Monday, July 12, 2010

Why I Collect (or How I Judge the People I Meet)

A few days ago I happened upon the new Rush documentary, Beyond the Lighted Stage. I found out about it earlier this summer and my inner (and outer) music nerd lept for joy. It's not a filmed concert, it's an actual documentary about the history of Canada's greatest export! I need this dvd, right? I need it. Must have. After all, it's not like if I waited a month it would be out on Netflix and I could queue it up and watch it. Oh, wait...But Netflix makes me send it back. If I own it I could watch it whenever I want. That's what's important. It can be on my time. After all, a person could watch a documentary dozens of times, right? Actually, I could. Especially one about Rush. So I bought it. I took it home, unwrapped it, read the liner notes, and carefully put it on the shelf with my other music-related dvds. That's where it goes. Near every spoken word dvd Henry Rollins has ever released, next to Slayer's concert film, just to the side of my Dream Theater live double disc dvd, and, well you get the idea. It certainly wouldn't go up by the science fiction section, or the Ah-nold section, or the Kevin Smith section. It goes with music. Duh. All the music-related dvds I've bought and watched, er, dozens of times over the years.

* sigh *

Why do I own these things? Why can't I leave a book store without at least one paperback under my arm? How come music stores seem to have a hypnotic power over me, making me sure to accidently find the album that I kinda was thinking about maybe checking out someday and look it's even a decent price ok I'll buy it? Do I need these things? I know I don't need-need them, not in the food, water, shelter kind of way. But in the happy to own them way I do. Books are the killer. Libraries abound. They are free. I could go in, find a book or three, take them home, read them, and then return them. I used to do just that all the time. Before I had a job. But I don't want to take them back. I want to have them.

I'll let you in on a little secret: I've always wanted to have a room in my house that was a massive library. One room, wall-to-wall book shelves stuffed with books. Tall, like you need a ladder to get to the top few shelves tall. With a few big comfortable chairs to curl up in. Perfect. And I need a lot of books to fill this imaginary room that only exists in my head because I'm a teacher and will never make enough money to actually have a house like that. And it would be cool to have a similar music/movie room as well.

This summer I moved a bunch of stuff from California, where my parents had been storing it for three years, to Hawaii. I should be more specific. I moved my collections of music, movies, and the rest of my books to Hawaii. Why? 1) Because I want them near me in case I want to read/listen to/watch them, even though I don't know if I will. I am one of those people that goes, “Oh, I read this book seven hundred years ago and I own it and I think that I'd like to read it again right now.” So...there you go. Pairing the stacks down was hard. And 2) So that when I move away I can put all these things back into a different box and pay for them to go back to the mainland. And so that we can go buy more bookshelves on which to display them.

I think that last sentence really gets to the crux of this whole issue. I try to shed as much of my inner bullshit as possible, which takes a lot of asking myself the all important Why and trying to give a real answer. And that's the answer I came up with. I like having them on display. My ego gets a huge kick out of showing off these things. It says, “Look! Look at my superior taste. Gaze upon these books which I have read which you have not read. Gasp in wonder at the rare and highly important bands which I listen to. Look at my films and understand what a deep person I am.” And I know that my ego is full of shit. But I can't help it.

But I understand now why I do it.

It's how I judge you.

When I go to a new person's house I do three things. First I will scan for your bookshelf. I will then make my way towards it and evaluate you based on its contents. Do we have things in common? Do you have Azimov, Heinlein, Moore? Can I see any Clarke or Gladwell? Perhaps some King or even Rowling? Any Rollins or Shakespeare? This part is normally easy. Most people have bookshelves out where they can be seen and easily gotten to. Hopefully they have more than one. With the advent of the e-reader judging people like this might eventually get more tricky, but I'm not worried. People won't get rid of most of their books. You can learn a lot about a person from their personal library. At least, I hope you can.

Next, I'll try to find your music collection. This is becoming harder and harder. If you still cling to CDs, as I do, I will thumb through them, looking for Aerosmith, Metallica, Kings X. God help you if I can't find any Beatles. How extreme, how varied, is your taste? But now many people have gone digital. Getting someone to let me look at their iTunes account is trickier and sneeking a look at it seems more openly invasive, like a scene from a Ben Stiller movie where things just get worse and worse and worse and worse until you leave the theater because god that kind of comedy really isn't funny sometimes.

Lastly (normally), I find your movies. You must own at least one Star Trek movie, don't you? Do we have similar tastes in film? Any Kevin Smith? What actors do you seem to favor? Any director that keeps popping up? What's your sense of humor, Bill Murry or Judd Apatow? Do you have any documentaries or concerts on display? Are you an indy nerd?

And recent;y I've gotten in to video games so if I see you have a system, I'll judge you on the games you play too.

Let me be clear: I am under no illusions that this works, that I can really learn anything important about anyone by looking at their various media. But it gives a pretty good surface look, doesn't it? Lets me know if our tastes are similar. When there's a lull in conversation can I fill it with a Spinal Tap quote?

And that's why I like having my stuff out, why I like buying stuff. I assume, in my ego and self-centeredness, that everyone else does the same petty shit I do.

My toys are my way of saying, This is my basic me, this is the Me I want to expose to the world first. So I go out and spend money, knowing full well that it's silly. But hey, it could be worse. I could judge you, and want you to judge me, on the looks, sexual orientation, occupation, or religion.

See, now judgment based on books, movies, and music doesn't seem so bad.

1 comment:

  1. I do the same thing. It's not just you. I'm horrified when I go to someone's house and they don't have *any* books out. Or the books they do have are brand new or even worse.... all romance novels and chick lit.

    I knew you and Angela would become fixtures when the first time you guys came over you watched Metal Mania with us and didn't think it was weird. And then next time you knew to wear fat pants. :)