#WeekendRead: A Bagful of Everything

by Wendy Long
05 Oct 2019

“So, what do you collect?” asked the guest seated next to my friend at a dinner party. My friend was recounting to me the conversation she had had at a recent function.

For context, that event had an arts angle, which may have been why the guest assumed fellow attendees were most likely into art, which was a fair assumption. My friend’s reply? “I collect beautiful friends,” as a tongue-in-cheek remark to avoid embarrassing the guest with her real answer: “I’m not interested in collecting the kind of art you are assuming that I’m into.”

As in every social situation, seemingly innocuous remarks can be interpreted in so many ways. A question on collecting can be perceived as an attempt to size someone up, but if it’s phrased differently, “Who’s your favorite artist” will be less antagonistic, as there is no implied assumption or assessment of net worth.

We all collect things, starting from as young as we can remember, consciously or not, from stationery (remember country flag erasers?) to toys (my favorite was definitely Barbie — I guess it’s true when they say a child’s personality becomes apparent from an early age) to freebies that come with a McDonald’s Happy Meal (hopefully that’s a hobby that’s limited to one’s childhood years).

More often than not, the thrill is in the hunt, the acquisition process, rather than the object itself. It’s almost addictive — just ask any lady who owns more than 20 Birkin bags or any gentleman with a garage full of vintage cars. Some of these cars are parked overseas and only driven when the owner happens to be in town, which is at most once or twice a year. The same can be said about wine, with the finest bottles cellared indefinitely.

So what is it about the process of collecting that makes it addictive and compelling? For some, it can spiral into the dangerous realm of hoarding — and, no, having an excess number of shoes, not worn since the season finale of “Sex and the City,” spilling out of the shoe closet still counts as collecting, not hoarding.

For some, it’s that sense of achievement that comes with accomplishing a goal. It’s almost like filling a trophy cabinet and as the collection grows, pride swells in knowing that targets are met and goals are attained. For most, regardless of the value of the items pursued, it's a dream come true to have in their possession an object of desire.

The process of collecting is an emotional journey: An interest is piqued, leading to a desire to hunt, fueled by the adrenaline of imminent conquest, and ultimately the satisfaction of possession. But what comes after that? With each conquest, will the next object be as alluring as the last? Or do we experience diminishing emotional returns with each successful acquisition?

More importantly, will the acquired object still hold its allure, or is it only appealing when it eludes us? Ask any collector and often they revel in sharing the stories behind acquiring the object and not necessarily the object itself. The backstories are what make the objects come alive and differentiate an item from another. Otherwise, it’s just an inanimate physical mass that occupies space.

Perhaps my friend was right after all, to describe herself as a collector of friendship, memories, laughter and happiness — the intangibles — and turning the art of collecting from an emotional journey into a literal expression of collecting, in which the end goal is the emotions experienced and relationships formed, rather than material possessions. Objects do not stay with us forever and are transferable, but memories are everlasting and can only be experienced and savored by you, because nobody can take them away from you.

I remember watching this documentary, “Sour Grapes,” which is an extremely compelling documentary on wine fraud that I highly recommend. It’s about wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan, who bottled and sold fake wines to rich collectors.

He was eventually caught, and the documentary had excerpts of interviews with his former friends and associates. One comment that caught my attention was a remark made by a friend who had spent tens of thousands buying wines from Kurniawan over the course of their friendship that turned out to be fake.

The interviewer asked, “What will you say to Rudy, if ever bump into him again?” He replied, “‘Why would you sell fake wines to me? I thought we were friends.’ But you know what? No anger, no hard feelings, just disappointment, because the good memories from the happy times spent wining and dining together outweigh the anger from knowing the truth.”

In the end, it wasn’t about the wine; the wine was fake, but that mattered less than the moments shared while drinking it, because whatever happened, even if it was negative, the good times shared felt real, and sometimes that’s all that matters, that it was alive, in our minds.