Collections. Series. Runs. Seasons. Sets. Discographies. Filmographies. When geeks love a thing, they’re often overwhelmed with the desire to consume or possess all of that very thing. It’s not enough to say you’ve done some or many or several or a lot of a particular thing. Whatever you did, watched, read, listened to, or owned, what matters most is you managed all of it.
When something is cool, we want maximum coolness exposure potential. Christopher Nolan has directed several outstanding films. If you want to ensure you’ve experienced every possible cool moment he’s ever had projected onto a theater screen, then you simply must see all of them. It’s the only way to be sure. I’ve seen all ten he’s made to date, including his first student film Following, available via Criterion. At least two of them were less than outstanding. But hey, at least I know firsthand.
Defining the parameters of your personal checklist helps manage expectations. You’ll note I mentioned nothing about Nolan’s live-action shorts, or films he merely produced, co-wrote, or edited that were directed by others. I can boast “I’ve seen all of Nolan’s movies!” with total honesty on my terms, though it allows room for elitist nitpickers ahead of me in the Nolan Cineaste Pecking Order who insist seeing just his directorial efforts isn’t good enough for a True Nolan Fan™. The bottom line is they care more about that level of completionism than I do.
Then there are other directors of whom I’ve seen many films, but not all their films. I’ve never seen James Cameron’s two deep-sea documentaries or his first official credit, Piranha II: The Spawning, but I’ve shown up for everything else. Watching seven films by a single director is not a colossal feat compared to, say, the 33 or so Hitchcock films I’ve seen (Turner Classic Movies had a marathon one year and I recorded everything), but it makes for more interesting conversation than discussing the complete Josh Trank oeuvre, which as of today adds up to two (2) films, one of which is watchable.
Or there’s TV. Take Star Trek, once an easy universe to get into. Time was, if you’d seen episodes of Trek, whether many or few, regardless of which series, then hey, that was cool. In the fan hierarchy now, though, a casual watcher is less than someone who’s seen hundreds of episodes, who in turn is less than someone who’s seen every single episode of every Trek ever, from “The Cage” to last week’s new Picard, even including the animated series. I have many more gaps in my Trek viewing history than my wife Anne does, but we refuse to pay for CBS All Access. Even before that, we gave up on Enterprise halfway through season 3 without regrets. Therefore we’ve fallen farther down the Trek fan hierarchy together, as a proud and loving team.
As a lifelong comics collector, I had the concept of complete runs ingrained into my skull at an early age. It held a grip on me for decades until the Great Hard Drive Crash of July 2015 destroyed all my tracking spreadsheets. With my management system wiped out all at once, the only way to reconfirm which comics I was missing from the past 37 years’ worth of runs would’ve been to take inventory of my 10,000+ comics all over again. Frankly, I wasn’t in the mood then and doubt I’ll ever be. And honestly, I’ve read 99 of the original 100 issues of Marvel Two-in-One, but do I really need to hunt down the one that guest-starred Doc Savage, which was withheld from the Marvel Essential reprints? I’ve never even liked Doc Savage.
Even when I was actively buying back issues at comic conventions to complete runs from my childhood, over time I realized reading ancient single issues out-of-order, separated by years from the issues that came before and after them, felt pointless and unsatisfying. I really didn’t care whatever happened to that killer clown Barry Allen once fought back in ’78, or how Howard Chaykin’s obscure DC miniseries Twilight ended, or how poorly drawn Ghost Rider was back in the early ’80s. I’ve learned to stop caring about those gaps, much to the dismay of plenty of back-issue dealers.
Checklist gaps are vexing to many. As we get older, Anne and I have felt less burdened by them in a number of areas. She and I have discussed this concern many times over the years, especially as it applies to what we call “the Delaware problem”.
Longtime MCC fans know about our 20-year road trip history. Every year since 1999 we’ve made plans to escape Indianapolis for a while and drive to other states (and Canada, this one time). In that time we’ve visited 32 of the 48 contiguous United States. Maybe one day we’ll reach Alaska or Hawaii, but doing so by car would be challenging and possibly fatal, so for now our focus is the other 48. We’ve allowed a handful of those states to elude us for now. One day we’ll make time for a whirlwind tour of New England that lets me see Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and maybe even Rhode Island. We have no doubt we’ll do the Carolinas before we retire.
But no state has vexed our planning efforts more than little old Delaware, the very first state.
Their tiny peninsula is at least 650 miles from home. We’ve driven farther than that quite often. We’ve twice been to Philadelphia, which is thirty miles from Wilmington. We’ve been to DC and to Baltimore, across the bay from them. Whenever we’ve been a stone’s throw away, we can never work out the logistics. DC was one of our early trips, and had far too many attractions to occupy us. Both our trips to Philly likewise had crammed to-do lists that left no room for a Delaware diversion. With Baltimore we enjoyed leaving the car behind and reaching numerous sights only on foot or by local transit. (A fully planned detour to Annapolis was cut for the same reason.)
