Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Getting Out

 - Dorian MacQuarrie

I need a break. A break from collecting, a break from toys, a break from cleaning and posing and sorting and tidying and just (!!!!!!!)........I need a break.

You may have seen this sort of comment before, when collecting turns from a hobby into a burden. I imagine some people who have experienced this might think they are "done" with toy collecting, or at least maybe just collecting a particular brand of toys. I've seen numerous posts on social media and forums where an individual goes through this and suddenly thinks they now have to sell their entire collection as their interest in toys has waned. Madness. 

I am definitely not in that position right now but I am in what I'd call a collecting trough. Peaks and troughs, ups and downs, mountains and valleys, triangles and......upside down triangles.....

I have been here before though and it's something I expect to happen at least once a year. Maybe it's through a lack of relevant releases or compelling fiction or maybe it's actually other worldly stresses impacting on my free time but the overall result is a disengagement with Transformers and toy collecting in general. This trough is normally followed by a peak in another interest, which would traditionally be tabletop wargaming but I've yet to feel the usual stirrings within that herald a return to miniatures so maybe there's a new hobby on the horizon for me. Far from being concerned about this disinterest I actually think it's quite healthy. It's good to have a number of different interests that provide a multitude of experiences and it's only natural these will come and go, taking different priorities in your life. I think to chain yourself to one hobby, one collection, one interest is frankly, bizarre. 

Even while in this trough I still exist as a fringe collector and supporter of transforming robots. I like to keep an eye on new releases and developments but I definitely do it at arm's length. It's happened enough times and with a certain regularity that I know it will pass and in a few months time I'll be sitting atop a collecting peak, marveling over my latest third party acquisition. I'd never consider myself "done" with collecting. 

But say the day does come, when you hang up your gloves and give up the game, and this disinterest develops into a full divorce from collecting, how do you know when you're done? Do you feel it coming? Are there portents in the sky and then you know, "yes, I am done with collecting". Do you feel a growing disinterest in transforming robots? Going from the buying everything and anything to just a few select lines and finally to just one or two purchases here and there? Is it the creeping feeling that you're not getting the same buzz once associated with the new-toy-joy but you keep buying them anyway? Or even the feeling that you're surrounded by shelves and shelves of toys, suffocated by a mountain of plastic that you're no longer that keen on?

Or what if one day you just wake up and think "right, I'm done now".

In an effort to understand this better I reached out to the community to hear from those who would consider consider themselves "done" or at least on the outside of what one would consider an active collector.

George Daniel Lea:
"It's an odd thing, being outside the fish bowl occasionally glancing in, especially when you've been happy inside the glass most of your life.
In the case of my participation in Transformer collecting hobby-dom, I've been a happy inhabitant of the outer edges of that particular fish bowl for as long as I can recall, at least until recent years.

I was born in 1984; the year the original waves of The Robots in Disguise first hit toy shelves; when the cartoon began to air and the comics saw print. As such, I cannot recall a time when they did not exist; they have always been a part of my world and influential upon my imagination. Whilst I obviously came into the original toy line rather late (it wouldn't be until around 1987 I started to become consciously interested), I was a rabid and eager consumer of the toys, cartoons and comics; the designs, characters and lore of the Transformers fascinated me, as they did an entire generation of children at the time. I distinctly recall crafting elaborate and lengthy scenarios with what few of the original toys I possessed; scenarios that were, in many respects, my first stories, though I rarely (if ever) wrote any of them down. In that regard, along with the other material that obsessed my developing imagination, the Transformers were part and parcel of my evolution into a storyteller; I cut my teeth crafting scenarios that the cartoons and comics did not; where they did not satisfy. 
In that, the Transformers, along with myriad others, far from becoming influences that stunted or directed my imagination, became the medium of its evolution and efflorescence. Even when many were putting aside the ephemera of childhood (in compliance with cultural dictate, largely driven by fear of embarassment), such things continued to fascinate and obsess; whilst my collecting slowed, it did not diminish, nor did my consumption of the fictional material that continued to swell into new and previously unimagined realms (Beast Wars, Beast Machines et al).

