hung from trees by their tails, like ripe fruit. Their short, bristly fur could look as though composed of sesame seeds, and they have those sharp, seed-like teeth, which somehow never scared me. All I wanted to do was get to this sesame possum and play with it.
I popped up behind my parents. “Where?” I asked. “Where is the sesame possum?”
My parents laughed and from the front seat, one-armed hugged me for being the cute and clever kid I was. I’d say they affectionately mussed my hair, but it was Beatle-short in those days (why, Mom, why?) and unmussable.
In any case, the term became part of our family argot. Anyone stuck in some crazed brain loop, anyone fixated, anyone who’s your classic type A — we call him a sesame possum.
I have a tendency towards being one myself, alas. I noodle, I stew (ah, two cooking terms, no wonder I write about food — it sublimates my crazies). It isn’t that I want to be obsessive. It’s that I’m very, very good at it. And I’m an equal opportunity obsessor — I can obsess over the state of the world or the health of a friend or what I’m going to make for dinner. In fact, I’d been noodling and stewing about how to create this very sesame possum blogpost, wondering how to frame it. Could I get away with a “Sesame Mucho” pun? No, no, no. What sesamesque recipe should I create for it? Maybe I’d make halvah. Does anyone like halvah but me? I could do an Asian sesame something or other. I fretted, I noodled, I stewed. Because, really, obsession is never done, and indeed, I could have gone on for a long time.
Literature came to the rescue, not for the first time.
I interviewed Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk in conjunction with his appearance at Miami Book Fair International. His new book The Museum of Innocence is narrated by Kemal, in love with Fusun, and when their affair goes south, he creates a museum of artifacts of their lost love. He collects her stray earrings, empty cologne bottles, her 4,213 cigarette stubs.
“I may not have ‘won’ the woman I loved so obsessively,” says Kemal, “but it cheered me to have broken off a piece of her, however small.”
I asked Pamuk in what ways he might be as obsessive as Kemal. A semi-playful softball question, I thought, assuming he’d go for a parallel between love and literature. Never assume.
“It’s not obsession,” he insisted. “It’s normal.”
Part of me thought, oh, really, Mr. Pamuk, because here in America, we call anyone who moons after someone for eight years, as Kemal does, obsessed, if not a bit of a stalker weirdo. And part of me felt accepted, absolved, relieved, grateful. Call it obsession, call it love, call it, as Pamuk does, normal, “It happens to so many people.”
So, what the hell, a little obsession isn’t so bad, it’s just the dark side of passion, and we need that. I do, anyway. I’d rather be passionate than perfect. Most of us would. For more on that, stay tuned for my next post, Weird Science, which features another author and (yay) another cooking metaphor. In the meantime, here’s