I have always been an acquirer. An acquirer is a collector, without a plan. It is only recently that I have begun to question the origin of this habit, and more importantly realize the exhaustive counter productive energy I have devoted to this activity. A true collector, whether it is of Rembrandts or bottle caps has developed a “file philosophy”, a guide that helps them set limits and define what they value, making it easier to separate these items from the sea of pretenders.
I have never been able to resist people that seem to like me, literature on a cause that I should be more knowledgeable about, or 25-cent books on the discard shelves at the library that always I meant to read like, U. Thant, The Batter From Burma. I never questioned the premise that if stuff is good, more stuff is better.
As a random chaotic thinker, I have always viewed the world as a rather length scavenger hunt, or an Indiana Jones movie. A mysteriously produced gas receipt from a home I sold ten years ago may turn the tide of an IRS audit. An airline ticket and luggage claim would prove to a Grand Jury that I could not possibly be behind the latest coup in Paraguay. Scary as it seems, I actually think like this. When in doubt save it, it may come in handy in establishing an alibi, although I have not done anything illegal or even interesting. The problem is that if the situation ever arose it would be easier and considerably less painful to go to the gas chamber rather that dig through an attic and basement filled with old records that might exonerate me.
The serious reasons for becoming an acquirer are probably buried in self esteem issues (see SAND…HLP May, 1992), suffice it to say that having a lot of stuff on a low budget might have been a scrawny kid from Pennsauken’s way to fit in. There have actually been times when having an extensive Frankie Valli album collection has been socially helpful, but in retrospect it may not have been that necessary. I no longer feel the need to hade behind possessions.
The habit of picking up brochures, and getting on mailing lists has been a difficult one to break because the goal is moderation not abstinence. Crime and pollution aside, there are other reasons to consider small town life. Perhaps people in remote areas have a better perspective on the Arts. The Amish for example wear only black but display a wonderful color sense in their quilts and other hand craft. In Pine Scruff Falls, Minnesota (population 338) Maynard Ferguson plays at the consolidated regional high school every four years. Everyone goes, next subject.
The fact that I am fifteen minutes from six galleries, twelve live theater spaces, and a coffeehouse run by Jungian biker still does not get me out of my comfortable chair on most nights. My compromise is to keep believing that I would attend these happenings if I remain on the mailing list and have sufficient notice. Part of me wants to believe that I really am a “player” in the culture scene. Even if I do not plan to attend the John Greenleaf Whitter lecture series, JGW: Was he Two Women?, perhaps I could at least pick up the information for a friend. The result is that my life is continually cluttered with missed opportunities and good intentions.
I could not care less that the Jolly Martin Performance Company based in Wheaton, Illinois is doing a nine show run at the Homely Oak Theatre in Spring Lake Park of Guy De Maupassant’s The Necklace. That it is in Finnish, with Burl Ives’ niece (fresh out of Hazelden) playing all of the female roles is not a lure. Yet I accept the brochure and stack it up in my pile of things I feel guilty about not doing. Granted the above example is less tempting than a host of other worthwhile projects that I have also not attended, but I feel a secret joy weeks later when I realize that because of my procrastination I have managed to miss all nine performances and that, alas it is now permissible to discard the handsome four color brochure.
Walking into a Realtor’s open house with friends out of idle curiosity, I have always been the one to take the literature even though the home is selling for twice the GNP of Micronesia. Six months later I still have it, because I was intending to mail it to a friend because the roof line in the picture is similar to the renovation they have been doing to their home. So I have found myself accumulating things that I now I will never use, but are also of dubious value to others.
My professional life is equally muddled. I am constantly receiving notice of limited enrollment workshops that would help me crisis manage, teach me to both delegate and accept more responsibility, get me out of a dead end job, solve my current problems in halt of the time, acquaint me with the new technology, or ease me into a stress free retirement a lot sooner that my chosen path. They hint strongly that my current level of expertise in probably the equivalent of a physician sing leeches, and that if I want to help my clients, the organization, and avoid getting sued, I better get to the Ramada Inn in Brooklyn Center next Thursday and bring $135.00. How can I blithely throw these opportunities away? Obviously I can not, so I save them, both at work and at home they stack up. If I went to even a tiny fraction of the inservices offered I would be fired for dereliction of duty.
My vow is to collect only what I am able to use, and cease to be indiscriminate acquirer of well intended things that do not fit my needs. I am still a sentimentalist, but I feel less inclined to clutter my life with playbills and scorecards of past events that I have attended. I have been guilty of mistaking form for substance and grasping at tangibles to validate my experience. I have been reluctant to exclude opinions, fearing that I would narrow myself, forgetting that sometimes we are better defined by what we are not. The adage, “if you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there,” contains well worn truth. My goal is to return from a relevant “night on the town” with a full heart and an empty hand.
Tom H. Cook is a local mystic. He is continually amazed by how little of the Sunday Tribune is actually necessary.