Curator of Life

Why what we collect is just as important as the collection itself.

As a knitter, my wife has two past-times: knitting, and collecting yarn.

It’s a delight, really.  We have these troves of yarn and fiber stuffed into corners around the house, like super-soft, multi-colored insulation.  We’ll be looking for holiday decorations or something, open a box, and whomp, there’s the alpaca yarn.  At least once, I’ve come to a convention with a box of yarn because I was sure it held extra bags and business cards.

She has more than enough yarn for all her projects for the rest of the year.  Probably for several years.  And yet, she peruses and searches, purchases strategically and deliberately…and binges periodically.  It’s quite a delight, even if the two past-times are not directly related.  She rarely buys yarn for a specific project; usually buying something and then, sometime later, deciding to apply it towards an effort.

I can’t exactly give her a hard time for this (not that I would).  I’m not a HUGE Transformers collector, but the collection has multiple dedicated shelves and the total value is easily into the thousands of dollars.  I’d be lying if I said I played with them all, and certainly with no regularity.  I’ll go weeks without more than a few minutes of fiddling with one or two, and usually the same one or two.

So why own them?

As entertainment moves away from tangible media, with CDs and DVDs going the way of the cassette and the 8-track (though not the record for some inexplicable reason), it seems odd to keep physical entertainment.  Let’s first disregard the issue that I’m a 39-year-old man buying toys because that is both ageist and shut up.  I’ve got video games, which seem like they can do just about everything toys can do, but cooler.  Plus, I’ve got the actual shows most of these toys come from.  So why have the figures?

Perhaps there’s something intrinsic to the value of having the tactile reinforcement?  There’s something valuable about picking up and handling the exact item.  Maybe, but then why have so many?  And why have so many that are nigh identical?  I have three Optimus Prime cabs: classic red-and-blue, white (Ultra Magnus), and black (Nemesis Prime).  Okay, great, so we align a corresponding varied color appreciation to the tactile needs.  But I have figures of characters I don’t really even like.  I have a Predaking combiner and I don’t like Predaking.  He’s goofy-looking, lazily designed, and generally just overrated (Devastator representing.  Come at me, fanboys).  Granted, there’s an issue of balancing the collection (in this case, because the Combiner Wars toyline had almost all the combiners from the transformers franchise, and it seems incomplete to leave one or two out).

See, in that answer we start to unravel the truth to it all.  The collection isn’t about the toys – or rather, it’s not just about the toys – but it’s also the collection itself.  The collection of things is itself a thing.  Forest and trees, if you want to boil it down.

See, we’re all collectors.  We are all curating a museum dedicated to us.  Whether that is a tangible space in a home or an apartment or a study or mancave or a she-shed, or an office, we have a dedicated place that is meant to showcase us.  Not us in a tangible, physical sense but in an abstract sense.  You know those quizzes about ‘what three songs best represent you’?  It’s like that.  Your space is made up of that which best represents you.  As such, what goes in there is often what matters most to us.

For me, that’s toys.  Objects of play.  Instruments of imagination.  For my wife, it includes yarn and fiber, which are soft and stimulating and the materials of creating wondrous things.

This is why having your own space – safe and secure – is so important to the human psyche.  And why the lack of that space is so damaging.  Or lack of control of our space.  This habit of collecting and displaying, of showing and revealing, is fundamental to us.  It’s a part of who we are, not just as people but as a species.  Doing it reinforces who we are, to ourselves.  And that is important.

The curating of important or significant objects is a pursuit and past-time unto itself.  Don’t disregard one person’s collection because you might fail to read it properly, and don’t dismiss someone’s hard work just because you don’t understand the appeal of collecting 18th Century Thimbles or 70s-era punk band T-shirts.

There are performance arts that we engage in as naturally as we breathe.  Singing, dancing, displaying our collections.  It is a part of us, as innate as walking.  These pursuits have been co-opted by some, by many, to monetize our worlds.  ‘Curator’ is now a profession, when in reality, it is merely a recognized expert who organized a specific set of stuff at a famous place.  We are all curators, just as we are all dancers and singers.  Some are better at it than others, some enjoy it enough to practice it and even make careers out of it.  But their excellence doesn’t reflect on us, except to inspire us.  Someone who dancers better than you or I must inspire us, not dissuade us from dancing.

My Transformers collection will never be equal to the collection on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It’s unfair and unrealistic, unreasonable even, to compare the two.  None of their stuff transforms.

Author: Robert V Aldrich

Author. Speaker. Cancer Researcher. Martial Artist. Illustrator. Cat dad. Nerd.

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