An Allegory for Obsession

Photo by Petter Hegre.

Photo by Petter Hegre.

Fifteen years ago, I developed a minor obsession with the woman pictured above, Luba Shumeyko. It was no big deal. I thought she was gorgeous, and though she hadn't starred in any Hollywood talkies, I admired her the way I admired Natalie Portman, Milla Jovovich, and Alyssa Milano. The main difference between Luba and the actresses is that Luba's eventual husband, Petter Hegre, was launching a website dedicated to high-quality erotica, so naked photo shoots of Luba were showing up online every few weeks.

If you'd like to check out of this blog post, now would be the time to do it. It's gonna get a little weird and maybe a little creepy.

You see, Petter's website is home to lots of different models, but you can see a connection between him and Luba in their photo shoots. She looks at the camera in a way the other models don't. That's all well and good for those two lovebirds, but it's also a huge draw on the business side of things. If art is about communicating emotion, then Petter and Luba are succeeding, at least in my opinion. (Exactly what Luba is communicating is up to you.)

Petter and Luba Hegre (Shumeyko)

Petter and Luba Hegre (Shumeyko)

Have you heard of that study where people stared into each other's eyes and fell in love?

In Study 1, 48 pairs of unacquainted, opposite-sex undergraduates were run in the 4 combinations of gazing for 2 min at the other’s hands or eyes, or in a 5th condition in which the S was asked to count the other’s eye blinks. Ss who were gazing at their partner’s eyes and whose partner was gazing back reported significantly higher feelings of affection than Ss in any other condition. They also reported greater liking than all Ss except those in the eye blink counting condition. In Study 2, with 36 pairs of unacquainted, opposite-sex undergraduates, Ss who engaged in mutual gaze increased significantly their feelings of passionate love, dispositional love, and liking for their partner. This effect occurred only for Ss who were identified on a separate task as more likely to rely on cues from their own behavior in defining their attributes.
— http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1989-39906-001

If you consider seeing photos of Luba (say, in a screensaver) a social experiment, then my observed results were a minor obsession and the foundation for a parasocial relationship. It definitely seeped into my work.

Golden light filtered in through the wooden slats of the windows, drawing diagonal edges to the floor. They formed four large bands through which bits of dust floated on the motionless air, bits that blinked in and out of existence according to some random number generator deep in the construct’s programming. At the center of the room was a bench pointed towards the windows. Astride it sat Luci Shumeyko, VNet employee #60421-LB. Her legs were bent at the knee so that her shins were exactly perpendicular to the floor. Her hands rested casually on her bare thighs, her back was straight, and her head faced rigidly forward.
— Xronixle

Aside from taking things from my life to put in my stories, I'm not sure why I was so hell-bent on including Luba in some way. Perhaps I thought I could tap into that emotional transfer by making people think of her. Of course, that would require everyone else have the same kind of obsession with her instead of just saying oh hey another naked girl on the internet big whoopie pie

It didn't take me long before I realized having an obsession with a Ukrainian model you only see pictures of online was not "normal." So I kept it mostly to myself and obscured Luba in my later stories. She took the form of Ilya in Veneer and only had a brief cameo in Perion Synthetics.

If you read my previous post, An Allegory for Anxiety, then you know how much meeting Dom changed my life in terms of my social anxiety. A side-effect of seeing a counselor was that I got to talk with someone who studies psychology. As a writer, the psychology of my characters is integral into communicating their motives and desires. To have a resource that could explain the psychology behind things like obsession and parasocial relationships was invaluable.

A lot of dealing with (real) problems is removing the stigma and realizing you aren't alone, and sometimes, that what you're experiencing isn't as bad as you think.

Photo by Petter Hegre

Photo by Petter Hegre

Por Vida is a story about obsession.

Por Vida is also a wild exaggeration of my obsession with Luba. You see, I like Luba. I follow her on Instagram and Facebook. But as a functional, level-headed adult, I know there's a line. The premise of Por Vida is: what if there were no line? What if I were in a position to simply indulge my obsession to the very end?

There's nothing new about a story of obsession, but as I was preparing to write Por Vida, I realized I had some valuable insight. Not into the concerning or dangerous types of obsession, but into the beginnings, the birth, how the seeds are planted. How do you go from a guy just existing to a guy breaking into a woman's house to assault her? Thankfully, I don't know, but I have an idea of how it could start.

For years, Kagan had fantasized about a relationship with Sepideh Ahmadi. Though he felt a small amount of shame about his obsession, he also knew that no one else in the world really understood how he felt about her.

It had started with a few pictures on his desktop, then full-motion videos playing when the computer was idle. Whenever Kagan worked, whenever windows filled his screen, he’d catch glimpses of Sepideh behind them. The computer cycled through her photos every ten minutes, producing a random ear or mouth or eye in the gaps between his programs. Kagan would minimize every window just to stare.

They had a connection, whether or not anyone else acknowledged it. Kagan first thought the connection was between Sepideh and the photographer, but over time, that seemed less and less likely. Instead, Kagan believed she was looking back at him, gazing lovingly into his eyes the way he gazed into hers.

Then, the I love yous started. The first one happened by accident. He’d just sat down for work, and before his windows could load, the desktop background shifted to a medium shot of Sepi laying her head on the armrest of a red velvet sofa. She wasn’t smiling, but her shoulders were bare and the look on her face was one of contentment and longing.

“I love you,” Kagan had said to the screen.
— Por Vida

I've only really shared my obsession with Luba with a few friends, and then only casually or jokingly. It's not the sort of thing you'd want to broadcast, especially when you're engaged to the love of your life and expecting your first child together. As far as I'm concerned, parasocial relationships are less than real, and any feelings of affection, love, or like are similarly unreal.

Still, it amazes me that a set of photos can potentially induce those feelings. Petter Hegre is a talented photographer, and his wife is a talented model. If I weren't such a reasonable fellow with my head securely attached to my shoulders, things might have turned out differently for me.

Unfortunately for Sepideh Ahmadi, Kagan isn't a reasonable fellow.

Photo by Luba Shumeyko

Photo by Luba Shumeyko

Other assorted thoughts:

  • Luba having her own social media presence really goes a long way towards humanizing her, at least for most people, I hope. You really have to ignore the comments she gets on her photos though. I don't know how she deals with it.
  • What the hell does "humanizing" mean anyway? She's obviously a human.
  • You can check out Petter's other work at hegre.com (NSFW). Just don't fall in love.
  • It's scary to think that one day people will be able to buy sexbots that look like their favorite celebrities
  • It's also scary to think you have obsessions you don't talk about it. I just hope your obsession is not the bare feet of Science Fiction authors.

Regarding my previous accusation, perhaps you should clear the air by naming your obsession in the comments below. Don't worry; no one reads this blog anyway, so no one will find out.