Wednesday, April 20, 2016

(Keep feeling) fascination

I was thinking of this while taking a walk earlier today:

How important is mystery in our lives? And is the fascination lost when we go from curiosity to knowing?

I'll explain what I mean and how it relates to cards.

While taking a walk, I was listening to music as always. A certain song came on -- no, it wasn't the Human League, although they're in rotation -- and I paid particular attention to the hook in the song. And I thought how musicians know how to craft a hook. It doesn't just arrive magically from the heavens (well, maybe sometimes it does). Musicians have to know how to arrange notes and chords into a progression that pleases the ear. They know the tricks and those tricks produce air play and fans and fill concert halls.

And I wondered whether I wanted to be a musician and know what goes into a hook or a riff, what makes a song catchy. It almost feels better to be a commoner without that kind of intricate knowledge and just appreciate the song for being a piece of 4-minute magic.

This applies to other professions in life. I enjoy comedians. The best ones fascinate me with their routines and jokes and I wonder "how do they come up with that?" And I know it takes work and hours and hours of crafting and selecting just the right word, but do I really want to know what's behind it? I feel like that might ruin it for me. The mystery would be lost. But sometimes I'm so fascinated that I can't help it, so I go find some sort of "comedians roundtable" video and then hate myself for doing it because telling jokes suddenly feels so pedestrian.

This happens in cooking, too. Sometimes it's best to appreciate the wonderful homemade food that someone cooked. If you ask, "how did you make this?" you run the risk of not being fascinated anymore. Also, I sometimes find when I make food myself, it's not as interesting as when other people make it because I know exactly how it came to be. I know the tricks.

And this happens in my job. If you tell certain people you work in a sports department, their eyes light up, and they're fascinated. Your job is like magic to them. Sports nirvana. And you don't want to spoil the image that they have. You don't want to tell them how the sausage is made. You want to keep them fascinated.

Mystery is important in life. Sometimes its good to be the magician. But sometimes it's good to be the fascinated audience, too.

And now -- finally -- we come to cards.

This is a 2002 Topps Pristine refractor that I received from Wes of Jaybarkerfan's Junk just the other day (lots more to come from him in another post).

I had to break it out of its tomb, but I haven't been able to stop looking at it all day. I love the shininess (as much as I love blue shiny, red shiny is a very close second). And I'm intrigued by how the refractory nature of the card seems to be restricted just to the area where you can see the field (although it's actually not).

And that caused me to wonder how refractors are made, and how different kinds of refractors are made. I started to get fascinated. I'm sure there are videos about this. I'm sure there are instructions. People who make their own custom cards have probably tinkered with it a time or two ... but you know what?

I don't want to know!

Let me just think that a lightning god swooped in from the sky and decorated this card with dazzling drops of shiny and vanished as quickly as she came.

Maybe I just want to be fascinated and not know everything all the time.

I think card companies like Topps want you to keep feeling fascination, too.

Why do you think they barely tell you anything about their products when they come out? I used to think it was incompetence, and maybe there's a little bit of that in there, but I think now that it's actually a tactic. Mystery is important. Always leave them wanting more. Keep them fascinated.

We would love to be in on the meetings at Topps when they decide the designs for particular products, or which players are going to be in particular products, or what topics are going to be addressed.

But Topps says "keep waiting." Because it wants us fascinated. We scream "for god's sake just give us a CHECKLIST!" and Topps says, "No. Mystery."

I'm always intrigued by the designs of cards and the process that goes into it. How long does it take, how arduous is it, how contentious is it, how many samples are created, how many are discarded, what gets put into the "maybe next year" pile? All of that.

But when the Topps Archives blog goes through one of Keith Olbermann's collection of past Topps mock-ups, I am conflicted.

I am so fascinated with the creation of cards that I can't keep myself from viewing those mock-ups, and viewing them is fascinating in itself. But I can also feel myself being disappointed by the process. Like it's not as magical as what I envisioned. The mystery has escaped.

It's an interesting conflict. Fascination makes you curious to know more. But when you find out more, you start to lose the fascination.

Topps knows this and it's probably why it give us such few glimpses of the process of making cards or what goes on at headquarters. Topps, like musicians, cooks, comedians, and even us sportswriters are in the mystery business. They want us fascinated. They need us fascinated.

Gain knowledge at your own risk.


  1. We had a fairly prominent sportswriter over for dinner recently (my wife and his wife are friends), and you know -- I never asked him about his work. We talked sports -- yes. But only in the context of our favorite university football programs. We talked more about, well, life instead.

    And, as you said, perhaps it is better that there is some mystery about life. Or even a bit of deception. Lawyer shows on TV are famous for that. If as many trials happened in real life as happened on TV, the courts would be so clogged up that nothing would get done. Most cases (98%) settle or go away. Most time on cases is spent in discover, poring through boxes and boxes of documents. It's just not that glamorous. But, therein lies the mystery.

  2. Holy hell, NO - you can't tease a great song and not link it. Yeeesh - I do knot own the rights to song posts on a blog after all.

    BTW - Joanne Catherall. Hubba hubba.

  3. We crave knowledge, we crave not the mystery it self but the euphoria of learning something we'd not know before. Yes, we may lose interest but only to move on to the next piece of information to fuel the drive of learning. Its a cycle, we learn and remember then move on. To try and stop the cycle is only hindering the pull of our instinct. Any good comedian, writer, lyricist, even the artist all masters of their craft understand this basic drive to learn an grow as an intellectual being and they play on that. Leaving us as the target audiance to think 'how did he/she manage that' or to wonder in disbelief how this artist manage to forge a masterpiece with only paper and color. They understand our need to want this knowledge. We need the mystery, we need to know that we understand so little in order to push us towards the answer. Its a balance between knowing and not knowing.

  4. I wish some of today's songwriters knew how to write a catchy hook instead of going with the standard 1,5,6 minor, 4 or 4,1,5,6 minor chord progressions that are flooding the radio waves these days.

    I think you are right and the mystery keeps us buying. Maybe one year Topps won't issue previews of the design and we'll just see them when they hit the shelves. It had to be like that maybe as late as the '80's, right?

  5. I think this can be applied even more generically to card collecting. I don't think I can ever fully recapture how baseball cards made me feel in 1993 or 1988. The landscape changed so much, from a simple time with 3 companies to more sets to inserts to relics to autographs. And I've gotten older and have a lot more crap to do. But the reason I collect cards today is that it does PARTIALLY recapture the feelings I had when I was 8 or 13. Also, since I have a lot more money than the 13 year old version of me, I can actually get some of the cards that were unattainable at that time. With all that other crap to do, this partial recapture of my youth is appreciated.

    In the same way, I don't think learning things about the process of making cards (or writing a song) ruins it much for me. Maybe a little, but just a little. And the knowledge gained probably outweighs that.

  6. I tend to think that once we lose our curiosity, it is the beginning of the end, so to speak. But, I am different from you in that mystery offends me. Having trained and worked as an engineer and now being in a profession where knowledge and information is the key to the kingdom, I am driven to find out how things work or come to be.

    1. Curiosity and discovering knowledge is very important in my job as well. That's what reporting is. But without mystery there can be no discovery. That's what I'm saying.