This Far, No Farther.
“Do you not recognize that a turning point has been reached in the affairs of the Federation?”
-Lt. Valeris to Captain Spock, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
It’s been a while since we had a visit. Here’s why.
I’ve had two ideas for columns over the past couple months, but found myself unable to sit down and share them with you. So, rather than force one of those ideas into this space, I decided to write about the reason we haven’t spoken of late.
I feel myself drifting away from collecting action figures.
No, that’s not quite right. What I feel myself drifting away from is being A Collector.
For quite some time, collecting has been decreasingly enjoyable. I’ve been through periods of diminished interest in the hobby before. This is different. This feels like a turning point. This feels real.
I’m not saying I plan to stop buying figures outright, that’s not what I’m saying at all. Rather I think my time as a collector actively seeking new lines and properties to collect is drawing to a close. The reasons for this are numerous and I plan to share them with you, but there is one glaring fact both surrounding me and bursting forth from inside me.
I simply have too much stuff I don’t really want.
You might remember a few columns ago we talked about the latest in a series of purges I did where I just dragged a huge box of stuff, carded and loose, to the basement of my apartment building. That was about three months ago. I’ve wanted to do it again for at least the last month. As I sit at this desk, I am quite literally surrounded by action figures. Most are on shelves or on top of furniture in some state of organization, but there are others simply strewn or piled in little corners and crevices on the floor. In my first column, I told you about this situation in some detail, so I won’t repeat it all here. Suffice to say the big purge of a few months ago helped, but it didn’t solve anything.
If I take a step outside myself and look around this room, I don’t like what I see. I see a lot of wasted time, wasted money and, perhaps worst of all, wasted opportunity. I’m supposed to be a writer. I’m supposed to be using my days to create fiction. That’s what I love to do. That’s what I tell myself and everyone else I want to do. I know in the deepest, most essential place a human has it’s what I’m here to do. But I don’t do it, not nearly enough, at any rate.
I blame the toys, which is to say I blame the collecting, which is to say I blame me.
Why is this happening? How did I end up with all this stuff? Have you ever asked yourself that?
How about this one?
What’s wrong with me? Is there something wrong with me, or am I just doing what I want to do, enjoying what makes me happy? I’ve asked myself those questions and the answer to that last one really sucks.
In collecting, I am doing what I enjoy, but it’s not making me happy.
So, the new question is: Do I actually enjoy being a collector?
I’m not sure, but I think the answer is no.
One of the column ideas I jettisoned in favor of this one was the story of how I became a collector. It happened in 1993, when I bought a Playmates Star Trek: The Next Generation Captain Scott figure for a friend at work whom I knew collected action figures. I was 18 at the time, he was about 30 and I’d never met such a person.
I was a kid who gave up toys begrudgingly and, though I didn’t play with them, I kept a few lines of figures far longer than it was considered cool to do so. So, when I met this guy, this actual man, who bought and displayed Star Trek and Batman action figures because he loved those properties and had a whale of time doing so, I attacked the chance to get back inside Toys R Us and see what it was all about. I stopped there before work one day, bought the Captain Scott and presented it to him when I got to the job.
Unfortunately, my friend already had Captain Scott. When he told me as much, I laughed it off and suddenly had the unique idea to keep the figure myself. How silly. Me, a 19 year old, buying an action figure. How positively daft. Why, the quirky appeal of it was just too much.
Except for one thing; I knew damned well he had Captain Scott when I bought the figure. I bought it expressly so he would turn it down, thus granting me some sort of quasi-permission to keep it myself. I became a collector by lying to my friend and myself. No one ever knew that. Now you do.
I tell you that story for two reasons. First, I think it’s in interesting illustration of the lengths we sometimes go to justify the things we want in life. Second, it’s key in explaining and understanding why I now find myself, twelve years and oh so many figures later, surrounded by plenty, and enjoying little.
Somewhere along the line, I’m not sure where, it stopped being about buying figures based on things I love and become about buying figures because I’m a collector and a collector loves figures so I must buy the figures a collector would buy. I have a ton of figures based on stuff I kind of like, I have a bunch of not-so-great figures based on stuff I really like and I have some really cool figures based on stuff I could care less about.
Here’s the dirtiest secret of all, and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in keeping it.
I have purchased more figures than I’d care to even think about because they are figures other collectors were buying, reviewing or otherwise talking about. I like to think I’m a willful person, but there is way too much crap in my collection because it is, or worse, was, the in thing to collect. A lot of such stuff has found its way to ebay over the years, but there’s still some of it here. That’s the worst thing I can confess as an action figure collector; I buy things I know I don’t want before I even get to the register.
So, what now?
At the top, I said I felt my days as a collector are dwindling, but I suspect I’ll always be someone who buys action figures. What’s the difference? It’s in the next paragraph.
In 1993, I started my collecting career with Playmates Star Trek. Soon after that, I expanded to Kenner’s Batman: The Animated Series. Flash forward to 2005. Care to guess what my favorite action figure lines of all-time are? If you guessed Playmates Star Trek and Kenner’s Batman: The Animates Series you’re not only correct, you’re beginning to see where this is going.
Over the last decade plus there have been other lines that have captured my interest and imagination and garnered my love. The best example is Fisher Price’s Rescue Heroes, a toy line and a concept I think the world is better for having known. I also love my Transformers Beast Wars and Beast Machines as much now as I did when they were first released not just because they’re great toys, but also because the animated series they were based on built such complex and endearing characters.
And here we are.
I am a writer. I love character and story. Twelve years ago, I bought action figures based on some of my favorite characters and stories.
Then I bought some more.
Now I look for characters and stories to like so I can buy the action figures. No more.
I’m not going anywhere, this column will continue. We still have much to discuss, but it’s time for me to leave The Collector’s Life. The last great purge is at hand. When it’s over I’ll still buy action figures, I’ll just do it better.
I only hope when I pull him out of storage and invite to my shelves once again, Captain Scott will forgive me for what I’ve done.
Got a comment? Send me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!