Collecting So Easy a Caveman Could Do It

Our Paleolithic blood is still pumping. Past our physical and mental and technological leaps from the knuckle-draggers, we're still just beings on the prowl. We live in the Land of Abundance where we're able to look past the chains of survival. Food is readily available and medicine has never been better. Immorality is closer than ever! 

And how did we get here? How did we flourish to seven billion and counting, sharing one big rock? I don't dare attempt a scientific explanation because, at this point, I don't have one. What I plan to offer is ideas. We're hunter-gatherers, through and through, and I think we're even more than that. 

Look closer and we're pieces. We're fingernails, hair, eyeballs, and guts. Grab a microscope and we're cells. We're bacteria and viruses. Split the atoms and we're chromosomes and DNA and neutrons and protons. Go deeper and I couldn't even tell you where we go next. Something tells me there is more to that two-and-a-half-pound grey mass in our heads. Step back from it all and these collections are just mechanisms to express the intangible. Our brains fire off the instructions to dance numbers and martial arts. The sum of our teeth, tongues, saliva, and nerves make up the languages of our cultures. Further and further, the collections we call ourselves deliver the coordinates for us to explode further into deep space than we've ever known.

And what does it all mean? The collections that make up us end up collecting the world around us. Think of it this way: Forrest Gump said life is like a box of chocolates, but he forgot that boxes of chocolates often have the flavors printed on the inside. We can choose to be surprised or we can choose to engineer delicious choices. 

Instead of leaving it up to chance and traffic and a long day at work this past week, I put the pedal to the floor and rocketed toward The City. Artist and writer Austin Kleon was speaking at the McNally Jackson bookstore and I was not going to miss it. Steal Like An Artist is his newest book and after living online for months as a Powerpoint, the printed version has become a New York Times Bestseller. It is such a simple and beautiful breakdown of the essence of creativity. It has resonated for me far beyond the first read. And there I was.

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To delve into creativity and stolen art, Kleon hosted a panel discussion with three female bloggers - litblogger Maud Newton, the creator of Brain Pickings, Maria Popova, and creator of Tumblr Slaughterhouse 90210 Maris Kreizman. Pouring over favorite television shows and their individual creative processes, the guts of the show really got to one of my favorite ideas in Steal Like An Artist. On lucky page number 13, Kleon wrote, "The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there's a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love.

As kids, we had rock collections and baseball cards. We had action figures and Barbie dolls. What do we have to collect now? Are we collecting currency in the hopes that it will change our circumstances, maybe take us further away from the reminder that some people have to hunt and gather in an age of abundance? Are we collecting friends to extend our social circle further and guarantee our security from "predators" or creditors? Are we collecting degrees with the shaky promise that it will assure our success in the systems our ancestors and us have slowly built?

What we really need to collect is what sent us forward. From hairy monkeys to straight-backed brainiacs, ideas gave us the freedom to evolve. Everything that has even been created by a human has first and foremost been an idea. Even that idea is an idea I collected from someone else I can't remember. We're building on top of one another to get to higher ground. Immortality is right around the corner!

If you're collecting things you don't love, stop it. Stop it right now. There is no time or space or energy worth collecting something that doesn't resonate with you. We forget that we make the choices and when we forget that, we become victims to the hoards. We're bombarded everyday and we fall prey to the big, bad world. 

Unplug and reset. Start the game over. Matter of fact, pretend it's a game. Unleash your beast mode onto the world and collect gems along the way. You'll defeat demons and kiss princesses and climb down tall flagpoles. Right now, I'm sure there are probably some ideas swirling around in your head that you hold dear. Worship them. Brand them on your forearms and revel in the pain. It could be that you believe there are aliens out there, watching us. Or you think Bobcat Goldthwait deserves more attention for his movies. Or you're sure, in your heart of hearts, that Zooey Deschanel just might be that cute in person too. 

Seriously, we've all done it before. Collected ideas make up our workouts and study habits and recipes. Experience is the trail we follow to collecting these ideas, and as long as we remember what we brought along with us, it only makes us a more interesting and invested character. Think of Jesus, or Lance Armstrong. Crucifix necklaces and yellow plastic bracelets remind us to simply be more. It is a constant reminder. Why not develop your own system? Collect the right thoughts and collect the right ideas and until next time we explode into space.