A catastrophic event occurred last weekend, one that will forever change the way I collect. My friend, Kirk, celebrated his 40th birthday. (It should be noted that Kirk, who we call Quirt or Kurt or Kurd, is not a collector. Sure, he has loads of books and DVDs, but he doesn’t have the drive seen in true collectors. For example, Kirk enjoyed all three Lord of the Rings films yet he only has Fellowship of the Ring on his DVD shelf. How someone could own an incomplete set is beyond me, but his attitude is even more incomprehensible. Ask him and he’ll say that he wants the other DVDs, but he’s in no rush to complete the set. How does he look through his DVD collection without cringing? One of these days we’ll have an intervention and force him to decide: either get rid of all the incomplete sets scattered throughout his house or go out and buy the rest.)
Anyway, to celebrate his birthday, Jason, a fellow collector (a fine man, that Jason) decided to take the birthday boy to the local strip club.
I didn’t make it.
Try as I might, I was simply too exhausted; too tired to sit with a beer in my hand and stare as naked girls dance and bounce and twist in front of me. All day I imagined the fun we would have, but even with the forced relaxation and napping, I just couldn’t wake up.
“You’re exhausted, dear,” Stephanie said early Saturday afternoon, a few hours before I’d have to leave if I were to meet up with my buddies in Fort Collins, a town about 90 miles to the North.
“Are you suggesting I don’t go?” I asked.
“No, not at all. I think you’ll have a good time,” she said.
“So I should go then?” I asked. “Even though I can barely keep my eyes open?”
“If you’re that tired, don’t go,” she said. “I’m sure they’d understand.”
“So I shouldn’t go?”
She looked at me with that look. You know, rolling her eyes without rolling her eyes. She had had enough. With a sigh, she turned back to her magazine article.
Although she could only put up with my indecisiveness for so long, I knew she was worried about me. And I loved her for it. Just the day before she had spent a few hours online researching stress exhaustion, a problem I seem to share with many Americans who can’t relax because they instead focus on all the things they need to do.
“How do you suggest I get over this?” I asked, probably a little too quickly from the last exercise in futility.
“Relax,” she said, putting down her magazine to look at me.
“Don’t do anything,” she said. Everything’s so easy for her.
“What do you mean, ‘Don’t do anything’? You mean just sit here?”
“Yeah. Just sit there.”
I was confused. “As in, just sit here,” I said. “And don’t do anything. Just sit here?”
I mulled this over for a minute. “Can I at least read?”
She sighed, gave me her look, and picked up her magazine.
It may sound ridiculous, but I really didn’t understand what she meant. How can someone just sit and do nothing? How can that be relaxing when there are so many other things you can be doing? What about all of those essays I’ve been wanting to write? What about the comic book editing that’s on my plate? I don’t want to put either of those off; it’s now or never. And hell, what about just reading a comic or watching a movie? Are any of those considered “just sitting there”? What about searching eBay for football cards?
I have a stressful job; stressful for me, anyway. I’m a managing editor for a publishing house working in the aviation industry. It’s not my dream job by any means. Sure, I like it for the most part, but at the end of the day, I’m dog tired and ready for my free time. Before I get to the fun stuff, however, I go to the gym and work out. So by 4 p.m., my mind and body are both tired. And if I don’t go to the gym, my body isn’t tired but my mind is working double time because I’ve just added the stress of feeling guilty about my expanding waist line.
So now I’m at home. I’m not completely fulfilled with how I’ve spent the last 10 hours of my life, so I immediately feel this need to do something I truly enjoy. Something I’m doing for only for myself. There are only a few hours before I go to bed, so I need to fill those remaining moments with anything that brings me happiness.
Too busy to change out of my gym clothes, I sit at the computer and start editing a comic script or reading an essay and offering suggestions on how to improve it. And after that, I search my feelings and write down all the weird things I find as I consider my collecting habits.
By now it’s well into the evening. I’ve worked for over eight hours at an unfulfilling job, worked out for another hour, and edited/written for another three. It’s time to relax. Time to unwind. But with only a couple of hours left, I put pressure on myself to squeeze more fun stuff into my day. I can’t just sit there; that’d be wasting time. I have to fill up that empty space, so I pop in a movie or pick up a book or comic.
And just like that, reading and watching movies and collecting football cards are no longer friendly diversions because I feel this need, this urge in the back of my mind, to do something with my free time. So instead of wanting to read, what I really want is to have read. Instead of wanting to watch the movie, I want to be able to say I watched it.
No, I’m not suggesting that my hobbies actually add stress to my life. That’s just plain silly. But what I am suggesting is that they don’t alleviate that stress the way they’re supposed to. Just a few years ago, organizing my football cards helped me escape the doldrums of my day job. Collecting and reading comics helped me forget that I wasn’t fulfilled in my 9-to-5.
Somewhere along the way, that changed. By putting pressure on myself to fill up every moment with something I enjoy has taken away from the enjoyment I was looking for. It’s as if I have an imaginary to-do list that includes all of these fun things, but having the list turns all of these hobbies into tasks. They’re no longer friendly diversions.
As I lay in bed Saturday night, staring at the ceiling and worrying about the things I needed to do the next day, I imagined my friends at the strip club. My buddies were drinking and laughing and dancing with the strippers surrounding them at center stage.
“Where’s your other friend?” a particularly cute, naked brunette was asking Jason.
“He was too tired to make the trip,” Jason said, his eyes glazed over as he stared at the skin in front of him.
“That’s too bad,” the blonde said, wiping the steam off of Kirk’s glasses. “We were all hoping to see him.”
“Well, he’s a collector, so what do you expect?” Kirk said, his eyes darting between the lovely ladies, trying to decide which one to focus on.
As I drifted off to sleep, the strippers turned to me and shook their head in disgust, their judgment already made. And as the blonde reached down to shed more clothes, the brunette put her hand to my mind’s camera lens, and I was left in darkness, the girls’ giggles mixing with my buddies’ laughter as the music echoed in the night.
That image of my friends having a blast with these young ladies greeted me in the morning when I awoke to a new day. As I stretched away the cobwebs, I knew something would have to change. Having fun with friends and family should always be the most important thing on my to-do list. And one way to ensure that I never miss out on the festivities is to make sure my hobbies add to my enjoyment and relaxation, not take away from them.
Sure, I also need to understand that I’m not a bad person if I don’t write every day, or that I’m allowed to hold off on editing for a day or two. But it’s vital that I start getting enjoyment out of the things I love. So from this day forward, I’m making a conscious effort to remove my hobbies from my to-do lists. From now on, I’m only going to organize my cards or hunt on eBay or read a comic because I want to, not because I need to fill up the time.
It sounds like such a simple thing, but for me, it’ll take some effort to find what attracted me to my hobbies in the first place. I think I’m up for the task. And with a support group that consists of my beautiful and caring wife, my good buddies from Fort Collins, and a tantalizing set of strippers, how can I possibly lose?