Wednesday, 7 February, 2007

Confessions of a Collector

Posted in Humor at 4:09 pm by glpease

Hello. My name is Greg, and I collect things. This is not, by any stretch of thought, a brag out of vanity, but rather, a simple confession, likely in vain. Collecting has become an addiction. If one is good, more than one is better, and many are better still. It’s more than a simple dysfunction. It’s like a retrovirus that has integrated itself permanently into my DNA, expressing itself at will by causing me to fill my world with stuff. So far, there seems to be no cure. Maybe I’ll try intervention. They say confession is good for the soul, but I can probably figure out a way to collect those, too, written on the backs of envelopes and scraps of paper that will be filed in one of the many shoe boxes I’ve collected for just such a purpose.

Anatole France wrote, “That which distinguishes man from animals is lying and literature.” I’d like to add collecting things to that short list. Sure, there are the odd birds or rodents that gather things, taking them back to their nests, perhaps even taking some pride in their shiny new possessions, but only man does this volitionally, seeking out fellow collectors, befriending them, then taunting them with their newest acquisitions. My friend George, bedeviled by something of the same disease, and with whom I’ve sometimes engaged in this endless duel of desire, likens this taunting to the behavior of “Two drunks in the parking lot, launching haymakers at each other,” the sort of fusillade where neither, “Comes within a foot of connecting, and they keep falling over from losing their balance.”

Thanks, George. It’s the losing balance part that caught my attention, and not just metaphorically. This morning, I fell over some of the not-yet-organized stuff, and bonked my head, briefly knocking some sense into myself; I have to do something about this stuff. I’ll confess.

“What’s the big deal?” echoes the cry from legions of the afflicted. “Lots of people collect things.” Right. Stamp collectors have shelves of neatly organized volumes, each containing their precious acquisitions, ordered by country, by year, or sometimes by subject. Coin collectors, I suspect, have some similar method of arranging the objects of their passion so that it makes some sense. I envy these people their specialties, and their meticulous, Swiss watch sense of order. Me? I’m more of a generalist. I collect collections. I bring new meaning to the colloquial expression, “collecting dust.”

Humorist George Carlin once discussed the natural impulse for people to collect “stuff.” We buy homes, fill them to overflowing with stuff, then move into larger containers. In a slightly paranoid Pacino moment, I think, “You talkin’ to me, George? I don’t see anyone else around here. You talkin’ to me?” We, collectors, attempt to balance our budgets so that the sum we spend on our containers still leaves sufficient “discretionary income” to fill them sufficiently. Then, we look for better jobs with higher incomes, in preparation for the next iteration, like the instructions on the shampoo bottle. Collect, move, repeat.

Ay, there’s the rub. When stuff reaches something of a critical mass, large enough to trip over, the organization of it requires more stuff. We need boxes for things, shelves for the boxes, rooms for the shelves, buildings for the rooms…

I’ve got books, for example, all over the place. Many of them have been read, but I continue to believe I need to keep them around. I might want to read them again. I might want to share them with someone else. I might want to, some day in the future, find some little tidbit that I thought meaningful when I read it. (That I would never actually be able to find that tidbit doesn’t seem to come into consideration, except for those brief moments of lucidity, like this one, and I’m sure I’ll forget it before reaching the end of this.)

Others, I’m in the process of reading. (Don’t even ask about the accumulated hours lost while trying to figure out which of the books in which of those stacks will be the one I pick up on the way to the reading chair, or the loo, beside which several others already sit, also waiting to be finished.)

I’ve got bookshelves filled to overflowing, and boxes of books, and stacks of books. There are books in every corner of every room. I pay money for a storage lockup, filled, largely, with boxes of books. And, that’s just the books.

I need to write things often, and I like writing with fountain pens. In fact, I don’t use anything else, unless forced to by necessity, like filling out multi-part forms, or when I can’t find a fountain pen because they’re all hidden under other stuff. Naturally, I have more than one. I’d count them, but that would require finding them all, and doing that so soon after bonking my head (I’m still a little fuzzy from that) would put my body in peril of falling over something else. This isn’t about pens, though, or books. They’re just two examples ouf of many of things that overwhelm the space around me. It could just as well be pocket knives, time pieces, pipes, electric guitars, sliderules, photographic equipment. Oh, wait. It is all those things. This is worse than I thought.

I like to think that my habit for acquiring derives from a deep appreciation of the things I gather. Each is unique. Each has its own character, it’s own beauty. How can I get rid of any one of them, without somehow deprecating the “collection.” Justification is sometimes its own crippling reward.

The real truth, though, is something quite different. I hoard things, like a squirrel stashing nuts for the winter. This probably stems more from a latent fear of scarcity than an overt desire for abundance, though these are arguably two faces of the same coin. If I get rid of the things that I’ve acquired, I might never be able to acquire them again, right?

