October 18, 2012

A Treatise On Why I Blog [or] A Cure For My Collecting Addiction

[Preface: In light of my revamped blog look, which is nearly finalized, and a new logo, designed by my talented friend Kate, it seemed appropriate to write a pathetically long, memoir-ish post about why I am still blogging, after nine years and five hundred posts.]

Confession #1: I have been blogging on the internet since the summer of 2003. You won’t see any of those first posts, but they are there, meticulously counted and indexed in my own personal archives, forever saved in draft format so I can (thankfully) be the only one who sees them.

Confession #2: I have been blogging in my head since sometime in the fall of 1986, when I first remember the need to scribble down and document the happenings of my life. I was fresh out of kindergarten.


If you were to go back in time, to my late elementary and junior high years, and examine my bedroom, this is what you would find: a single bed, which required a small climb to get into, but was sufficient none the less; a metal desk with a wood veneer top; a closet full of socks and white washed Wrangler jeans and the only pair of Nike shoes I could afford, which usually were blue or maroon or a strange combination of colors that persuaded stores like Foot Locker to lower the price until it was affordable for kids like me, who wanted Nike shoes but couldn’t pay for the standard white or black ones. There was a plastic orange nerf basketball hoop affixed to the top of my closet door; a small stack of my favorite books, which included Where The Red Fern Grows, Hatchet and Baseball Fever; a drawer full of journals filled with abbreviated notes about my life and diaries from road trips, both of which included little doodles and printed pictures taped within the pages; and last, but perhaps as telling as the journals that filled my drawer, you would find a giant, wall sized bulletin board with blue trim that my Grandfather built for me. This was my masterpiece, the place I called my own, the board on which I could document my collecting habit with meticulous detail and a level of grandeur that could only be rivaled by the comic book and baseball card collectors of my day.

The board represented years of collecting and organizing, from the insanely trivial, like when I spent an entire summer consuming Reeses Pieces and then saved and hung each and every bright orange plastic wrapper (four thumbtacks per wrapper, of course), to the more important things, like Baseball game ticket stubs, back when they were hard tickets and simple in design, with serif fonts and seat numbers and sometimes, a color picture of the team logo. I had magazine cut outs of iconic pictures of the day, like Bo Jackson posing with a baseball bat and football gear, and the cover of Pearl Jam’s Ten record and the famous poster of Michael Jordan soaring for a dunk from the free throw line. Along the top of the wall sized bulletin board were Baseball hats, hung systematically on nails, each representing a different team.

Eventually, when it was time to leave the home of my childhood, I packed up my vast collection in boxes, and then, promptly, started new, more appropriately aged collections, like patches from every country I’ve visited, vintage picture frames and city maps.


Confession #3: If I didn’t stop myself over the years from going into an all out collecting frenzy, I would have gathered license plates from the forty-eight states I’ve been to and t-shirts from each of the National Parks I’ve ventured in and rocks from every mile of the Pacific Crest Trail I’ve hiked and a small piece of timber from every batch of reclaimed wood I’ve worked with over the past several years.

Confession #4: I once had the idea to cover an entire wall with a series of maps from every state in America, neatly laid out with where each State belonged in relation to the other, and then to use a highlighter to mark every single highway and interstate I traveled on in each of the states. This is something I still dream of doing for my kids, since I can now accurately keep track from birth.

Confession #5: When my family bought our first desktop computer, I spent an entire Baseball season inputting every single Houston Astro’s box score into a spreadsheet purely for my own statistical analysis. All 162 games.


So you can imagine my sheer relief and astonishment when I first learned about what blogging was. My mind went racing with questions. There is a way to organize all of the ways I already document my life? A place where I can write and post pictures and keep track of all the stuff I’m already keeping track of? And it will be in one place? And I can have some creative control over how it will look? It was an idea I had spent my whole life waiting to find out about, the light at the end of a long tunnel dedicated to documentation. 

Nine years and five hundred some posts later, Jack at Random is simply a place where I can document my family record through writing, photography and statistics. It’s my creative, writing and collecting outlet, a space where all of my hobbies can come together under one roof. It’s a place where I can reflect and remember what we were up to in any given month. It gives way to all of the content that goes into the books Kari prints every two years, the physical documentation of our lives. It has survived many unproductive tangents, like when I wrote highly uncritical film reviews or when I broadcast the messy personal details of my faith deconstruction or when I briefly delved into politics in the summer of 2008.  It has plowed through several years of a readership that consisted solely of my wife and mother. It has documented many of the books I’ve read and the films I’ve watched over the past decade.  It has been with me through nearly every month of my life since I graduated from University, including living in Sydney and moving to Los Angeles and the two hundred and sixteen days in 2007 when Kari and I when gallivanting around the world. It was here through my vocational ups and downs, from preacher to eBay to woodworker.

It was here waiting for me with a blinking cursor when my first daughter Stella was born. And when my second daughter  Margot died. And when my son Leo was born a year later. 