So, how does something that has exercised such a profound influence upon a developing state of mind wither almost into obscurity? Because that is most certainly the state I find myself in today; not alienated from the subject matter or its communities as such; still engaged and interested, but at a much greater distance and without any particular engagement, barring one or two notable exceptions.

It would no doubt help this article were there something profound or traumatic to comment on; some life-changing event or experience that shifted my perspectives or that repelled me from the hobby.

Unfortunately, I can't claim that; there is no clear or particular moment at which this transition occurred. In truth, I barely even noticed it, until I realised that the figures I'd purchased around that time (many of which were extremely rare and expensive) were sitting on shelves or in boxes gathering dust, hardly touched.

Nor was there any great lamentation; no wailing or gnashing of teeth at the realisation; it was simply a faintly surprised acknowledgement that the person who engaged so deeply with that subject does not exist any more.

As to how or why this transition happened, who can say?; In terms of the states and vicissitudes of our own minds; our states of consciousness, we cannot even pretend objectivity. The best I can do is hypothesise, and even then only in the most vague terms:
However, that doesn't necessarily explain the waning of my personal interest in the subject, which never relied on notions of community or tribal identification; that always only ever refered to itself for justification.

I note that the waning of my interest coincides with the publication of my first story collection, Strange Playgrounds, to mention my more concerted engagement with the independent publishing communities. This might have something to do with the waning of established interests and hobbies, in that it requires so much time, energy and engagement in order to sustain, alongside the writing itself, which is now so part and parcel of my daily process, it cannot be divorced. In that, the natural waning of things that drain my mental and emotional resources and that are superfluous to that greater interest becomes inevitable, and a sacrifice I am happy to make.

It also may be the case that the Robots in Disguise have simply provided everything they can for me; I do not believe in synthetically sustaining fascination or interest where it clearly does not exist or does not wish to be; doing so only has the effect of souring and corrupting what experience one has (and this stands for far more than mere incidental hobbies; I feel the same way about romantic relationships, friendships etc). I would rather let that particular bird fly than keep it caged and insist that I still love it when everything in my heart and soul tells me otherwise.

That said, I cannot and will never dismiss it entirely; I still cast the occasional eye over developments in the Transformers universe; will still engage with the comics and cartoons as and when they snare my interest.

But this is a far cry from the obsessional consumption of previous years; a far more distant and considered approach, that may yet have the effect of kindling something deeper. Or not.

For me, that particular era or episode of my life is over; transition has occurred, however unwittingly, and I have no scavenger's inclination to pick over old bones (even when they're my own)."

Whether George is a typical case of disengagement or not his overall experiences run parallel to my own. A rabid consumption of material which often slows down and eventually peters out. In his case real world priorities such as writing and publication have taken centre stage but therein lies a comment regarding the effort required in collecting. Keeping up with releases, curating your collection, going out and about on a toy hunt, these things all require an input of energies of some kind and often when other creative or professional endeavours are underway collecting will be the first to fall by the sidelines. 

His remarks about the "Robots in Disguise" having simply provided everything they can reminds me of my own position with regards to the mainline toys from HasTak. When Titans Return was announced I was definitely interested to see what was on the cards but I knew already that I would maybe pick up a release or two and not full waves of toys as I would have several years ago. The product no longer serves my needs at large, I am no longer accounted for in the target market. That's fine as it is clearly a directional shift on my part and the product HasTak put out these days is still quite good, maybe not Classics/Universe 2.0 levels but it's solid. It does leave make me aware that had I not taken up third party offerings so heavily I would quite possibly have dropped out of the Transformers scene altogether. They have provided something of a lifeline as through 3P I remain connected to the wider Transformers community through forums and social media groups. 