It would help if Delaware had any truly tempting major attractions. So far multiple research attempts have turned up very little in the way of “us” sightseeing possibilities. At best we might add their capitol dome to our photograph collection. At worst, we cross the state line, tell each other “Hi, we’re in Delaware!” and then retreat to the cooler state we’d just left. It would be nice to cross Delaware off our list, but so far we have no incentive to drive there…except to be able to say we’ve been there. For anyone who’s not climbing mountains, “because it’s there” is not the best excuse for choosing one’s next destination.
Hence “the Delaware problem”. It’ll remain the closest state unseen by us for the foreseeable future. Maybe someday that’ll really bother us. For now we’re fine with the glaring omission.
In my mind “the Delaware problem” works as great shorthand for any situation in which I realize I just don’t care about completing a set, or at least don’t feel the necessary expenditures and/or sacrifices are worth it at the moment.
I’ve watched every Academy Award nominee for Best Picture from 1989 to the present…except Mike Leigh’s 1996 British drama Secrets and Lies. It’s been out of print Stateside for ages, and is available online only through the Criterion Channel, which is $12.99/month. At this point we’re not even subscribing to CBS All Access or to Disney+, and have no immediate plans to keep expanding our pay-TV budget. For now Secrets and Lies remains, and has been for years, a Delaware problem.
In my youth I had a collection of every R.E.M. album. As the band and I got older, our worldviews began to diverge to an irritating degree. I never bought their last three albums and I gave away a couple of older ones. Now they’re Delaware problems.
I’ve never seen Rocky II, V, or Balboa. I’ve never seen Jaws: The Revenge or Shrek Forever After. Delaware problems.
I quit Smallville halfway through season 6, then rejoined halfway through season 10. Those missing seasons? Delaware problems.
The last five abysmal issues of Marvel’s original Power Pack series, which were written by a letterer who apparently didn’t get the characters? Like, at all? Delaware problems.
A copy of Fellowship of the Ring — which I read as a library book — to complement my paperback copies of The Two Towers and Return of the King? Delaware problem.
A copy of Ron Howard’s Solo to go on the shelf alongside eight episodes of Star Wars plus the excellent Rogue One? Yep, Solo is a total Delaware problem. We have yet to discuss the upcoming home video release of The Rise of Skywalker. Its potential Delaware-ness evaluation is pending.
We have another long run we’re about to break soon. Anne and I have attended every C2E2 convention since 2011, having missed only the inaugural edition. It was fun and, I guess, somehow empowering on a geek level to tell people, “We’ve been to every C2E2 except the first one!” Listeners generally granted the exception. First-year conventions can be touch-and-go. Some get their bearings early. Some collapse on their first try. C2E2 has been killing it for years. It’s my favorite con. I cannot recommend it highly enough. They have the best Artists Alley of any large-scale comic-con we’ve ever attended, bar none. No contest. In recent years they’ve also been stepping up their actor guest lists, which suits us fine.
This year we’re not going to C2E2. That sucks. But we’re not. The mature, practical reason is we can’t afford it. In 2019 we attended a few absolutely fantastic cons (including C2E2!), but meanwhile back home, several large objects broke down on us, car parts and household appliances among them, all of which were expensive to repair or replace. They teamed up against us and wrecked our budget. We’ve taken steps to recover, but 2019 wasn’t that long ago. Recovery is still in progress.
Even if we wanted to be naughty, sneak up to Chicago for a single day, and kid ourselves that it’ll be “just this once”…this year’s guest list was not assembled with us in mind. At all. The roster so far includes a lively combination of actors we’ve already met at past cons, actors from shows we’ve never watched, and one Avenger who wants $200 for any form of airspace sharing. The Artists Alley lineup has a few writers who might be keen if we were planning to be in the area, but, again, either we’ve already met the bigger names or they’re superstars so big that their lines will be impassable. Ultimately, they’ve recruited no guests awesome enough to convince the two of us to spend money we don’t have.
C2E2 2020 is therefore a Delaware problem. And unlike books, comics, movies, or CDs, once you miss a convention, you can’t simply wait till Amazon reduces it to clearance pricing and then order one with Super Saver delivery. Our bragging rights will be hampered, to be sure. I’m presently working on how to phrase future small-talk about our con history. I’m not sure which sounds better: telling people “Oh, yeah, we’ve been to C2E2 nine times!” or simply saying “Sure, we’ve been to C2E2!” I’ll be a little less fussy about this once the weekend has passed.
Because, y’know, sometimes quantity has a place in a chat, or so we tell ourselves. In everyday friendly interaction, quantity can be overrated and needless. Let’s face it: when we talk quantity, why exactly are we trying to impress with our experiential numbers? When we amass a gargantuan pile of consecutive art objects, how many times do I plan to revisit the entirety of that work? And when I die, will my next of kin appreciate the full mass and weight of what I’ve left behind, or will they sell of bits of it piecemeal to others? Or worse, chuck it all in a garbage bin because they can’t be bothered to sweat the details or the worth to other geeks?
I’ve had to accept sometimes incompleteness is okay. I don’t have to have everything of every thing. My checklists are for my use and reference alone, and it’s okay to leave a box unchecked for as many years as I feel like it. And there’s no reason I should feel ashamed of never visiting Delaware.