My life of eight years ago was much simpler, but not in the way you think. I’m not grumbling about working at a start-up, having a child, or owning a house. Those all complicate life, but that’s not what was so different about my life of eight years ago.
I’m talking about consumption.
Eight years ago this is what my consumption looked like: I listened to tons of new music on my iPod on my commutes. We had a three-at-a-time movie plan from Netflix. We had just started watching DVDs of Supernatural. I read an occasional book and subscribed to Rolling Stone and The Atlantic.
That resulted from a conscious decision to give up TV, watching football, playing internet games, and going to all but the most major of movies.. Even with the Netflix, when I got home from work, I usually had vast gulphs of time to fill with writing and arranging music. I could create just as frequently as I consumed. If I had money to spare, I spent it on gear so I could create even better and more interesting things.
Now, I feel beholden to all the media I consume – not just by consuming it, but keeping it all straight. I listen to more new music than ever and keep careful track of release calendars and critics scores to know what to buy. We have streaming content from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, constantly checking for new things to watch along with my handful of ongoing TV shows and a few YouTube channels, so I need to know when there are new episodes. I read more than 70 ongoing comics, and it takes almost as much time to order and organize them as read them. I play one internet game that can eat a few hours each weekend if it introduces new content. And, in an attempt to be less beholden to screens, I’m suddenly reading more actual books and playing board games (plus, again, devoting time to learning about and rating and organizing those, too).
Predictably, my creative output has fallen to close to nill, aside from the awesome month of blogging I just did. Frankly, the effort of keeping up every day exhausted me, and I went into an even more consuming-heavy month as a result.
Recently, a comic from The Oatmeal about “Fear of Missing Out” circulated in my social media circles. Basically, when the author was younger he never wanted to miss a social event. (I’m not linking to it because I don’t actually like The Oatmeal. Oooo, blog drama!) That’s not what I thought it would be about! What is there to miss about social events? They’re just filled with people you can enjoy elsewhere in less stressful settings.
Clearly, I am that person who answers, “I prefer books to people” on the Myers-Briggs.
What I’m afraid to miss out on is all that other stuff. Missing shows means you can’t be in the dialog about them. Missing albums means you can’t chat about critic’s best-of lists each year. Missing comics means you might have to pay hugely for them once their collections are out of print.
In that way, weirdly, I am at my happiest right now. I’m not missing anything I don’t want to miss! I have every LP, movie, and comic I’ve ever wanted and I realize how privileged that makes me. I love being a recommendation agent for my friends and being able to jump into any conversation on media with a well-formed opinion. It makes me feel incredibly content. Yet, I’m actually missing something really important. No, not people – again, major self-centered introvert here, this is so not about people other than me.
That’s what I’m missing out on. Me. The thoughts and feelings I have that might be worth documenting or exploring, writing or singing about. Books written, albums recorded – missing out on all of that. And the more I consume, the more my creative output becomes just an echo of what’s going in – it’s all critique and response, and little genesis.
That leaves me paralyzed. I want to consume all this stuff and get that dopamine shot of contentedness every time I reel in incrementally more of it. I don’t want to stop now and get behind! Then I wouldn’t have the completeness in my possession, even though with every new cohort of music or comics that arrives the chance that I’d have the time to re-read an old one grows less and less.
I’m not sure how to balance this. Maybe it’s months on and months off, so I add a programmatic ebb and flow to my consuming and creating. All I know is that for as drained as I felt after a solid month of blogging, I also felt really awesome.
I’d like to find a way to do the contentedness and the awesomeness at the same time, and maybe also do some exercise that isn’t carrying gear and lifting longboxes full of comics.