I cannot remember the first thing I collected with the studied intent of completion.
I think that is because the collecting was being done for me before I can recall. Both of my parents bought every record from their favorite artists. My mother documented our adventures in homemade photo storybooks. I had a complete collection of He-Man toys. Collecting is just what you did.
Why have only one record, or memory, or toy, when they are meant to be strung together with magnificent context?
That urge stuck with me past my childhood years. In fact, it was the urge to obsessively collect all of my words into one place that lead me to create this blog, fourteen years ago today.
When I was a child, the main limiting factor in my quest for completion was resource availability. I knew who all the GI Joes were, but old lines were impossible to find and even newer ones yielded rare figures. Later, I wrote up a wishlist of every comic issue I wanted, but even after researching how to mail-order my missing issues my budget was the limiting factor. I also wanted to see every episode of X-Files, but I could never catch re-runs of Season 1 even when the show went into syndication.
As I began this blog in 2000, the only limiting factor was my interest. I had all the technical resources and time I could want for, and my other major hobby of songwriting was a natural complement to the content here. The only element that could be in short supply was the will to write.
I never run out of a will for the things I love to do. I think that is the secret of being a good collector, actually – the delight in the effort and chase. It is that delight that made me a good blogger, but also a great bandmate and professional. I would organize all the songs and make all the lead-sheets and know the harmony like the back of my hand. I would reach Inbox 0 and have notes on every project and measure my efficiency every week.
And so I did for many years of happiness and continued improvement in my two chosen careers.
Now, a little over a year into this experiment of raising a small human being, there is no question that the main limiting factors to anything in my life are not will or delight, but space and time. I want to be at Inbox 0, but there are sometimes more emails than minutes I have to read them. I own every issue of X-Men ever published, but I’ve run out of places to put them and I have to sneak them a handful at a time before bed or on my commute. I have every X-Files episode on DVD (well, all of the Mulder seasons, anyway), but when will I watch them again? I barely have the 42 minutes to spare in any given day. What used to take weeks or months to enjoy could now stretch on for years.
I have thousands of songs in my collection, but if I try to listen to them all when will I write, learn, and perform my own music? Even if I gave up performing and focused on recording my music for posterity, I’m out of recording space on a tremendously huge set of hard drives. Plus, when would I fine time to grind away at the perfect track for hours at a time?
I have a blog to collect every fleeting memory and opinion with a veritable unlimited amount of space to fill, but when will I set the words down?
If I am a collector because I yearn to complete every collection, what happens when I realize I cannot have it all every time, forever? Who am I, and what have I spent all of these years doing with my life?
I can remember the first time I lost something irretrievably.
I was four years old, at the beach with my father, wading out into the water until it reached my waist. I brought my favorite toy – Wonder Woman – with me and had her tied to the string of my swimming trunks. As the water ebbed and flowed around my tiny body, her arms caught the current and she drifted out from my body for a moment before sinking, inexorably, never to surface again.
I later received another Wonder Woman – the first of many – but the lesson was not lost on me. Don’t be capricious with what you’ve collected. Don’t risk.
I was a forgetful teenager, so I lost a lot of other things. Pencil cases, keys, and calculators. But, never anything too important – a thing I collected. Never a GI Joe or a comic book. Only twice the lyrics to songs. Never a friend I meant to keep.
If there is is a second disappointing truth I’ve learned in the past year, it is that I cannot always control the things I lose, no matter how much care I take. Moments left unrecorded are forgotten. Instruments are worn and can break down irreparably. Teams of colleagues splinter and move on. Friends depart.
Every day I debate if I am trying to raise another collector. It helps that one of EV6’s nicknames is “chaos baby,'” and that she enjoys knocking things over and spreading them out much better than amassing them in a neat pile.
Earlier this year a friend gave EV6 a trio of adorably wobbly wheeled dinosaurs, and I noticed on the back of one of their packages there was a fourth. Of course, you can imagine that I immediately set out on an online search for the wayward member of the quartet. After five minutes I looked down to see EV6 mashing one of their heads into her mouth. She’s perfectly happy with three, I thought. The fourth could remain a mystery.
When you’ve spent your whole life being a collector the mystery is both your inspiration and antithesis. You thrill in tracking down a missing piece, but its absence seems to detract from the parts of the puzzle you’ve completed. So you strive to eliminate the mystery, brighten all the corners, place every piece – only to find that your completed collection sans the mystery isn’t as satisfying as it was with one last thing to strive for.
I’m trying to learn to appreciate the mystery. It’s still hard for me to not go back for an episode of a show I dozed off while watching, or to avoid picking up an awful back-catalog album from a now-mature musician.
However, I have come to accept that this blog isn’t complete. It never was. Each year I spend this day highlighting my favorite posts, but also the memories that went by the wayside – now disappearing through a haze of recollection like that tiny plastic superhero into the waters of New Jersey.
The best thing I can do here is the same as the best thing I can due with my tiny ball of chaos: be honest. Be honest about what I do write, and about what doesn’t need to be written. Be honest that I appreciate my memories and your attention to them, but that if I don’t go out and live I’ll never have stories to tell later. Be honest that it hurts to lose things, but you’ve never truly lost a thing you’ve loved.
I love this blog and every moment I’ve spent writing it, so it will never be lost. I delight in adding to it whenever I am able because I am always willing.
Thank you for finding it and reading it for these past fourteen years.
Thank you, and happy birthday to this.