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Obsession

So it was that I applied my powers of ratiocination to the invention of a device called a "Life-Quality Balancing System," or "L.Q.B.S."

The L.Q.B.S. consisted of a scale (two pans of equal weight hanging in balance), 1,400 #8 medium-shank fishhooks (one for each minute of the day), and a meticulous list dividing my Standard Day into Neutral Minutes (N.M.'s), Unsatisfactory Minutes (U.M.'s), and Satisfactory Minutes (S.M.'s). For every U .M. I put a hook on the left scale-pan, for every S.M. I put one on the right, N.M. hooks I put in a neutral box.

I then constructed a series of charts and graphs dealing with ways to turn V.M.'s and N.M.'s into S.M.'s, fully convinced that this simple scientific process would eventually allow me to attain a state called " Unending Satisfaction Actualization ," or "U .S.A."

I was thrilled with this program, and baffled that I hadn't come up with it sooner. Nothing but unadulterated fishing went into the plus pan; I put Bill Bob hooks in the neutral box, not because he wasn't satisfactory, but because neutral is the way he prefers to be. Of course Ma- and H2O-hooks were piled high in the junk pan, along with school, yard work, Flyfishing Clubs, pimple-popping, constipation and other nasty imbalances.

The historian-type reader with his high tolerance for dull but factual material may be disappointed to learn that, though I still use the hooks, the lists and graphs were reduced to fluffy gray ash when "U.S.A." failed to pan out.

One fragment survived, however, and since it exemplifies the quasi-logical gymnastics my polarized brain was wont to perform, I include it:


THE IDEAL 24 HOUR SCHEDULE

1. sleep: 6 hrs.
2. food consumption: 30 min. (between casts or while plunking, if possible)
3. school: 0 hrs!
4. bath, stool, etc: 15 min. (unavoidable)
5. housework and miscellaneous chores: 30 min. (yards unnecessary; dust not unhealthy; utilitarian neatness easily accomplished)
6. nonangling conversation: 0 hrs.
7. transportation: 45 min. (live on good fishing river)
8. gear maintenance/fly tying/rod building/log keeping, etc: 1 hr. 30 min.
9. fishing time: 141/2 hrs. per day!


WAYS TO ACTUALIZE IDEAL SCHEDULE

1. finish school; no college!
2. move alone to year-round stream (preferably coastal)
3. avoid friendships, anglers not excepted (wastes time with gabbing)
4. experiment with caffeine, nicotine, to eliminate excess sleep
5. do all driving, shopping, gear preparation, research, etc. after dark, saving daylight for fishing only.


Result (allowing for unforeseeable interruptions): 4,000 actual fishing hrs. per year!!!


It took some time to get settled in the cabin: a day to stash gear, a day to build a fish-smoker, a day to set up and stock the aquarium, a day to clean and salt in supplies, two days to cut three cords of wood.

On June ninth I hung the Ideal Schedule on the wall by my bed and began to live it:

I proceeded to fish all day, every day, first light to last.

All my life I'd longed for such a marathon - and I haven't one happy memory of it.

All I recall is stream after stream, fish after fish, cast after cast, and nothing in my head but the low cunning required to hoodwink my mindless quarry.

Each night my Log entries read like tax tables or grocery receipts, describing not a dream come true, but a drudgery of double shifts on a creekside assembly line.

After two weeks of "ideal" six-hour nights and sixteen-hour days I got an incurable case of insomnia.

It hardly mattered: sleeping I dreamt of fishing and waking I fished till there was one, undivided, sleep like state.


There was fishing. There was nothing else.

A Kiluhiturmiut Eskimo song tells of a man like me:

Glorious was life when standing at my fishing hole on the ice.
But did standing at my fishing hole ever bring me joy?
No! Ever was I so anxious for my little fishhook if it should not get a bite, Ayi, yai ya. . . .

Like the Eskimo, my last thought before going fishing was "Won't it be glorious!" And like the Eskimo I then stood by the water, a needy, nervous wretch too anxious to wonder how "glory" could be so dismal. Ayi, yai ya!

