At Play In The Archive
“Do not hunt for subjects, let them choose you, not you them. Only do that which insists on being done and runs right up against you, hitting you in the eye until you do it.”
– Samuel Butler
Researching and writing this blog is a lot of work, and I already have a demanding day job, thank you very much. So why am I doing this?
Because, suddenly I can’t not do it.
I’ve always been riveted by old pictures, old books, old objects, and old stories. I wish I could say I have always been riveted by old people too, but that would be lying. I have always loved certain old people, of course, but like many bright young nitwits, I overlooked the fascinating family stories right under my nose in favor of more exotic ones. Book-crazy from the get go, I always found what went on between paperboards more compelling than what went on around me. It wasn’t contempt for the familiar so much as youthful blindness to the beauty and power of personal stories, the drama of these people, in this place, the narratives that don’t tie up in a tidy bow at the end. I didn’t ask as many questions as I should have.
While I absorbed a certain amount of family lore as a youngster, it wasn’t until I had passed well into adulthood that I awakened to how fleeting these family stories are, how easily lost to time and distance and illness and death, how easily forgotten, and how interesting. Now, with years of experience living in this big old goofy world, I find myself unexpectedly nourished by stories of how my progenitors did the very same things I do. Even painful history has the power to strengthen me, to teach me, to bind me to the gifts, both bright and dark, of my heritage. And, being constantly reminded that life is not endless is good for me. Carpe Diem, baby.
Also, I just have so much stuff.
Yeah, I’m that person in the family — I used to think I was unique, but I’m learning that the unofficial family archivist is a fairly common character. I never met an old family photograph that I didn’t feel compelled to label, scan, wonder over, and file (albeit haphazardly). Same goes for letters, old documents, military records, and employment files. These things come to me as if by cosmic static cling, and then I wonder where to put them all — the ideal climate-controlled, dimly-lit archive not R us, not in my current house, anyway. But I do my best. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed, like I will never get through it all, but mostly I just feel grateful that I can share this stuff.
But, stuff without a story is just stuff. So, I’m writing down what I know, what I discover, and what I may never know about the People of Pancho. Someday my girls will need to deal with all this stuff, and I don’t want them to have to wonder what matters and what doesn’t. Some of it’s junk, but some of it’s gold.