Culture of Collection – A tale of Christmas Present(s)

Don’t even try to pretend you don’t watch Hoarders. Your lip peels back in disgust at the sight of a house in such a state of disarray, it’s nearly physically painful. You placate yourself every minute or so, telling yourself, ‘I will never be like that’, but we might all be heading that way.

I live in a Culture of Collection. I have stacks of books collected around my house. As my shelves empty of books while my collection goes digital, I find other things to take their place. DVD’s, action figures, toys, *cough* an Iron Man helmet *cough*. My justification is and has always been: They look cool.

I read a post on the 90s today and suddenly, my hoarding fears rushed to the surface. I still have a crap load of Beanie Babies. Why? Dear, God, why? I didn’t even play with them when I had them. Here’s how it worked.

  1. Buy Beanie Baby
  2. Read poem
  3. Click on tag preserver
  4. Store

My cat got more use out of my Beanie Babies than I did. She killed them every night and left their rotting carcasses on the stairs for us to discover in the morning.

Keep in mind, this was so long ago, that cat is no longer alive.

Why do I still have them?

I’m on the path to hoarding. I can’t get rid of them. Every time I think of doing something with them, I remember how much I wanted them, how hard I tried to find them, and what a point of pride it was when I finally got Digger the Crab.

There was this notion that one day they would be worth something more (did that day ever come?), but now, they’re just a cute mass of nostalgia piled in a closet.

I’m not a sentimental person and, at some point, I will either decide to get rid of them or they will be in the way of something new. While I might have a tendency to collect things, I also have an OCD impulse that requires a certain balance of minimalism. Even I can have too many nerdy t-shirts (still haven’t reached the threshold on that one).

On some level, I have sympathy for hoarders. Objects are like pensieves; they contain memories, they seem to hold on to meaning. In reality, we’re the ones who have to remember the culture that we loved. We’re the ones who have to hold on to the memories. No object can arouse a full-fledged memory like a person can.

In the mean time, does anybody know what to do with a crap-ton of Beanie Babies?

A Journey Restarted

I have returned to The Fantastic World of Barnes & Noble (or the Nobley, for you who are savvy to the lingo). I’ve worked at B&N for upwards of three years, alternating between seasonal employ and full time. The last stint was a solid two year, full-time block that ended January 2nd of this year.

Let me tell you, I was ready to leave. I had a new job at a startup that looked promising, I was flexing my creative muscle to the point where my words were appearing on television (yeah, promos!). It was thrilling. I refused to enter my local bookstore for several months, holding on to my experience as only the righteously indignant can. I had my Nook. I had the library. I didn’t need to visit a store. Then, a friend of mine had a booksigning at a different but reachable B&N.

Since I’m so altruistic (insert chortle), I swallowed my foolish pride, pulled up my big girl panties, and stopped acting like a total wad.

It’s funny how often I need to do that.

Regardless of the burgeoning Texas heat, the door handle was still chill to the touch, promising an over-cooled environment on the inside. My moment of hesitation was short-lived, as a short, middle-aged man on the other side had no interest in waiting for me to rip the door open. I took a deep breath and entered. The dusky smell of thousands of pages washed over me, caught on the breeze of the air conditioning.

As I entered the B&N, a dribble of drool rolled down my chin as I stared at the shelves and shelves of books. That same old feeling started at the base of my spine and worked its way up into my brain. No matter how fast I read, no matter how much I tried, I would never, ever be able to read all these books. It was like the first time I ever entered a bookstore, but, somehow, so much more.

You see, back in the old days, I was trained in every department. Nook, music, even receiving in the back room. It was like I had returned to my home country. I knew this place, I fit in here, I could wax idiotic with the staff and they recognized me as a familiar traveler, if not a native of their local village. But, something was (and still is) missing. If this was the hero’s quest, what elixir had I returned with? Had a gained some knowledge in the last few months? Did I bring hope to the ones on the inside? I had missed an essential step in personal character growth and made a misstep along my journey.

In some ways, it didn’t matter. For me, the magic had been restored in the bookstore. I could return to my old place of employment without shame.

As it is wont to do, my financial situation became increasingly unstable. While I hadn’t locked my future into a startup, I had hoped it would provide a stable source of income for a year until I had saved up enough to move on.

Ho ho, not so. The time came when I realized I had to get a second job in order to stockpile any money. I cooked up a big humble pie and reapplied to my old job. They were more than happy to welcome me back into the fold.

