If objects are marked by person—yours, mine and ours—they are also marked by tense. I have things I use and things I’ve stopped using and things I’ve never used. I’m not sure which is more complicated, the objects that remind me of an irretrievable past or those that point to an unrealized future, the unused possessions I retain and say I’ll use later: the Teach Yourself Dutch CD, the Moroccan cookbook, the stretching bands and yoga mat that point to a fitter, more competent, interesting and fulfilled self. These are the possessions that sit entreatingly or disapprovingly at the back of a closet—yes, I know I am anthropomorphizing lifeless objects now but this is an unavoidable side-effect of thinking about things all the time—waiting to be taken up again (or indeed for the first time). They are the embodiment of unfulfilled desire, silent witnesses to the tendency to overestimate the time and self-discipline I can marshal for new projects.
Yet sometimes an object is all three: past, present and future, a thing to use that triggers reminiscences and daydreams alike. Like my collection of back issues of Men’s Health magazine. I used to life weights more systematically than I do now, and had even gotten to the point where my shirts looked better on me than they did on a hangar. But squats and presses were not even half as satisfying as swimming or biking. Rotator cuff tendonitis and Mathew’s nagging about my putative “vanity” (which was actually a mask for his insecurity about what a buffed Nathan might get up to in the gym) eventually led me to taper down the weightlifting sessions to a minimum. But I still browse through old issues in the hopes of finding exercises that will motivate me enough to actually do them. I keep hoping I will find the perfect workout. I sometimes think I’ll go back and cut out articles and organize the clippings, say, by muscle group or type of workout. And I did at one point. But who archives material using scissors and folders (the ones with real flaps) nowadays?
I’ve thrown out as many issues as I’ve kept, maybe even more, but I still have 39 issues. They date back a decade. “Collection” isn’t the right word. Although it’s probably the closest I come to owning a collection, the set of back issues doesn’t really count. There’s no real story behind the individual issues, as there would be in, say, a collection of inkwells or subway tokens, none of the restrained variety that you’d find in a collection of refrigerator magnets or Cracker Jack prizes. There’s certainly little of the aesthetic pleasure you’d derive from a collection of cigar boxes, unless you count the cover boy.
I’ve made no inventory or catalog of the issues I have, nor did I need background or specialist knowledge to acquire the items. Nor, of course, have I ever thought of displaying the set—I haven’t even confessed to friends that I even read the magazine. Maybe “accumulation” is a better term, even if some of the much older issues might actually have some negligible monetary worth.
Nothing much has changed in MH over the years. The layout got a facelift and the models are new, but the magazine is true to its particular genre of fitness-writing. Advice is often bundled in numbered packages (55 High-Energy Super-foods. 29 Foods for Rock-Hard Abs), often in odd number sets, if not in primes (5 Quick Fixes for Stressed-out Guys. 13 Drugs That Turn Back Time). Heavy use is made of the imperative (Lose Your Gut. Build Big Arms). And at the core, the advice proffered is often the same. In November 2003 the magazine proclaims, “Six Pack Secrets Revealed—it’s easier than you think.” Six years later, the cover shouts, “Six Pack Secrets Revealed—sculpt abs on the beach.” In March 2011, MH trumpets, “Six Pack Secrets Revealed—unlock your abs (from the sofa)”.
And if it’s all more or less the same stuff, re-packaged and re-illustrated, why do I need to hold onto the old stuff? I can get the next slightly altered version next month. Or, if what comes out next month is merely a slightly altered repetition of what I’ve already, why buy it at all?
I’ve offered the set of back issues to Jonas, a friend from work who goes to my gym who’s morphing himself from scrawny to beefy and is addicted to workout advice. He wasn’t all that interested (I suspect he thinks MH is for amateurs) but he may just take them off my hands out of curatorial interest. Besides, he has a whole basement of storage space.