As I get older I find it harder and harder to allot the time necessary to read my weekly stack of comics. I bring this up because, just about the time this posts to the website, I’ll be celebrating exactly forty-four years of on this big blue marble we call planet Earth. And as I get into (gulp!) “middle age,” how I spend my time becomes something I think about a lot, most likely because the clock of existence seems to be ticking a little louder when your reach the big four-four. In fact, that “ticking” is more like a sort of an incessant hammering at this point. And as anyone with a wife and kids can attest, justifying hobbies and “trivial” activities gets much more difficult when “real life” starts to take priority. Truth be told, it’s pretty tough to just flop down on the couch and spend a Saturday reading comics when you have a couple of kids gesticulating wildly nearby, demanding that they be entertained by dear old dad.
I wouldn’t change my family situation for the world, but the life I’ve chosen does tend to increasingly impinge on the ability to get through my books each week. And as for the backlog of graphic novels on my shelves, I’m thinking the kids will probably have to start college before I can really start to tackle that stuff. Reading comics takes concentration to really get the most out of it and concentrating in my house is no easy task. There’s little league, swimming lessons, dog walking, trips to the grocery store, family gatherings, etc. to contend with. Did I mention that along with gesticulating come endless questions and that pesky need to be fed five or six times over the course of a day? And of course, there’s that whole career thing. Chasing one’s professional dreams takes up fair amount of time, as well. Wouldn’t change a thing, but damn it, I’ve got comics to read. So what’s a dedicated father/working man to do when life gets in the way of what should be simple comic reading pleasure?
I think in the old days dads would go out for a pack of smokes and then return (or not) some days later. That’s how the men of the previous generation got their “me time.” Not sure if comic reading was part of that particular equation, but it doesn’t really matter, as it’s not an option for me. I’m apparently of a more enlightened generation and dedication to family is to be worn as a badge of honor, even if it means that I have to forego seeing what Daredevil is up to in this month’s installment. Parenthood is nothing if not sacrifice.
This inability to immerse myself in less “important” pursuits is nothing new come to think of it. There’s a part of me that remembers what it was like to fully immerse in a videogame and play it out fully to the end. Unfortunately, some time around the time I got married ten years ago, I started hearing a little voice when I’d play—“Hey, you have fatherly/husbandly duties to attend to…and this is a waste of time.” The very same thing happens to me when I read comics. The voice inside tells me that my time could be better used some other way. Simply put, there’s always something “more important” that I should be doing. This is my cross to bear. I chose this path, I know, but again, I’ve got comics to read. So many comics.
It’s funny how aging forces one to confront the concept of time and the ever-shrinking amount of it that I have. Ironically, despite the limited amount of time that I’m allotted each week to actually reading comics, I haven’t let time constraints stop me from buying comics, both digital and printed. And as a result, I find myself watching my unread pile of comics grow…and grow…and grow. I freely admit that I have too many comics and not enough time to read them. The collector inside me doesn’t care about that; the collector inside me just wants books, more books. It’s an illness really. I’m fully aware of that. So what’s an encumbered comic collector with only a modicum of free time to do? Do I bag up the unread books, stash them in a box and save them for a rainy day that may never come? Do I speed-read through them just for the sake of checking them off my list? I like to savor my comics, so cruising through them at breakneck speed doesn’t seem like much fun, even if it shrinks the dreaded pile of unreads. And while I’m partial to binge viewings of TV shows when I get behind, that doesn’t quite work for me when it comes to comics. That perfect little experience of reading a single issue is something unique; I don’t really want to stray from that. So many comics, so little time.
This doesn’t take into account all the books from the past that I want to catch up on, as well. Amazon’s “Buy It Now” button was designed for impulsive people like me, and I’ve been pressing it with reckless abandon for more years than I care to remember. The result is a beautiful shelf of graphic novels, only half of which I’ve actually read. With so little time, one has to wonder if my copy of the West Coast Avengers omnibus is destined to become just another unchecked box on the great comic life list. I’m getting the sense that my comic book inbox will never be empty and I’ll never reach that place where all my unreads are moved to the read pile. Damn piles. My fear is that I’ll start looking at my comics as a chore, something that I’ve fallen behind on and need to get a handle on. Comics as a chore? Something about that doesn’t feel quite right.
In the grand scheme of things, none of this is a real “problem” when you come right down to it. I get that. People have really crap to deal with and here I am waxing existential about whether or not to read my Incredible Hulk books. But as I begin my forty-fifth year on the planet, I can’t help thinking about the finite hours we’re all given and the choices we make about how to spend those hours. Ultimately, I think the answer to my problem is probably one of quality over quantity. And perhaps some behavior modification is in order. We tend to like our comfortable patterns, but if I can’t read the books I buy in a week, then maybe it’s time to shorten my pull list, though it pains me to do so.
I believe it was The Steve Miller Band who said, “Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.” I’m almost halfway through my fifth decade and those words have never rung so true. But maybe that’s a negative way to look at it. Perhaps it’s better to think about the words of that school-skipping icon Ferris Bueller, who said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” So with that spirit in mind, maybe I just need to slow things down a bit. Maybe I need to give myself the free pass (a “day off” if you will) and allow myself to read the books I’ve already got. But first, I’m thinking I might go out for a pack of smokes…
Gabe Roth is feeling a bit more mortal than usual today. And he’s @gaberoth on Twitter.