Sometimes I think my life is a sitcom. It’s funny, it’s tragic, and nothing ever changes.

But, what if I want the hero’s journey? When does this girl get to leave the farm to pursue her destiny? Why am I so upset that real life doesn’t work out the way stories do?

It’s not too late to begin my epic quest, and it’s not like I don’t have options. But, it feels like I had almost hit the main road with my questing companions, only to realize I had to turn back because I forgot to pack my magic sword.

Hipsters (Or, How I Learned to Embrace Epicurus)

There’s a lot of stuff on the Internet bashing the hipster culture, but I think I’ve got it nailed.

From a distance, I am a hipster. I’m comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt with a pop culture reference. I’ve worn glasses since 9th grade, square cut frames because I don’t look so good in round/frameless. I don’t wear Converse All-Stars because I like the way they feel. I like the way they look, with a boot-cut pant leg draped across the laces, almost dragging, but not quite. Man, you pull a pair of Converse out of the washing machine and they are bright white just like the day you bought them, they look great (in the spirit of full disclosure, my attraction to Converse may be a result of my love of Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez [that’s a Sandlot reference]).

I work part-time at a startup in social media and part-time as a barista at a Starbucks licensed cafe. I call myself a writer. I own a Macbook (since 2008); I have had an iPod since the original 2nd generation; I’ve had an iPad 2 since July; I’ve had an iPhone since my contract last expired. One of my favorite bands is from Europe (Within Temptation) and it’s likely you’ve never heard of them.

I fit the hipster image.

So, how can I claim to be different?

I enjoy things. I love Lady Gaga. Whenever Poker Face comes on the radio, I crank it up and sing along.

The Muppets was one of the most emotionally poignant movies I’ve seen this year.

I love reading non-fiction. I taught myself to play passable guitar so I could play (badly) and sing (equally badly).

I own a lightsaber replica, and it is awesome!

A big aspect of the hipster generation is their inability to find enjoyment in the things they do. They like obscure bands because they are obscure. They wear t-shirts “ironically”. They over-critisize every movie they see while maintaining an air of superiority. They read books to be seen, rather than books they want to read.

It’s a trap!

There are so many things available to our culture now, it’s ridiculous to waste time on stuff from which we don’t glean enjoyment.

Philosophy time!

Epicurus believed that pleasure is the greatest good. But the way to attain pleasure was to live modestly and to gain knowledge of the workings of the world and the limits of one’s desires. This led one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear, as well as absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states is supposed to constitute happiness in its highest form. Although Epicureanism is a form of hedonism, insofar as it declares pleasure as the sole intrinsic good, its conception of absence of pain as the greatest pleasure and its advocacy of a simple life make it different from “hedonism” as it is commonly understood.

It propounded an ethic of individual pleasure as the sole or chief good in life. Hence, Epicurus advocated living in such a way as to derive the greatest amount of pleasure possible during one’s lifetime, yet doing so moderately in order to avoid the suffering incurred by overindulgence in such pleasure.

I’m not promoting hedonism, but it’s not a bad thing to enjoy yourself every now and again. Every hipster I’ve ever interacted with is always the same on that level: they never talk about something they legitimately enjoyed to the point where I wonder if they enjoy anything.

I’m not making any great leaps here. Take advantage of the small pleasures in life. Look for things you enjoy rather than irritate.

Be like this guy:

No one hates hula hoops.

Readers & ‘Ritas

I went to a conference this weekend. Readers & ‘Ritas is Fresh Fiction’s annual conference, proceeds going to Plano Family Literacy.

There’s the official business, here’s the real story.

Readers & ‘Ritas is the bachelorette party of conferences.

It’s hanging out, meeting authors, discussing all things reading. Or, discussing whatever. Video games, television shows, movies, Damn You, Autocorrect…when you put readers and writers together, magic happens (also, dirty things, but mostly magic).  Come for the books, stay for the romance cover model auction. Did I not mention the romance cover model auction?

I had lunch with Michele Bardsley, chatted with Jaye Wells, and sat down with Nikki Duncan to pick her brain about all things writing.

Ann Aguirre bought our table the cover model for Monica BurnsInferno’s Kiss. The plan was to have him read us the steamy passages, but that was until the dancing started.

Yes, the dancing.

For a nerd like me, hanging out and dancing with authors is pretty much the coolest thing ever. Alcohol and reading is the new peanut butter and chocolate.

Tons of door prizes, amazing raffle prizes, and swag now have my room filled with a year supply of books. It was a fantastic weekend.

