I am writing this to the soundtrack of Yuri On Ice, a romantic sports anime that stole the Internet’s heart, and mine, when it arrived in winter 2016. The year of horrible news had reached a new pinnacle with Trump’s election, and a positive, low-stakes love story with just the right depth of plot and character was the medicine I needed. Now it’s another wild year, and while I’m in a much better place mentally than I was in late 2016, still, a few nights ago after another day of lockdown I thought, I need a new special interest.
I often see people ask why special interests cannot be treated with the same respect as hobbies or research interests. There is undeniably a lot of overlap between the three: a special interest can be emotionally fulfilling and lead you to new skills, like a hobby, and it can drive you to accumulate massive amounts of knowledge, like a research interest. One interest – let’s say robotics, or the study of a language or a particular type of animal – could easily become all three. I also think that people and their interests deserve respect anyway, even if the interest does not meet certain judgement criteria from external observers.
And yet, as someone with a collection of hobbies and a collection of special interests, I believe they are still different things. A hobby feels good, but a special interest feels electric.
Looking back, it is hard to define whether you found it, or it found you. It might have happened at first sight or built up over time. All you know is that one day you were engaging with the thing, and you were filled with a feeling that was simultaneously energising and comforting. Some private list you keep, of things that are important and special to you, was suddenly being ticked off. It’s not just beautiful, it’s your beautiful. Oh wow.
I don’t know the neurochemistry of it, and I think words like ‘obsession’ are stigmatising, but special interests have an intensity which is difficult to repress. You may commit hours and hours of your time to it, including at times when you probably shouldn’t; when Yuri on Ice was released, I remember seeing a Tumblr post along the lines of “Please brain I’m begging you, I have to stop thinking about Yuri on Ice now, I have to work”. Talking about it is a way of discharging that energy, and so even when you know the neurotypicals around you are annoyed and would rather talk about something else (Car parking! Haircuts!), despite your best efforts you can’t stop entirely.
There is a loneliness in this. The invention of the Internet has been a miracle for us in so many ways, and one of them is the way it allows you to find endless opportunities to explore your interest with like-minded people. The Internet’s increased portability also makes it easier than ever to check in with bae quickly when you are busy or apart and find a spot of release on a bad day, of which many of us have many.
Did I just call it bae? That is a bit of a reach, especially for someone who does not have a bae (a significant other, to translate). But I think there are parallels. Some special interests are brief flames. I once spent two days fixated on the early days of the Roman Empire. Then I woke up after those two days and I was back to nothing stronger than a fondness for Shakespeare’s Roman plays and the work of Mary Beard. A brief flicker when I went to visit Rome, but no more since. Other interests stay with you for years of your life, growing and changing as your world does. Others will ebb and flow. I don’t spend hours looking at Yuri on Ice stuff anymore, but I have yet to find any situation or emotional state to which Stammi Vicino, a signature song in the soundtrack, does not add an aura of meaning and poignancy.
The intensity of a special interest, while lonely, has such a beauty to it, that I am grateful to lived with them in a way I am not for my regular hobbies like yoga and cooking. I hope that if I make it to old age, I will have a long history of special interests to look back on with deep affection. Someone will say to me, “Julius Caesar!” and I will be transported back to being 21, late at night in Warwick Library Tiffany STOP reading about Octavius you have a deadline…
Life goes on. I’m writing in a place of anticipation for my next journey. Like they say, perhaps it will come when I don’t expect it.
 It was not mine. I would say if it was, honestly.
 I once had a special interest in a book with no fandom whatsoever. It was all I could do to read the reviews, which were unfulfilling. In the end I wrote a fanfic.