In thirty-three years of living, there have been many things that I have quit or fell out of love with. I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an ambassador for staying the course. But I can say with some measure of certainty the things that have been most consistent throughout my life: my love for the game of Baseball. My penchant for collecting. A ridiculously happy marriage. Not eating cheese. And this blog.

So I suppose, to answer the question of the piece, I blog because I’ve always been blogging, on scraps of paper and bulletin boards, in leather bound journals and in countless collections that currently live in small tin canisters and boxes and behind glass frames.

The answer to why I blog is fairly straightforward once put into context. The harder question to answer is why I have spent a lifetime meticulously documenting my journey through collecting objects and experiences and data. I have asked myself over the past several years why I do these things. What prompted me to fill all of those journals with pictures and doodles and notes on my normal life? Why on earth would I collect meaningless things like candy wrappers and box scores? Why do I feel the need to keep track of the countries I’ve traveled in by collecting patches? Is it simply a personality trait, a complicated strain of my DNA? Or does it fill a deeper need to remember where I’ve been? Or a need to feel like I’ve done something with myself, however trite some of these collecting endeavors may have been?

The answer, I’m afraid, after years of contemplation and interesting discussions with my wife, is that I don’t know.

I simply don’t know.

What I do know is that my three and a half year old daughter likes to collect things. Objects she has deemed worthy of keeping and protecting at all costs. A series of rotating boxes contain her “special treasures” which includes, among other things, three marbles, a screw, one dice, one wooden scrabble letter, small rocks from our trips to the beach, a painted quarter and what appears to be a small metal hook she found in the yard one day. This small collection was started all on her own, over a year ago, and is revered and treasured almost as much as her stuffed animal sleeping partner, George. 

Her more recent collecting journey has led to those pennies you retrieve from an apparatus after cranking a wheel, which flattens the penny and stamps something kitschy onto it. She has a penny from the LA zoo, one from Northern California and one from Budapest that was worth more to her than anything else I could have brought back (expect for, perhaps, a twirly pink dress with different shades of pink rainbows on the sleeves and princesses on the front who were dressed in pink).

After her sister died, we started collecting rocks from the river that we poured M’s ashes into. We pick one special rock per visit and add it to a glass jar that sits in Margot’s corner of the living room. We rarely go anywhere special these days without her wanting to collect a rock for Margot’s jar, an act so common that it’s more and more beautiful and less and less heartbreaking.

I don’t know why I have spent most of my days documenting my life, or why my daughter seems to have picked up the same habit, but as I peer into our future of collecting rocks and pennies and taking pictures and perhaps even posting blogs together, I find the best companion a Father could ask for, the ultimate pay off for all these years of collecting.


Veronica said...

I love this post. It reminded me so much of myself
I collected bubble gum wrappers one summer as a kid....I have a key chain from every country I visited, starting at age 5 when we went to Florida. I kept every single figurine that was on my birthday cake as a child.... I've always had a way of keeping track of my life with 'things'.
My father has 20 albums filled with his life from the 70'ies through 90'ies...and in there somewhere he started documenting his 3 children, and their lives. In his closet, in shoe boxes, are hundreds of photos that didn't make the cut...but are saved in boxes, some according to the year they were taken.
When my father passed away 2 years ago, we found boxes of letters, journals, annual agenda books where he logged his meetings for work and doctor appointments and birthday parties for the entire 1980's - and then he switched to something electronic ... He kept so many forms of his own documentation... I was amazing to look at. And he had kept these things, these agendas filled with his handwriting...
I understand where I get my tendencies from...I don't quite know 'why' I do it. But I know I'm richer for it.

Brooke said...

I find all of this sweet and funny and weird and familiar. I've always wanted to write and keep track of things and hold on to them. I save all my academic day planners. Just in case I need to know what I was doing on a specific day in 2004? I don't know.

Have you thought about having your blog printed and bound? There's a part of me that wants to have a physical thing to hold on to, but I haven't done it.

Josh Jackson said...

Veronica << What great memories you have from your Father's own collecting habits. I can only imagine where my habit would have taken me had my adult years been in the pre-blogging, pre-internet era. Thanks for sharing this story!

Brooke << Yes, we print a book through Blurb that Kari makes every two years. Most of each book contains pictures and writing from my blogs throughout that time period. I actually included a picture in this post with the five books that we currently have on our shelf. You can see the date stamped onto them. :) And if I was a professor, there is no doubt I'd have some old day planners lying around!

Anonymous said...

I love this post Josh! I think it must be deep in the Grubb DNA, because I also do many of the things you mentioned. Only I'm not as organized about it... I struggle with that. I have also often wondered why I have the need to collect and the best theory that I have come up with is that it gives me a more tangible way to hold on to my memories! 
Due to my lack of organization, I often go years without looking at or thinking about a particular treasure, and finding it again takes me right back to the time when it first became mine..... An even weirder thought I've had is, Are there memories I've lost because I didn't collect something to hold the memory? 
Also, thanks for adding in there that you don't eat cheese! That triggered some funny memories from eating lunch at grandmas as kids!!
Much love from PA!
- Mindy

Hope's Mama said...