So I continued my Ideal Schedule and was soon exhibiting more bizarre symptoms: besides the insomnia, tangled tongue and water hallucinations, I began to hide or even flee when I encountered other fishermen; to avoid human contact I began stockpiling groceries and bought a fifty-gallon gas drum; soon my communications with fellow humanoids consisted of an occasional Thank you, Hi, or Fill-er-up, and that was it.

Like many an addled hermit, I started yacking a blue streak, but not to myself. Oh no. I talked to my fly rod, Rodney.

As expected, we became almost preternaturally skillful at extracting fish from coastal streams ("we" being Rodney and me). We caught cutthroat in staggering numbers, often over a hundred a day. I kept only enough to eat and my appetite shrank with my ability to sleep; still, I ate trout twice a day and grew no more tired of it than an anteater grows tired of ants, he with his long snout and sticky tongue, me with my Rodney and flies.

By mid-July I was no longer in pain. I was totally bamboozled; I was chicaned; I was necromanced; I was stuffed and nonsensed. I no longer saw anything wrong with my life as it was. Rodney fished because I fished and I fished because Rodney fished.

We had an understanding: we were two pieces of fishing gear-smash us, lose us, wear us out, fishing gear will never question your judgement. That was the thing about Nature: make one lousy rule to describe it and it'll contradict you even if it has to transmogrify and metamorphosize and bust its ass to do it.

And so what? If anybody grew wise enough to grasp the real immutable laws of Nature, Nature'd only rear back and strike 'em dead before they got anybody to understand them. (still alive so far!)

What use were such questions? Hobgoblins - that's all they were - noisy abstract swill good for nothing but scaring and depressing hell out of everybody they occurred to. . . . But a fisherman was dead. Everyone I knew would one day be dead. This was no abstraction. What could it mean? What should I do about it? Was there equipment to purchase to protect myself from it? Was there reference material to peruse that would make it comprehensible? Pills to pop to make it bearable? Calesthenics to make it ... fun?

I didn't know. I didn't know anything about anything. Every thing in my head came from fishing magazines, fishing manuals, fishing novels. And what did these works have to say about the meaning of Life and Death?


When I awoke, the first thing I saw was the morning star, bluegreen and brilliant between black silhouettes of cedars. I felt very strange, but very good; I'd no desire to do anything but watch - no schedule to keep, no fish to catch. I scarcely recognized myself: the fanatical fisherman in me had died, and what remained was a stranger.

I was someone I barely knew, lying on my side, watching a star. The fisherman left a pair of binoculars on a peg at the window. He'd used them to watch for trout rising on the river; I aimed-them at the star - and was amazed: brilliant greens, violets and blues eddied through it as it glittered and shone like the Queen's own dreefee.

My naked eye had seen nothing of this whirling spectrum, and even now, through binoculars, I saw little of the beauty that must really be there. Then it struck me: trees, mists, mountains, flowers, fish, stones and streams - all these must be the robes saving my eyes from the Queen's searing light; yet they refracted and colored that light, and it shone dimly through, making them beautiful.

Such beauty as the Queen's must exist. My heart pounded that it be so.



"Now, who do you suppose made you from a configuration of molecules into the living fisherman you are today?"

"I wish I knew," I said,

"Excellent!" said Titus.

"And who controls your destiny, decides whether you shall be happy or miserable, long lived or short, infamous or famous, erudite or acrimonious and so on and so forth?"

"Wish I knew that, too."

"Very good!" he exclaimed.

"And who will decide when your body has become an unfit habitation for that which enlivens it and will one day consign it to a crematorium, river bottom or wormy grave?"

"Wish I knew that, too," I said, "but why do you holler 'excellent!' and 'very good!' when I say I wished I knew? Don't you expect me to say 'God does it' or 'My soul does it'?"

Titus looked aghast. "Gus! I'm a philosopher, not an evangelist! It's the ' wish I knew' that's crucial. To say 'God does it' and leave it at that is to abandon the search before it's begun. To really want the truth, to long for it desperately, is to reject every formulation and theory and dogma and opinion right up to the time you see and touch and unite with the God! Nobody ever discovers truth by barfing up Sunday school answers to questions!"



