“Hate the collection, not the collector.”

It’s informal among the young, with no adult to guide or instruct. Myself, I clipped out pictures of the Space Shuttle, articles about satellites and astronomy, kept wine corks, and acorns of unusual size or beauty. But these gave way to more formalized assemblies—Star Wars figures, Transformers–other excuses for a child to amass plastic, aided by my youthful addiction to weekend garage sale scavenging with my father.

When toys lost their appeal my interests turned to print and all of its little reproductive miracles– at first baseball cards, that boyish gateway into non-functional collection, but later more esoteric items, including, in one frenzied weekend, a mania to obtain as many artist business cards as possible from a craft show I attended with my mother.

Comic books found me.

Comic book–such a strange name for such a potent, humorless object. Graceless pulp perfection, a newsprint narcotic, collectible crack cocaine. Numbered, serial, unrelenting, reaching simultaneously into the fictional past and some fictional distant future. The mania I had for them subsumed my own miseries, buried all of those real, flesh and blood problems in a fountain of faded black and Ben Day, in a river of rising action and explanatory narration and hastily-drawn explosions.

Mr. and Mrs. S___ were friend of my parents. Let us consider them now. The husband, Mr. S____, kept his twin passions of science fiction and comics ordered and concealed in long white boxes on the shelves of his closet, away from the judgmental eye of his wife Mrs. S___. Mrs. S___, meanwhile, had her own enthusiasms, that manifested themselves as an explosion of goose and goose-related paraphernalia. Goose paintings, goose-endowed wicker baskets, goose-embossed cut-glass decanters. Gooses everywhere.

It was Mr. S___ that gave me my first comic book, who introduced me to the monthly pleasures of the newsstand, just as my father had initiated me into the rituals of the baseball card years before. (It was a Star Wars comic, appropriately enough, some “reading copies,” as he was hoarding the pristine remainder for his retirement in the distant future, where they would doubtlessly be redeemable for a condo on the beach or health care, just like government bonds or platinum jewelry.)

O Comic Book. When I left home for college I somehow escaped your orbit, was distracted by Bands and Relationships and Suicide by Degree Program, all of the clutter that entered this thin life only to expand and choke you out until there was no room for you at all.

And I thought maybe that’s part of the process of growing up– like breast feeding, or being carried on your father’s back, one of the pleasures of childhood that we are asked to master and cast off, or to transform into a new, more socially-acceptable form.

Or so I thought until I actually entered the adult world, and found the same mentality everywhere. Wanna-be guitar players hoarded gear, writers hoarded books. Some special few hoarded their sexual conquests, collecting names and photos and various details in the same way they might have traded rookie cards and E.R.A. stats as children. My fellow teachers at the high school beat off the tedium of their lives with a bewildering assortment of afflictions—some under the thrall of Disney, their offices stuffed with various pieces of Mouse-related ephemera, others Christmas enthusiasts, still others obsessed with the paraphernalia of their own past, each trophy or jersey or photograph another bid for their younger, better selves to live on beyond the death of history.

And at twenty-five, as I took my first tentative steps towards being a cartoonist, I found that the collecting impulse in myself had returned, justified through my need for always more skills, more progress, more models that I could analyze, or copy outright. I had always been a stylistic mimic, even as a high school journalism student, able to produce copy on demand in a wide variety of voices. Now, as I built up my cartooning chops, the inclination toward pastiche returned, and every new book, every new comic, was another world to be strip-mined for technique. My collecting, I told myself in unsure moments, had utility.

This is the lie at the heart of every collection.

Jamie– Pez dispensers, Hardy Boys hardbacks, CDs and DVDs, Coke paraphernalia and bizarre furniture and costumes.

“I realized the other day that I’m never going to be able to live with you again, because you’ll never be able to afford a place that can fit all of my stuff.”

Michael C___ –CD’s, DVD’s, records, rock music criticism, books and other ephemera.

“I thought about getting rid of it. But the thought didn’t last long. What would I be without my collection?”

Some Guy Who Lived in West Palm Beach- data hoarder

“So, you have any other CDs I can burn? I’ve got a terabyte collection going now. What? Oh, yeah, you know, I listen to them when I paint.”
Woman Who Lives Down the Street From Me– cats, newspapers

“I don’t understand why they set limits to how many pets you’re supposed to have. There are no limits to love.”

It was five years of teaching for me, five long years of emotional exhaustion, of  a can of Coke every lunch, naps in the afternoon, waking up alone and scared and bewildered; grinding my teeth—and always surrounded by more stuff. Books—comics of all stripes, science fiction, YA novels, the objects of my childhood desires suddenly obtainable through the twin miracles of Internet shopping and a steady paycheck.

Until one day I was ready to be done.

It was only the job at first—the collecting continued on after the income passed, more bargain-oriented but not gone. Not until the end.

Arguments, the kind of arguments where no one wins, nothing is better, and there is no way out but death, or separation. And so they both came. Death of pet. Divorce. Foreclosure. Complete reorientation of goals and expectations and desires for life, a bewildering array of choices and chores and shifting ground and uncertainty.

Because they were the most precious to me, they had to be the first to go. Dissembling the shelves was the hardest part. I felt sick and strange and slow, the feeling familiar even as it crept up my sides and down back and into my stomach. It was the feeling of finality, of loss, that same feeling I felt when we sat there together on the dirty carpet and divided up the things on paper, our lives and everything we’d done a series of numbers in blue ballpoint ink on the back of a torn envelope with my name on the front, in her loopy script.

And, like that final argument, the pain was only eased by the leaving. When the man came and brought the dozen-odd boxes of books from the room I felt nothing but relief, a relief that came, in fact, from the first few gone. A handful of books, the acceptance of that loss, and it seemed the spell had been broken.

But like anything that’s been useful to us in the past, the feeling returned. I wasn’t collecting books anymore, or possessions—it was collecting work, collecting attention. Links to my articles and comics, discussion of them. The negative and the positive were remarkably alike, served that same function—something that reminded me that I existed, that I was alive.

Writing. My own drawings. My productivity.

The stack of publications I’ve created or appeared in. Posters I’ve drawn and designed, boxes of albums never sold. Love letters from people I’ve lost and forgotten, old spirals covered with notes and doodles and hundreds of songs half-finished and abandoned. The heavy box in the upper shelf of my closet, underneath that blanket I still need to give back to my ex, heavy with the first 300 pages of a graphic novel that no one will ever read, a book years in the making that I abandoned at the harsh words of a handful of friends.

Everything I’ve made, I cling to.

I need to bury you too.


Click here for the Anniversary Index of Hate.

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