From one compulsive record keeper to another, I want you to know I devoured this post. Loved learning these new little bits and pieces about you and those closest to you. You have also inspired me to FINALLY update the look of my very 2008-looking blog. Hoping a new look will inspire me to write more, as I think I need it.
Love to you guys.

surfjams said...

And I am so grateful for this little habit of yours. You have such a way with words, you have touched me in the deepest places of my heart, through your beautiful writing. I didn't loose a baby, but you have invited me into your pain, your journey, in ways that I could have never imagined feeling, if I hadn't been gifted with your words. Thank you for sharing from your heart, and please don't stop!

TracyOC said...

Love the new look and this whole post and, probably the whole vibe of this blog. Now I'm hopeful for a Jack at Random 2.0 with Stella at the keyboard...one can hope, right? Also, I got a little teary at your reference to "Where the Red Fern Grows." How good is that book?

John said...

Sometimes I cheer. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I just read with thanks that I know you and your family. Thanks for opening this window into your life. Blessing on you today.

David Drury said...

Loved this post, Josh. Beautiful and emminently evocative of a certain childhood something you captured so well. As for the stones for Margot tradition and your description o it: i have no words. You're such a good writer, and such writings should be collected like valuables always are. The benefit of blogging is others can walk into your museum's vault whenever they want a tour.

I have only one contribution. I suggest that your blog readership has never been only your wife and mother. :-)

Tash said...

Josh I love this post and learning more about you and your family. And I love how Kari makes family memory books. This post made me think of my dad. I discovered his collecting ways last year when he showed me the contents of his last dresser drawer. He has every single birthday card that my sister and I have given him. Even the ones my mom wrote out for us when we were too young to write ourselves. He even has all our teeth! In 2 clear containers marked "Natasha" and "Jennifer". I was so touched and happy that he shared these things with me.

Josh Jackson said...

Mindy << Thanks for sharing this! Maybe it is a Grubb DNA thing. I like the thought of Grandpa and Grandma keeping their own diaries and the thought of you doing your own collecting over the years. And you raise a great question - are there memories we've lost because didn't collect it in some way or another?

Sally << From the methodical way your blog is set up, I would have pegged you for a documentation freak like me. :) And I'm excited to see your new blog layout. Maybe your uber talented designer friend could be of service!

Alexine << Thank-you for your kind words and for following along with our journey over the past year and a half.

Tracy << Thanks! Yes, I can't wait to see what Stella brings to this space! And yes, Where the Red Fern Grows is just an absolute page turner. Those sweet coonhounds.

John << Thank-you...

David << You are right. When I was integrating the old blogs with this one, I noticed you and Steve Deur were leaving comments on nearly every post. So I suppose, at the very least, I can add you guys to the list of two. :) And thank-you for your words of affirmation. I like your museum analogy.

Tash << Your father sounds like a man after my own heart. He even has your teeth! Now that is some collecting. Thanks for sharing your own stories.

Claude said...

Josh. I have been following you on here for some time now. When we were in college and we lived just a couple of doors away, I had no idea how much we had in common. I think we have more in common now than then, but even so. Also, you have inspired me to start a blog from this post. I have thought of it many times and never started. You made me feel like I could do it just by the sheer ease of your writing and the informality of this site. I do understand that your point of view and mine may be different, but that's what it is all about, right? My blog is here:
If you ever wonder what music I or Cora (my daughter) are listening to or what theatre production I am designing, please stop on by...until then, thanks friend. Claude.

Renel said...

I am glad your hoarding tendencies have found a way to be stored clutter free in cyberspace :)I really like the picture at the top of your blog...It is just perfect! I was just telling my husband how I would like to do family year books. I just purchased one I had made via shutterfly from up until I was hugely pregnant with Camille. It was fun to read about your childhood bedroom. it's funny how so many things in the past are lost on our memories but for some reason the walls in our bedrooms are seared into our brains :)

Anonymous said...

Today I cried.
I cried for your daughter and for my son, Patrick Harris Fox, who never lived outside the womb.
I cried because they left us one day apart; both because of placenta abruption.
I cried because maybe their souls have meet.
I cried and the tears brought healing again to the wound that death leaves on the soul.

A story about placental abruption is sometimes a story about survival, but very often about death.
So sorry that your's included's the death part; and so thankful it has a survival part.
Wishing you the best at you continue your families record. Heidi

Gwen Jackson said...

Josh, I absolutely LOVED this post. So well written. As always. My mind drifted back to that Graafschap bedroom. I could picture everything you described. That blue outlined bulletin board took up one wall space and was indeed a collector's paradise for you. And, that under-the-stair-steps closet space :). A collector you are. And, I am glad for it. And, I'm glad Stella is following in your collecting footsteps. Love you!

loribeth said...

Whatever your reasons for blogging (& I share some of them myself) ; ) I am glad you do it!

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