Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Obsessive Collector of Experiences

Now that the year is coming to an end, I suppose people are compelled to ask, "So what do I have now?"

What did I get this year?

But I don't care much about things. If I could, I'd stay in my apartment until I had someone to share a place with. I didn't even choose the color of my car.

I grew up in a house that felt more like a gallery, or a department store, thanks to my mother's collecting habits. At one point, the kitchen was so full of mushroom decor – from cookie jars to curtains to potholders – it would seem a showcase for the designer's line of wares. The dining room became so overrun with porcelain dolls, we could no longer use it for Thanksgiving dinner, so we went out. The living room clanged with three different Westminster chimes ringing every quarter-hour, slightly offset from each other from one running just a little too fast and another running just a little too slow. Upstairs, curio cabinets full of music boxes were just waiting to be wound up and left to play their tinny tunes.

Every room had its own theme, with its own collection of curios, which sometimes fell out of favor and were cleared out in one fell swoop, sold at a garage sale or given away to my uncle or, later, the Salvation Army. As much as our mother was a compulsive shopper and exhibited tinges of hoarding, she got even more pleasure out of throwing things away. And not just her own things, but anything in the house, regardless of who it belonged to. You couldn't become too attached to anything in our house.

So I learned not to want things, and not to love things. I couldn't bear it when they were taken away from me.

The only things I really ever bought were records, because they made me feel something. Through music, I could experience the outside world while I was locked inside that house, in its freezing basement or its sweltering attic. And even though my mother managed to wrestle some of those records away from me, she couldn't take away the lyrics etched in my brain, the melodies recorded onto my heart.

So as early as I can remember, I've spent most of whatever money I earned – from chores, or tutoring, or babysitting, or being a teen reporter – on food and experiences. I'd rather go to Arby's or Burger King and pig out rather than buy something that could break or be withheld as a punishment. My parents couldn't take taste away. And in that realization, I became a total child hedonist, a pleasure-seeker of the most atemporal, immaterial and intangible realm. I wanted to do things, see things, learn things. While my mother spent money on stuff, populating each room of the house with a TV and VCR (though God only knows why), I became a hoarder of memories.

Overprotected as I was, I didn't have a lot of freedom to explore or adventure as I do now, so I turned to my high school drama productions, in which I could sing and dance in vastly different other worlds and periods, from medieval to Dickensian times, turn of the century American south and Prohibition-era Chicago.

As I broke away from my family and began to experience the freedom I'd sought for so long – which unfortunately was accompanied by the feeling of being orphaned and abandoned – I began to see my mother in myself more and more. I was becoming the party girl I knew her to be, thirty years before. And I was obsessively collecting, with the same fervor and voracity as I'd witnessed in my mother, which was terrifying to behold in her, and now in myself. But I was collecting something very different: I was collecting stories.

The stories were full of lovers and late nights and embarrassments and rock stars, some memories muted under the haze of blackberry brandy or kamikaze shots. Some stories were good, and many of them were bad, but they were all exciting, and far beyond anything I'd ever experienced back home. And one exciting encounter begat another and another, always trying to top the last one, outdo myself over and over again.

I've done many of the big things now – skydiving, ziplining, paragliding, stock car racing – but I've yet to enjoy some of the more innocent transgressions that many of my peers got out of their systems when they were teenagers. I've never gone skinny-dipping. And because I haven't, it's on the list.

I've never ridden a horse.

I've never loved someone who's loved me back.

But this year, I learned how to pick a lock. I learned how to mount bugs. I learned how to lease apartments. I met Dennis Quaid. I smelled the Corpse Flower and traipsed under the monstrous wistaria.

I didn't travel much, but I saw a lot of stuff. I saw myself on the big screen, twice. I saw Saturn.

I survived a car accident. I battled my brain which turned against me and gave me night terrors, calmed only by medication that has made me yawn uncontrollably. I looked down the barrel of 40.

I found partners in crime.

I left one lover, watched another one get married, and rebounded with another in a gloriously catastrophic way.

I haven't done everything I want, and I don't have everything I want, but nobody can say I haven't tried. I've lived life more than most people. I've crammed everything I can into this year, all these years of my adult life.

But for those of us who are collectors, it's always about the next one.

So onwards and upwards to 2015. I can't wait for this year to be over. I can't wait to see what experiences the next one brings.

Related Posts:
This Addictive Life
At the End of the Year