Dutch Hines! Crikeys.

What to do? This bozo had easily three-quarters of a million readers. That's 1.5 million eyes, barring cyclopses. And he wanted to interview me!

My brain began to lurch and flutter like a moth toward the flame that will cook it.

I knew his writing habits; I knew about the Green Pencil Syndrome; I knew he would be show'n'telling about this afternoon on Shat Creek, about the bluebacks, about the Twinkie, about me, for many a column to come if nothing distracted him.

And nothing would distract him, because it would be weeks, maybe months, before he caught another fish. I knew he'd made Fuzz Gramsay a rich man by endorsing him, and that if I told him that I'd built the rod he'd just used he would do the same for me; I knew that if he endorsed me I'd get a thousand rod orders before the month was out; I knew that even if I lowered my prices, even at a meagre ten dollars profit per rod, that was ten thousand smackers; I knew that with profits from that first burst of orders I could advertise in every major sporting magazine in the country, could hire a half-dozen peons to do my rod-building and fly-tying for me while I became a designer, an organizer, an entrepreneur; I could open a tackle factory and warehouse in Fog; I could hire salesmen and financial advisors and marketing experts; I could automatize and computerize and expand; I could spend my days inventing prototype rods and flies and let the local peasantry hunch over vises, squinting their eyesight away and snorting rod varnish; I could shunt Gus Orviston Autograph rods off to every comer of the trout-infested world; I could put Fleas and Headless Hunchbacks and Bermuda Shorts on the map; I could buy a floatplane, a fleet of jet-boats, start a guide service, take fat cats to all the great sport-fishing grounds on Earth; I could buy a jet, make connections in high places, hire politicians, hire accountants, secretaries, research assistants - all of them women, sleek-thighed and soft-bosomed; I could open a chain of Trusty Gus's Custom Rods and Flies that circumscribed the continent; I could invest, get into real estate, play the stock market, cruise Tahoe and Vegas, start chains of Cutthroat Gus's Seafood Restaurants, Cutthroat Gus's Riverside Fishing Schools, Cutthroat Gus's Trouter's Resorts; I could buy myself a harem to forget Eddy with; I could catch (or buy the proof and claim I caught) record-breaking fish to heighten my repute; I could speculate in land and lumber, subdivide the Coast Range, build private solar-powered hatcheries and surround them with resorts; I could build a geodesic dome over the Tamanawis and control its ebbs and flows with a pushbutton control panel by my half-acre bed where I'd loll with my harem, dictating fish stories into computers that edited and polished and sold them for national syndication; I could buy myself a nuclear aircraft carrier with built-in spas and woods and trout ponds and sail out to sea to escape the rabble on weekends; I could make H2O look like a hick with a cane-pole and bobber compared to me; I could buy the whole blasted coast of Oregon, name it Gussica, secede from the Union, start my own space program, make Titus my Lieutenant Spock and me the Captain of an Intergalactic Winnebago and blast away into space to search out potential trout-planets and go where no fisherman had gone before; I could stock my new planets with Donaldson Rainbows, Montana Black-spotted Cutthroat, or the Salmo-Gussious Titantrout I'd have developed by then in Gussica's solar hatcheries; I could spread my name, face, rods and flies all through the fish-infested heavens, and every resource and river, every hidden treasure and tree, every huge fish and alien queen and natural and unnatural wonder would spread itself before me . . . and so on.

"Well," said Dutch. "What do you say?"

I said, "Sure, Dutch. I will do the interview."


-David James Duncan, from The River Why


ritual habituation

"When people enjoy doing some particular thing, performing a specific activity - athletic, scholarly, artistically - for enjoyment, then the more times we perform the activity the more the activity becomes a ritual and the more we will note a reduction in pleasure due to habituation.

The activity we once enjoyed has become an ordinary experience.

Ordinary experience we don't seem to notice or remember and at sometime we will inevitably wonder why we are still performing the activity.

Two devices allow people to beat pleasure reduction due to habituation - increase the variety of activities or increase the amount of time that separates repetitions of an activity.

When episodes of activity are sufficiently separated in time, increased variety is unnecessary." - Daniel Gilbert
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