“It’s either your husband or The Rock.”

Dakota Cassidy

My So-called (Immortal) Life

I love vampires.

I mean, really.

I love high-holy asskickery. I love moral qualms. I love vicious sociopathic killers. I love those looking for redemption. My only criteria seems to be they have the potential for immortal life and feed off some aspect of humanity, be it blood, emotion, or culture.

So, I present to you a thought experiment.

What if you were a vampire?

Haha! Awesome! So cool! I would run really fast and make out with hot guys (girls) and drink so much blood you wouldn’t even believe…hold the phone. That’s not where I was going with this.

What if you were a vampire 300, 400, or 500 years old?

I think you would be bored. Insanely, mind-numbingly bored. Let’s say you were turned at the ripe old age of 26. You have eternal youth on your side, but you’re not a pimply teenager anymore. Face it, stalking and biting humans is not what it was. Maybe once upon a time (maybe, mind you), people had a healthy sense of self-preservation coupled with the fear of constant suspicion that kept them in the house after dark, or safe in herds during the day. That could mean there used to be a thrill to the hunt, but that would fade. Humans aren’t so hard to separate from the back, and, as time passes, we are less and less suspicious of paranormal occurrences.

As a vampire, you rarely see another of your kind. You are completely and utterly alone. Any connection you try to make is gone within several decades, so you would stop making those connections. What would you hold on to? Say you play the piano. You have forever to perfect your art. Would you procrastinate?

Think about human ingenuity in the last 500 years. How would you react to a vastly changing world? Flight, social reform…look at the Internet. MySpace was a blink of the eye. World War II would be “that thing with Germany…you know, the second time”.

Don’t believe me? Let me refer you to one of the most stunning vampire films of all time.

Groundhog Day.

Yep, Bill Murray is a freaking vampire. As long as he is stuck in Groundhog Day, he is immortal. Truly immortal. He tries to kill himself dozens of times. Maybe he doesn’t fit the “feeding off humanity” criteria, but he is sort of a menace to it.

Obsessed with Film writer Simon Gallagher did the math and put the final tally at 33 years and 358 days. Whether you agree or not, this is one of the most interesting psychological looks at immortality.

Not to mention it’s funny.

Now, imagine Groundhog Day for 500 years. Now, that’s a vampire.

The Mark Twain Media Engine

I like social media. Maybe too much. I feel like it’s a great place to reveal our inner ridiculousness, poke fun at ourselves without taking self-deprecation too far, and meet and interact with a whole stratum of people we wouldn’t otherwise have a chance of getting to know.

Where else do I get to say, “What should I do tonight? #amwriting, #amreading or #amthebatman?”

This is a reference to me (obviously) writing, reading, or (not as obvious) playing Arkham City.

I’m an introvert. I love interacting with people on my terms.

But, that’s not what this post is about.

Bait and switch!

The other day, I tweeted a random thought after stumbling on a quote page for Mark Twain and I couldn’t help but think…

“Mark Twain would have been the best Tweeter of all time.”

This started the idea worm, growing and maturing until I had to lengthen the thought into a full blog post.

I think Mark Twain would have solved world hunger through his Twitter feed alone. This man would have started revolutions. He would have been on top of every trend, sarcasm and wit stretched to the maximum. And, considering some of the backasswards things happening to Mark Twain’s books nowadays, can you imagine the kind of storm he would have started?

Remember how censored editions of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were released this year? Maybe he’d throw out something like this.

“I always read immoral books on the sly, and then selfishly try to prevent other people from having the same wicked good time.”

“Guys, what’s a good river for my main character to raft on? #amwriting”

“My review of @JaneAusten is up. Give you a hint. #meh [URL]”

“Changed my profile pic. I mustache you a question.”

Or what if he checked in on Foursquare?

“Me and @LouisaMayAlcott hitting The Pub.”

Who’s our Mark Twain nowadays? Do we have someone so witty, so sarcastic, so full of piss and vinegar, the Gilded Age never saw him coming?

Okay, I know. I’m wrong. Mark Twain would not have been an awesome Tweeter. He would have started fights, blasted Justin Bieber, and mocked the Friday song. But, weren’t those habits part of what made him such an interesting figure in American Literature?

Perhaps I’ve deified Mr. Samuel L. Clemens. He is a figure of mythological proportions, he suffered through his writing one word at a time, just like every one of us (I hope). He was as much a product of his time, and hindsight is 20/20.

I still would have followed him.