There’s nothing really new or truly revelatory embedded within this self-seemingly brilliant ray of illumination. In fact, it’s pretty damned obvious, even to one so blinded by the burden as I am. But, in this light, I can resolve to free myself of the shackles of possessions, at least some of them, and know that I’d live a simpler, more peaceful life, closer to a state of samadhi without the big bag of rocks on my back. I’ve done it before – made that resolution. It works for a couple days, or a week or two, and then, some shiny little trinket sparks my interest, drawing me to it like a raven to a wristwatch, and the cycle begins anew, casting me back into the comfortable shadows of my Acquisition Disorder. I’m convinced it’s a form of OCD, and that medical science should work hard to develop psych-drugs to combat it – some sort of selective possession re-uptake inhibitor. (I want royalties on that one, or at least a seat in the experimental group.)

Barring this medical miracle, I may be doomed to live with the disease as best I can. Sometimes, I feel a bit like the eccentric Arthur Lidz in the film, Unstrung Heroes. One day, I will simply disappear, only to be discovered years later, after a protracted excavation of what was once my home, my desiccated corpse found under piles of the stuff of my prior existence. Cause of death? Complications of collecting.

Now, I must close. My eye just fell upon a nice little piece of aluminum foil that will be the perfect addition to that large ball of the stuff I’ve been building for a few years. You never know what it’ll come in handy, and I don’t know anyone else who has one.



  1. Allen H. said,

    I’ll take any of the pocket watches, and pipes you’d like to donate. 😉 Oh, and any spare tobacco lying around will do nicely as well… Oh- and pocket knives- can always use pocket knives… especially any with Damascus steel… 😉

    If you do have an aluminum foil ball, perhaps you should see someone. 😉 But, other than that, I can understand completely.

    I guess I’m lucky that currently my income level keeps me from serious collecting… I have a number of FP’s that I really like, but no duplicates. But then again, I’m only just getting started, I guess. 😉

    Great post, Greg!

  2. George Dibos said,

    Ah, but classical OCD-ist accumulations (they don’t deserve the honorable designation, “collections,” now, do they?), are not fueled by purpose, but merely a neurological short circuit. Only when there IS purpose does one have a true collection. And when that purpose is the pursuit of excellence—as it is your your case—marvelous things sometimes result. Westminster being a good recent example. That particular wonder substance wouldn’t exist if you had only been driven to create it… many people dream of such things. What allowed you to actually DO it was the wealth of knowledge and experience gained from a lifetime of collecting pipes and tobaccos, yes?

    In short, we, the pipe smokers of the world, are delighted that you are messed up. Don’t expect anything more from us than disingenuous sympathy for form’s sake, in other words. In fact, if pressed, we’d admit to hoping that you become only increasingly possessed of the need to collect, provided the strongest urge remains fixed on Things Blending.

    So back to work. Your collection of VA blends isn’t COMPLETE yet, Greg… A dark, stoved, full-bodied one is conspicuously MISSING, in fact. We wouldn’t want you OBSESSING over such a gap in your catalog, understand, but knowing that HAVING ONE would move you CLOSER to having the best COLLECTION of pipe tobaccos on the planet would be just the sort of thing that could trigger a COMPULSION yes? And we know how HAPPY and CONTENT you are when appropriately compulsified.

  3. dopealope said,

    Hi, I’m dopealope, and I collect things also. Pipes, Pens, tobacco, etc. But the worst phase I went through was an obsession with a certain model of Smith & Corona manual typewriters produced in the 1950s & early 1960s. By the time I decided my collection was complete, I had acquired 14 of them. Sometimes I pass by the neatly organized stack of them in my garage, look at them wistfully, and move along quickly before I decide I should buy just one more.

    However, I don’t consider my excessive book buying “collecting”. That is personal development, and as all the crammed bookshelves and stacks on the floor in my house atest, I am personally very developed. (But your explanation of why you keep around already read books is spot on, unfortunately).

  4. Marc L. said,

    A full frontal lobotomy should do it !

  5. glpease said,

    Better to have a full bottle in front of me than a full frontal lobotomy. Who said that first? I think it was W. C. Fields, but am not sure.

    The juxtaposition of a comment about machine guns with one suggesting a lobotomy has an irony that amuses me… 😉

  6. tony ferrill said,

    I always heard that as”Id rather have a free bottle in front of me than a pre-frontal lobotomy…”
    I think that I am just as compulsive about going through the house and getting rid of the “stuff” that I don’t have apparent or immediate use for.There is a fairly heavy price in chagrin for that attitude also-I kick myself often for letting old Harleys and Gibson LesPaul guitars get away,always end up with replacements,anyway.
    My tobacco cellar is an anomaly;therein lie treasures marked”Do not open until XXXX”….

  7. Matt Robillard said,

    I know your pain, I collected Starwars collectables when I was a kid, Magic Cards in my teens, Books the whole time, Now its Tobacco and Pipes.
    I think Man in general has a certain nesting instinct built into his DNA to feather his surroundings with things. We feel the unquenchable urge to purchase this or that to satisfy some undefinable need. We all know it- Even Mark Twain said:
    “I don’t suppose that anybody ever reads an edition deluxe. No one puts bric-a-brac to any very practical purpose. There’s some human instinct which makes a man treasure what he is not to make any use of, because everybody does not possess it.”

