Today marks my first seriously difficult day since my pact. Someone brought some amazing graphic novels into the bookstore, and several items on clearance are screaming at me to buy them. It’s been a week, and I’ve almost broken.
I’ve considered altering the rules for movies. Because, really, I’m already paying for Netflix, and there are movies my wife isn’t interested in seeing which I very much am. As long as I’m not adding to my shelf, am I still keeping the spirit of the pact alive?
I need some second opinions on this.
I can’t really count the number of books I have. Or movies. Or albums. TV shows. Video games. Right now, I can’t count them, because they’re all in boxes, waiting, like me, to find a home.
I can count the number of books, movies, albums, and games I’ve bought since moving. They’re (mostly) contained in a handy little cupboard in the bedroom of my parents’ house, where we’re staying until we can find our own space. I could sit down and lay them all out, neatly, and count them out and give you a total.
But I’m scared.
I’m scared that seeing how much I have will make me depressed about how much I still want. That ‘wanting and having’ problem is so deeply ingrained into everything I do, it’s all but impossible to remember a time when I’ve ever felt content, fully absorbed in what’s right in front of me. I know I’ve felt it before, sure I have, the tinge is there, like sepia in an old photograph. But the image of such a time is faint. A sketch.
So I’ve decided to make a pact.
Pacts are typically momentous ideas that end horribly (see: blood pacts, suicide pacts, any pact between the Indians and European settlers, etc.). Pacts I’ve made with myself that I’ve later broken are innumerable. I suppose lots of people have this problem. We make declarations of change, but then we remember that change can be brutal, and the challenges we lay out for ourselves are actually (shockingly) challenging. But I figure a pact with myself is the most definitive thing I can do to make myself visualize the changes that need to be made, so that I can, you know, actually make them.
So, the pact:
From Thursday, June 5th, 2014 to Friday, June 5th, 2015, I will not purchase, download, rent, check out, stream, or borrow any new media which is not already in my possession or freely obtainable in my own home.
That’s right. For one year, I’m not going to buy any movies, books, CDs, video games, or other forms of entertainment. I’m not going to torrent, or even legally download them, either. I’m going to live with what I have. I’m going to take the time to appreciate what’s already in my possession.
Now, there will be some exceptions. My wife is not joining this pact with me, and that’s fine, but that means that I’ll consume some new media only when I’m with her. That means that our drunken shitty movie nights will continue, and we can still do dinner-and-a-movie dates, and things of that nature. And we’ll still watch TV, though I’m adding to my pact that I won’t watch any shows that I have not already started watching. I’ll re-watch shows or I’ll continue ongoing shows, but for the next year, any new recommendations will have to be put on hold.
But other than that, I plan to hold firm: No new media.
Why am I doing this? There are many reasons.
For one, there’s the practical reason: Moving. We’ve just been approved on an application for a new apartment in Minneapolis, and if all goes well, we’ll be moving in July. And the simple fact is that moving boxes is exhausting, and the more stuff I consume, the more stuff I have to move, haul, unpack, and store. Practically, I don’t want any more stuff.
But probably the most important reason I’m making this pact is that I don’t really understand what I want. I’ve noticed a pattern emerging since moving back to Minnesota: I search for something with which to identify, find it, then get absorbed by the notion that I need more. For example, I discovered that my local library has both a rich collection of how-to books about making comic books and a deep selection of CDs I don’t already own. For this reason, I have three times loaded up several grocery bags full of both graphic novels and albums, devoured them, returned them, and scoured the shelves again, never fulfilled, never sated.
I also work at a used bookstore, where employees are practically encouraged to buy as much merchandise as they please. The strain on my self-control is simply too great. I’ve loaded up on used books, movies, video games, board games, notebooks, knick-knacks, everything that even briefly caught my eye. But it’s not enough.
It’s not enough to keep acquiring things. It’s not enough to overload my brain with stimulus if the end result is that I can’t get a grasp on what the benefit is to me, to my life, to my growth as a human being.
If I had to guess, I would say that I’ve read maybe 1/4 of the books I own. I also recently filled up my iPod. It’s 160GBs. There’s simply no way I’ve listened to that much music in my lifetime, that many podcasts. I have subscriptions to Hulu Plus, Netflix, and Spotify.
I haven’t updated my podcast in almost a year. I participated in NaNoWriMo in November and completed a draft of a novel. I haven’t touched it since, nor have I come even close to finishing any other writing project I’ve started. I’ve tried to learn to draw, taken up painting, played with graphic design, sketched out ideas for a nonprofit I’d love to start, emailed the admissions departments at local universities for information about grad school.
I’ve been diagnosed with depression and anxiety and even a very mild form of bipolar disorder. I overeat and overdrink. I’m extremely out-of-shape, and I fear I won’t live past fifty.
Something needs to change.
I can’t continue to consume, consume, consume, without considering what it is I’m consuming, what that will do to me. What I consume becomes a part of me, whether it’s food breaking down in my intestines or stories disseminating throughout my brain. I make this challenge for myself with the understanding that it cannot possibly solve all of my problems, but that it will be valuable to my growth. I want to go through my shelves, one by one, and explore what’s already in my life. I want to understand the world that’s close at hand better, whether it’s my stuff, my friends, or myself.
I will read as many of my own books as I can, and discover what I really like, and don’t like, to read. I will listen to as much of my own music as I can, and analyze how each song speaks to me, and how it doesn’t. I will watch as many of my own movies and shows as I can, and dissect their working parts, so that I can better recreate their successes in my own work.
One year. I will live for one year on my shelves. This is the pact I make with myself.
Maybe by the time it’s over, I’ll find what it is I’ve been trying to understand.
June 5, 2014