Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m so OCD” when they do something perfectly reasonable like fold their towels a particular way (in my case, so they fit on the shelf), or park in the same aisle of the grocery store lot (in my case, so I can one, find my car, and two, not have to wait for pedestrians), or drink the same cocktail from the same glass (in my case, because I love gin-and-gingers and my Denver Broncos cup is big and opaque enough nobody really knows how much I poured)?
Well, I’ve got news for you. None of that indicates Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
The hallmark of OCD is unreasonable fear that leads to obsessive behavior. If you suffer from OCD and your towels aren’t folded a particular way you might feel an unnamed dread that you can’t shake. If you travel down the “wrong” aisle of the parking lot, you may have to stop and drive in reverse all the way out because your fear of hitting a pedestrian is overwhelming and very, very real. If someone hands you a cocktail in something other than your orange Broncos cup, you won’t be able to drink it for reasons you aren’t even aware, or worse, reasons that sound so ridiculous they make you ashamed.
A friend of mine diagnosed with OCD took exception to a joking “I’m so OCD” comment she heard. I’ve said it and heard it many, many times and never really thought about how it might sound to someone who has actually been diagnosed with OCD.
This isn’t to say that the people I know who have OCD don’t have delightful senses of humor about their challenges … quite the contrary! Some of the stories they told me on themselves were hilarious. I suppose it’s the same way I can joke about my chin hairs, but if you do, it will make me crawl under the covers and eat ice cream for three weeks straight.
At any rate, it all got me thinking about a cozy mystery series set in the world of crossword puzzles I’d been cogitating over. I knew my protagonist was going to create crosswords—and I’d have to learn—but that’s about all I knew. The more I thought about it though, the more it made sense that someone with organizational OCD would really excel at something like constructing crossword puzzles.
Thus was born Quinn Carr.
The perfection of a pristine crossword puzzle grid always made Quinn Carr’s pleasure center buzz. The puzzle was orderly. Symmetrical. No chaos. No mess. No negotiation. Only one correct answer. A puzzle grid never looked at you funny when you agonized over some marketing sociopath who couldn’t understand that “pepper, black” was worlds apart from “black pepper.” Crossword puzzles never judged you.
Because I don’t have OCD, the crossword creation comes harder for me than for Quinn, but when I get a pristine grid, I get a bit of a buzz too. I never thought constructing crosswords would be easy, but I also never thought it would be so pull-out-your-hair-and-quietly-weep-in-the-corner frustrating either, despite using robust software that handles rotational symmetry and provides extremely useful hints about possible entries that could fill the grid.
I find the task of creating original crosswords for the Crossword Mystery series and for marketing/promotion much more difficult than writing the books. I console myself that at least, unlike Quinn, I don’t have to create them as subliminal messages to prod the crossword-loving chief of police to investigate crimes he’d rather sweep under the rug.
Oh, wait. Yes I do. Dang it.
Will you think twice about declaring, “I’m so OCD” in the future? What’s your relationship like with the venerable crossword puzzle? Are you intimidated by it? Don’t see the point of crosswords? Or have you conquered their complexities and relish every challenging clue? Do you do the Sunday NYT in ink?