The hall closet is a space big enough for a couple of refrigerators, that is almost completely full of my stuff. Not stuff like tools, or good china. Stuff I’ve collected over the years that almost never has an immediate purpose, but that I haul with me from apartment to apartment with every move, and then stash away somewhere for posterity. It’s a random assortment, but the bigger boxes hold 1) old newspapers, most my old clips but some not, 2) old papers, like college literary analysis papers, tax returns, pay stubs, that kind of shit. And 3) comic books.
I own so many comic books, that without looking at the closet, I’m not entirely sure how many boxes I have. I’m not what you’d call a collector in the typical sense of rating values and scouring estate sales. But I do love reading comic books, especially in pamphlet form, and when I read them, I love the feeling of gathering up completed issues, ordering them and putting them away.
It’s not unlike the satisfaction of list-making, or establishing and keeping a routine. And it’s not unlike the self-cataloguing of blogging, or keeping a journal. It’s the gratifying feeling some of us get by ordering, numbering, classifying and then keeping, as a way to bring order to the haphazard events and items of a life. I personally think it all comes down the idea of projecting narrative order onto the random events of a life. It makes sense of it. It makes it not all gobbledygook. It’s the same reason therapy is satisfying, or for some people, scrapbooking or genealogy.
But the question I keep bumping into, as I lug more boxes each move, and stare at a blank page more often when attempting to catalog watermark occasions, is this: What happens when your shelves become overloaded with those scrapbooks? What happens when they all start to look the same? What happens when the satisfaction of having tucked away every comic book you’ve ever read, starts to be outweighed by the burden of hauling them around. Or even more frightening, their overabundance threatens their preciousness. I’ve had people I’ve lived with in the past tell me I should never get rid of my comic book collection. That it’s a characteristic trait. Others have innocently inquired why I don’t get rid of them, and I always respond in terror.
These are questions of age, not youth. When you’re young, every book you read is precious. When I was a teenager, I didn’t know what a bad book was, and every one I read I wanted to keep on my bedroom shelf forever. Every movie I saw was the best movie I’d ever seen, and I kept the ticket in a shoebox. And every Marvel story arc was a chapter of my very own life. But I think it was Jesus who said, life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone. And one day, you look around at your living room, and realize. I can’t keep every one of these toys on my shelves, no matter the sentimental value of each. I don’t need all of these books. A lot of them I’ll never read again, or are falling apart, or I don’t even like. And the long boxes of plastic bagged issues are getting overwhelming, and you start to do the math in your head of the rate it will continue to grow, and godwilling, how many years you’ll be around. And that starts to look like a whole lot of boxes. And someday, I’ll have to open a shop, take out storage, or go on a TLC show where my loved ones will confront me. Or I could get rid of them. And frankly, I’m not keen on most of these options.
But noted above, scarier than the thought of getting rid of the archive, is the thought that the archive will grow so large, so repetitive, that each chapter, each issue and story arc, will become less precious every year. That I won’t even remember what comics I have, or that I won’t be able to tell you whether I’ve read some of the books on the shelves, or when I bought some of those action figures. That’s the collector’s biggest fear. At least this collector. That a day will come, not when the collection must go, but when the collection is no longer meaningful. The journal entries blur.
And then I look at the computer screen, and think, what am I going to write about the Fourth of July this year? What is it about this week that I can write that will set it apart from all the others? Maybe I’ll just skip it. In fact, maybe I’ll spend the afternoon cleaning that closet. Or maybe I’ll check out some rates on storage units.