One of the interesting things I have noticed about people is their collections. I think in some ways, collections define people. They are indicative of their interests, what drives them, inspires them, and eventually you could find yourself surrounded by various collections that represent all sorts of different facets of your personality and interests.
I had a Star Wars collection that was shown at the Denver Air and Space Museum, right next to a prop X-Wing. I collected all sorts of Star Wars toys, movies, posters, and memorabilia. I collected other things too. Books. Zippo lighters. I had a few pipes my great grandpa used to smoke. Swords. Knives. Antique rifles. Army surplus. Bottles. Coins. T-shirts. Comic books. Oaxaca wood carvings. Indian rugs. Hats. Antique typewriters. Things I had amassed when I was a young man, most of which was kept by my ex-wife during the divorce. Community property is a nice idea, but it’s far from reality.
Most of these collections had begun before I was married. Back when I had the time and funds for collections. Then fatherhood smacked me full in the face and those collections took a backseat to other collections, such as boxes of disposable diapers, bills, toys which would eventually turn into junk or get stuffed into the back of the closet to be reduced to a neverending pile of kipple. Video game systems and piles of games I never had the time to play. Hundreds of DVDs as well for movies that were watched maybe once and left to gather dust. Easter dresses and expensive Halloween costumes that were too precious to part with even if another kid could have used them. The piles and collections became a monument to infants who were quickly growing into pre-teens and beyond.
To take a page from my girlfriend’s book and put it into my own, I had to be Little Mr. Responsible. When my friends were buying motorcycles and taking trips to India, I was the sole breadwinner in a household that was quickly hemorrhaging money and always dependent on help from extended family. As though anyone owed us for our own poor decisions.
My ex-wife got into paranormal research, so a lot of fun-money we got back in taxes went to buying IR DVR systems, digital voice recorders, and EMF detectors, not to mention tank after tank of gasoline. My collections went to the basement in boxes (along with some of hers too–because toddlers have no appreciation for expensive toys and knick-knacks).
It’s weird to think about it, but we do tend to gather Things around us. Little souvenirs, mementos, keepsakes, and just fun stuff that resonate with us as we grow and mature in our lives. It has been five years since my divorce. Five years since I basically restarted with nothing. Most of the things that fill my home are because I had some very generous friends and family who saw that I needed some stuff to call my own. As nice as some of it is, it’s not really my stuff per se. In the scramble to put my life back together, I was still Mr. Responsible. When you might be eating a can of pork and beans for dinner, collections are still in the far back of your priorities.
When I started dating Elise, I got to see her collections. Her room is like a Sanctum Sanctorum of stuff she has collected over the years. Granted, she has lost a lot of things herself to circumstance, but still continues to build on her collections, which show her interests and serve as a rich landscape of imagination and play.
Even as adults we should get to play. We should have things that spark our imaginations.
Seeing her Nerd Shelf, it reminded me of the cool stuff I used to collect too. My collections these days are still kinda weak, but I have begun building them up again. The weirdest thing is that some of the things that I once loved are just pale and fall flat in my memory now. I have no desire to rebuild my Star Wars collection. It wouldn’t be the same. A lot of heirlooms that were not returned to me were things that could never be replaced. A lot of the lesser collections would just remind me of what I had lost if I tried to rebuild them. Painting figurines? Who wants to buy all of that paint again, much less finding the time to mess around with tiny sculptures, single hair brushes, and old eyes.
I find myself in the unusual and fortuitous position of having a blank slate. I might not have an impressive Nerd Shelf myself anymore, but I can surround myself with collections that resonate with who I am now. I’m finding that a lot of the things I have now belong to someone else’s life, another man’s past–even if they were things I once held dear. As I move on in my life, some of these collections get pushed back into the corners and boxes. The sentiment of having things around just to have them was appreciated, but it is time to start anew.
I still don’t know what I want to collect, only that I have the urge to do so again. Sometimes I don’t even know what I like anymore, but I’m certainly open to finding out again. This stage of my life could mean just about anything. But as I’m a discerning man in my 40s, it’s likely going to be more expensive than it used to be.
For now, I collect experiences. Those are the things that an awful divorce and poverty couldn’t take away, which I have gotten to enjoy for most of my life. But with any collection, it’s important to know which ones to keep, and which ones to toss.