Monday, August 29, 2011

The evils that beset mineral collections: 15. Inclination, boredom, lack of discipline, and new worlds to conquer

You may notice that this column does not appear every week. Its sometimes sporadic occurrence reflects today's set of evils: inclination, boredom, lack of discipline, and new worlds to conquer.  Let's add perfectionism to the list as well.

If you have a small and well-organized collection, these evils are not so much of a problem. But suppose, like me, you last cataloged a specimen (as opposed to adding it to a running list) in the 1990s. In the mean time, I have changed cities, changed jobs, taken several vacations, and yes, continued to collect minerals, rocks, and a few gemstones [including synthetics and imitations]. I have acquired some nice equipment for the visual examination of minerals: a gemological microscope, a viewing box, etc. But I have not set up an environment to label specimens; worse, I have not unpacked my existing collection after the move a dozen years ago.

Well, the new space isn't ready yet: it leaks sunshine (see Evil #7). When I had the money to prepare it, I didn't have time; and now that I have more time, money is tighter. The first steps to preparing the space are big ones. So blame inclination, the lack of funds, and a lack of discipline (and the Internet, that large vacuum-er of time).

Certain aspects of collecting are more pleasant than others. It's great fun to go to Tucson; it's fun to build displays; it's not as much fun to make handwritten labels in triplicate, or to find a LaTeX compiler, or ... This is an aspect in which perfectionism can slow you into immobility.

And if you formed your collection when you were much younger -- or, worse, inherited it -- by the time a piece is cataloged you may not remember why you got it. So if you must procrastinate, keep notes (with the specimen, and away from sunshine, insects, rubber bands, etc.).

What if your interests have changed? If now to minerals you prefer to collect mineral books, or make fishing flies, or raise a family? It may be appropriate to set your annotated collection aside until you find (or raise) an enthusiastic apprentice who can grow into it. Or find a deserving museum; or a mineral dealer or  auction house if the money would come in handy.

Or persevere: sometimes the solution is to break the big steps into little steps. If you can't even handle a little step, make it easier to do it next time, by clearing off a space, or collecting supplies, or tackling whichever obstacle is blocking your progress.

Museums have the notion of stewardship: that one has a responsibility to that which has been judiciously acquired. Be the best steward that you reasonably can be.