    I personally believe that what makes one a success if finding what triggers this urge, and learning to make it. A Pease Virginia Burley Flake would sure tap my instincts…heheheh



  8. George Dibos said,

    Matt said:

    “… a Pease Virginia Burley Flake would sure [be the cat’s pajamas]”

    See? Toldja. 🙂

  9. Trilithon said,

    Hi Greg… I have a similar afliction, but I guess my gut feelings on the problem are, perhaps, slightly askew on this subject. Collecting for me was always a mystery. I originally thought it was nesting… to attract a mate, and from a youthful teenage-mind, it probably is. But even in that mindset, I thought there was something more to this. What brought me to what follows was my own avid appreciation of books.

    I advance a theory here which works for me, but may not complete the explaination. It comes from years of observing others, as well as myself. It is by no means correct, but just based upon observation.

    In my humble opinion, there are only two types of collectors…. Those who hoard and those that appreciate. Of course, of these two archetypes, purists are truly rare, since most of us have some sort of balance of the two within each of us, but I will only give examples of the archetype here, which is pretty simple.

    The worst form of hoarder is the egotist. I used to attend auctions with my father when I was young. I used to watch men bet against one another just to outdo one another. It didn’t happen often, but it was interesting to watch when it did. “I am better than you, and the world can see it now.” This can be seen in all socio-economic groups.

    The best form are those who collect for a desire to be intellectually intimate with the object; like a book, or a pipe, or a can of tobacco, or anything that can improve ones life. “This item will improve me in some aspect.” This can be seen in all socio-economic groups.

    Most of us are a sublime melding of both of these archetypes, and most of us collect to some extent. I think we all even know people who collect friendships. I think we all also know those who exhibit more of each of the above archetypes than others. And some of this imbalance is good. If we were all well-balanced and stable, what a dull world it would truly be.

    Greg, did you ever take apart alarm clocks, as a child, to see what was in there? I know I took apart many. Did you ever save that 322-tooth gear, just in case you might be able to use it? People who save junk are resourceful people. Combine resourcefulness with the knowledge seeker and you have a true knowledge junky.

    Or perhaps I am just trying to justify my own existence.


  10. Dave the Skraeling said,

    Hi Greg, I feel that the collecting instinct may have another aspect to it. I have collected (or accumulated) many different things in my past, and here is my short story:- I used to collect playing cards, the older or rarer the better. I’d trawl the antique fairs, the collector fairs etc, and rejoice when I found something “different”.

    This went on for some years until I discovered a shop in Edinburgh, which had hundreds, maybe thousands of packs of playing cards, old and new. I felt I had discovered Aladdin’s Cave, and bought a few packs. But it seemed almost like “cheating”. Shortly after that, I gave up collecting cards, and sold most of my packs.

    I then went on to collect cameras, followed by discovering the wonderful selection that Jessops used to have in their main second hand department.

    I stopped collecting cameras and went on to fountain pens, then I discovered a guy who lived near me who had a house full of them for sale, he’d even bought out all the old stock from the original American Parker pen factory. I sort of lost interest in collecting pens. (as an aside, I’m gradually selling em off on ebay, look for user anlasair!)

    Now, I’m sure that everyone has seen a pattern here – as soon as the aquisition of the coveted items became easy, I lost interest. It was (for me at least) the thrill of the hunt, that fantastic rush of adrenalin when I found a rare pack of cards in a bric-a-brac shop at a fraction of its worth, or when I found two ludicrously cheap broken pens that could be made into one whole pen. Just walking into one shop which sold every possible variation on the object of my desires was too bland, too easy.

    I now collect old silver and gold English coins (and yes, we do have a “similar method” of categorising coins), but the older the better. There is nowhere that I know of where I can build an instant collection, so I still hunt through the small shops and ebay. If I ever hear of a coin collector’s Paradise, a place where my heart’s desire can be fulfilled by one simple swipe of a credit card, I will run a mile.

    Looking back over the other comments, I agree a lot with Matt – whatever I collected, I looked deeply into – in the case of fountain pens, I even made my own from scratch, and learned how to repair them. I feel that truly knowing about the subject stops a collection becoming an accumulation.

    Anyway, thats my two-penn’orth.


  11. The neat thing about collecting coins is that you can often get at least what you paid for them out of it if you decide you want to give up and sell your collection. With most other things, unless you’re very lucky and hit a fad at the top, you end up with nearly nothing.

  12. student muse said,

    I have a dracqued and sons pipe. “druke” made in England but says ‘berkely’ im guessing becaause of the tobacco shop there. Im not sure of its worth, would appreciate all info

  13. Mark said,

    Only buy what you need, the rest is for amusement. Fill your hole with life instead of things.

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