The greatest difference between the two is, I think intent, while the magpie may pause and collect many shiny objects of similar value or aesthetic quality, which may begin to resemble a traditional collection, the fact that these are then lumped in with other things to which they have no logical connection distinguishes magpie collecting. I am a magpie collector, even though some of my collections look traditional. Here I am thinking of my music collection. I collect Western art music, otherwise known as ‘classical’ music; technically, only a small part of my collection is ‘classical’, I have 400 years worth of music spanning the early Baroque to contemporary composers like Philip Glass. This collection looks traditional; it follows a theme and has an obvious unity. Most of my collection is made up of opera which I have been collecting for the past 16 years, certain singers and conductors reoccur throughout the collection, and I have been playfully accused by other opera fans, of chasing only ‘big names’. But as a magpie collector what I see when I look at my collection is over three hundred distinct experiences, three hundred emotional journeys which I then use as raw material for my writing.
For me, that is the key of magpie collecting, not the collection itself, but the experience that is associated with the thing collected. Which is really the great danger of magpie collecting, one has to keep a close eye on what you are collecting, especially when it comes to relationships. This rather neatly brings us to the second part of this week’s question, the ethics of magpie collecting.
Now would probably be a good time to introduce my writing self, otherwise known as Hyde. When I speak of myself, I refer to my conscious ego self, the one who lives in the world and interacts with it. Hyde is an aspect of my unconscious self, the self which pre-linguistic, the self of sensory experience and symbolic order. Because this self is greedy for experience there is always a part of me which is remote and detached. I remember being very sick, delirious with fever once with tonsillitis, and something in the back of my mind said “Remember what this feels like, you can use it one day.” Writers can risk becoming overly detached from their own lives if their detachment is allowed to become too undisciplined. I feel a need to limit, my desire for experience, as Hyde is curious, I know that there is a part of me which would deliberately engage in life threatening behaviour, just to know what it feels like. Because of this I have rules around what can and cannot be used for writing, people I have relationships with are off limits, but my own experiences are not. I will not fictionalise people or events which are real, because then I will lose their reality and they will be written only, not a nice thing to do to your mother.