I pity vinyl collectors, for whom it’s a must to own not just every record made by a certain artist, but also copies of every pressing of each edition of every album. A both expensive, and ultimately futile endeavour. 

Not that I can’t relate though. Ever since I was the youngest member of the stamp collector’s society in the small town where I grew up (perhaps an understatement; I was the sole teenager among retirees), I’ve known what the allure of completism can do to people. 

Completism comes in many shapes and forms. It doesn’t necessarily have to manifest in a physical collection, but can also translate into a more generalised ambition to ‘take it all the way’.

A revealing example happened when I read a book – Disgrace – by South African novelist J. M. Coetzee, and liked it so much that I decided I needed to set all else aside and read everything else the man had ever written. Only to find out at the end of that little project that I hadn’t particularly enjoyed the other twentysomething titles that he had written.

The urge for completism can play those kinds of tricks on you.

Of course if we’re on the topic of reading, completism can also lead in wonderful directions. I’ve written before about the rich experience of consuming every winner of the Booker, the National Book Award, and the Pulizer prize of this century. Again something that took years, but that I simply couldn’t not do once I’d gotten started. 

(I’ve also written about the failed attempt, almost comical in hindsight, to grasp an entire cultural sphere by means of ‘completing’ a reading list.)

Lately it’s been ESA’s podcast that’s captured my attention.

I started listening to it for the purpose of research, in order to get ready for a certain event. Once that event had happened thought, I found I simply couldn’t stop, short of having listened to every episode ever aired since 2017. 

That took me until yesterday.

Now that I’ve heard all these interviews; with astronauts, but also with all kinds of other specialists working for ESA, it’s as if I can step back and look at this big beautiful tapestry of voices, and the impression I get is that they’re all speaking to me in the same voice.

What they’re saying is beautiful, because of how they say it. They’re all so passionate, so happy to be doing just what they’re doing, so inspired, and consequently inspiring. Hearing a pattern emerge from this kind of polyphony is the rare but precious reward of the completist.