Accidental Archivist

This recent move has subjected me to a most unusual experiment – instead of just packing up all of our things and muttering under my breath that we have too much stuff and I ought to just throw it all away and start over, my wife and I have carefully selected what matters most to us. The nature of the move means we can only bring what we can fit in our tiny Toyota Yaris, not known for its spacious cargo room.

To get an idea, give yourself this thought experiment – you can only bring what you can fit into a tiny starter car. This includes clothes, any cookware you want to bring, as well as books, games, the television, or what have you. What do you choose to bring? And what do your decisions say about you?

One of the more surprising decisions I’ve made involves ditching a great deal of my library for another kind of writing – my own personal records. There’s a folder with all of the newspaper articles I’ve written in high school; two notebooks filled with notes on the General Conferences, zone conferences, district meetings, and personal study sessions during my mission. On top of that lies a large, overstuffed manila envelope with every letter to the mission president I sent which he returned to me at the end of my mission. There’s a journal, a folder stuffed with notes for several board/card game ideas I’ve tinkered with over the years, several academic papers I’ve written for class I’m particularly fond of, a notebook with a bucket list I wrote after my mission, and a stack of folders stuffed with various notes – much of it consists of scraps of paper, perhaps a pamphlet folded in half with writing ideas scribbled in the margins, or conversations I’ve held with my wife during boring meetings. Not a few are sticky notes of names of songs I’ve heard. One is plastered with quotes by Roger Ebert blasting the new Star Wars trilogy, another with titles of books I’ve been meaning to read.

My wife handed me the stack of papers in the beginning of the move, asking me to sort it all out. Slowly, I began to categorize the scraps of papers, remembering ideas in the past, reminding myself of a book I wanted to read, or digesting once more a quote long-forgotten about Japanese tea ceremonies. When finding the bucket list I wrote after my mission, I noticed a project that I forgot about but remembered the zeal I once had for it – to compile all of my missionary notes, letters, journal entries, etc., compare them against the planners I collected along the mission, and then publish it in one large document for family records. That zeal returned, as I endeavored to decide whether I should re-type my old mission letters or scan them as PDFs – or both.

I found crumbling notebooks – one following the instructions of a creative writing class and filled with a conversation I overheard for each day, for example. My mind feverishly sought to restore them. I love the novels I’ve read over the years, but when deciding between a haphazard historical record of the interests and subjects I’ve studied to the books I’ve read, there’s no real decision. I suppose it’s great hubris to determine my writings – the frenzied, disjointed notes I’ve kept on a plethora of subjects – are worth more than the writings of The Greats in the past. But I can’t help it; the combination of my Mormon identity and the amateur history in me screamed out the equivalent of “This belongs in a museum!”

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1 Comment

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One response to “Accidental Archivist

  1. justjillsblog

    Hey that’s my line! #archaeologist

    Journals and literature belong in separate categories. Sure, they may share a bookshelf (mine do), but it’s no surprise to me that journals go before books. You can check out almost any book at a library. You can’t do that with your journals.

    My problem would come in choosing which BLANK journals I’d take with me and which would stay. :P. I suppose, all things being equal, I’d have to take the most efficient ones–those that fit the most surface area for writing in the smallest mathematical volume. And I think that whole process would just put me out. I haven’t had to bother with geometry in years.

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