Sami Sadek:
 "As a former collector I felt the need to leave the “interest” largely because I find that there isn’t much of an enjoyment to really be had from it. I retired from collecting back in 2013 mostly because I felt burned out by what was being put out, nothing was grabbing my attention and the need for space was starting to wane a bit. 
As a fan of Transformers I’ve always loved the fiction and the rich and deep mythology in its various forms of media, to me that has always come first over the need to buy a piece of plastic. There is the troubling issue that a collection can never really be 100% complete because for each line that is brought out millions more toys are added to it, the problem with ever completing a collection of something means extra space is needed and that means having to sell off more of your collection to add more to it. The interest of Transformers occasionally has a few slumps through the years that really make a fan lose the drive and motivation to get invested, various lines that are either recycled toys with different colours or unnecessary gimmicks and the occasional merchandise that sits on the shelf, it’s hard to feel the love for a franchise that often at times goes through the motions and feels the need to focus on just selling toys than putting any creative thought or effort into seeing something go in a much different direction that isn’t just about selling a lump of plastic.
What usually happens when an interest becomes too expensive and space consuming is that eventually you move onto other interests and hobbies you enjoy. Aside from being interested in Transformers I’m also an artist, a photographer and a blog writer and when I’m putting my own time and effort into something that I enjoy that I can create something different with then I feel that has more meaning than just buying toys and watching them catch dust.
Transformers is always going to be around and there will always be shelves upon shelves of toys for people to buy, but after a while it becomes too much to just buy a toy and then not play with it, the hobby eventually becomes too expensive to pursue when you are after a figure that is incredibly rare or very big compared to the smaller ones that are released.
The one aspect of the fandom that I find engaging from going to conventions such as Auto Assembly & TFNation is that the people are of a wide variety, their love for not just buying the toys but enjoying the stories that are told in Transformers and meeting the creators who put that out there I.E. the voice actors, writers, artists. While it’s a mixed bag the people are the beating heart of what make Transformers enjoyable and their enjoyment, their enthusiasm and their drive to see what else can make this franchise so investing are what I enjoy the most when coming back and revisiting this.
Where I stand in this hobby of Transformers is that the toy collecting really has kind of halted for me, I’ll always love this franchise and I’m always open to whatever is put out there. Personally though I think the need to buy more toys and then sell more toys to buy more toys really becomes too exhausting to deal with and when you are not able to keep up with the line that is being put out and the figures that are released aren’t standing out then it feels like too much pressure to get invested in."

Both George and Sami bring up a key factor in disengagement and growing interest: a lack of material fit for consumption. Be it the toyline, the fiction or even the brand direction, once a resource has dried up people will move elsewhere to indulge their creative needs or even just for a fresh hit of plastic crack. Sami's comments also highlight the pressures of trying to keep up to date with new releases which might have once been a thrill in itself but is all the more damaging once that particular experience ends. One of my previous troughs was very much brought about by a lack of access to new toys, both through a lack of availability in shops around the UK and personal financial pressures severely reducing my disposable income. 

It could be argued that maybe some people were never the biggest fan or supporter of something like Transformers if a lack of suitable material was enough for them drop out of the hobby. Surely something that could have taken up so much of your time, space and money can weather the storm of a few poor releases and a paltry amount of fresh media? Maybe so but I think to cling onto a hobby or interest in the vain hope that "it'll get better eventually" is folly and it is better to move on to new pastures. 

What is reassuring though, that even when collectors consider themselves "done" or on the outside of collecting circles, relationships built through the hobby persist and are thankfully not reliant on being an active collector. As Sami said, the community is very much the "beating heart" of the hobby and does more to keep people involved and engaged than any new release from HasTak could ever hope to achieve. 

Until next time, keep it #Refined

"Strange Playgrounds" written by George Daniel Lea is available at

Follow Sami on Twitter @sadeksami91

Follow Dorian on Twitter @Vigadeath

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