I hate to start a blog entry with a cliché (an action which itself seems like a cliché,or is the cliché to complain about the cliché… anyway) but sometimes it is important to stop and smell the roses. One of the many driving forces behind this massive exercise in reduction,reappraisal,and redefinition has been that there was just too…much…stuff…in my life to actually enjoy it all. More than just feeling overwhelmed by personal possessions;more than being terrified by the cumulative monetary investment;more than being worried that I wouldn’t be able to stop buying things. If the whole point in having these books,these things,was because I derived pleasure from them,than I needed to be able to find the time to have that experience. And when you have a pile of unread books,with more on the way,can you really say that you are.
We can have a passive or an active relationship with the media we intake. What I strive for is an active,but what I end up with,too often,is a passive. I often think back to my college roommate Ben and his relationship to the music he listened to. Ben and I both had large CD collections. At times we would look over at our racks of CDs and say “There goes my car. There goes my savings account.” The difference between us was,Ben would actually engage with his music. Sure I would listen to my music while I worked or while I drove around or when I was hanging with friends,but Ben could take the time to hear his music. Not only was he a real musician (he played bass),but he also studied literature and poetry and all that fancy stuff. When he would get a new CD he would spend time with it. He would sit on his bed and listen to it several times over,with the CD booklet in hand so he could follow along with the lyrics. The music wasn’t just a background soundtrack to his life;it was something that he could show respect and interact with on a different level than I was able to.
I think back on this with a sense of shame when I look at my relationship with music today. While I don’t buy into the demonization of the “Shuffle Generation” (with their iPods and their MP3s and their gangster rappity rap) destroying the way we listen to music,I do know that the lack of a physical item has changed the way I listen to my music. The lack of object (whether cassette or compact disc) changes the frequency I’ll listen to an record,and certainly stops me from listening to an album all the way through. Even more than that is the amount of music that is entering my life right now. Buying music digitally feels less like buying so it builds up faster. Add to that the fact that,because of the subscription model,I have to download 65 new tracks every month from eMusic or I “lose”my money. So I seem to have a constant flow of new music coming into my world,between the eMusic and other digital purchases and CDs borrowed from the library along with the occasional actual physic purchase,but I don’t actually have the time to listen to it all.
Over the past half year I can count on one hand the number of albums I have listened to all the way through on multiple occasions. In fact,it is even easier than that;it is two:the self-titled album by The Week That Was (an amazing,amazing album which brings to mind classic early ’80s work by Peter Gabriel and XTC and others) and Kanye West’s 808s &Heartbreak (almost as good,sort of the rap version of Smiths album which even has a Tears for Fears cover on it). And you know,I miss that. I miss listening to something over and over again. I miss remembering lyrics and being able to sing along. I miss being able to recognize a song instantly and be able to name the artist. I can listen to my iPod on Shuffle and have no idea what a song is without checking. I need to cut down on the intake so I can start actually hearing music again. There is plenty of great music out there,I don’t need to force myself to buy a 5 new albums every month.
So what is the answer? It is more than just having less things or buying fewer things. For me it has to include not forcing yourself to buy everything at once. At times I behave like a survivor of the Great Depression who swore never to be hungry again and so buys or eats as much as possible whenever they have the chance. At some point in my past I either didn’t get the toy (ahem… Kenner Alien the Movie action figure Christmas 1978) or I the comic sold out or I didn’t buy that import CD or EP. Whatever it was scarred me in some way which has driven me,ever since,to buy everything I could ever want whenever I have the chance. This leads to pre-ordering large stacks of graphic novels every month. This leads huge subscriptions on eMusic,with “saved for later”lists filled with albums I’ll never have the time to buy or listen to. This leads to adding every new show that comes on the air to my DVR programming in case I don’t have the chance to watch something good from the beginning. This leads to coming home from the library with a giant stack of books that I wouldn’t able to read in several months,let alone in three weeks. I don’t want to miss out,so I front-load my purchases and then don’t have the time for them when they are available.Saying goodbye to artificial limits means taking control of what schedule I purchase things on. Saying goodbye to eMusic may mean saying goodbye to all sorts of wonderful music discoveries that I have made,but it also means slowing down the amount of music I buy and lets me make more educated &considered purchases. Limiting the amount of books I pre-order each month lets me reflect on purchases,and while I might pay a few bucks more if I do eventually buy them,it allows me the time to come to the decision that maybe I don’t need that Deadpool collection or Little Lulu hardcover or the umpteenth edition of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Only picking up new books at the library when I return old books,and making notes on things I might want to read later,means I don’t have this pile of “failure to finish” staring at me all the time.
There are times for things later,and if there isn’t than maybe they weren’t that important in the first place. And in the meantime,a few less things coming in gives me the time to relax into the pieces that I do have,and give them the respect that they deserve.
Or at least that’s the plan. I mean,I still have to get to the comic book store every Wednesday by early afternoon before the new X-Force sells out. But like the cliché goes,lets take things one step at a time.