My first thought in converting this journal entry into a blog post was to make a brief playlist with songs mentioning/tangentially related to silence.
Then I realized that by doing this, I am just encouraging the sort of ADD-style clickaround media consumption style that I mention later that I’m trying to get away from.
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and One Year to a Writing Life by Susan M. Tiberghien both address the concept of silence. Tolle wrote to pay attention to outer silence to create inner silence, to still the mind. “The unmanifested is present in this world as silence. Silence without, stillness within.” (113) Tibhergein discusses May Sarton’s Journal of a Solitude: “She invites you, the reader, to go down to the matrix, the huge empty silence where your creativity is embedded.” (14)
I suppose this is where I disclose that i’m a librarian and if this were a conversation at a party, someone would chortle, “No wonder you enjoy silence! I bet you’re a shusher.” After I procure another drink to replace the one that I had thrown in the offending party’s face (possibly crushing their face into the shards of wineglass strewn on the floor), I would calmly explain that stereotypes hurt everybody, including/especially the person who believes and perpetuates them.
Stereotypes aside, as an introvert, I do often prefer solitude and lone activities over boisterous crowds of strangers (as to how I got into bike racing is a mystery to everyone). Yet last weekend and others where I did not have any social plans or desire to commit to social invitations extended by others, I felt a strange unease. I usually sleep in late, or stay in bed, indolent. Before, it was due to depression, the despair of being unable to answer the question “What is the point?”
Now it’s just laziness or recharging my batteries from the social interactions of that week and attempting to pay off my sleep debt. Yes, I know that’s not how sleep works.
Sometimes I end up staying in all day binge watching things on Netflix when I should be out on the road or in the dirt riding for fun or training. I could easily do these things alone, but don’t very often. Or even if I stay in, I really should be catching up on chores or writing/reading more.
When I do finally re-emerge from one of my shut-in fits, I go for a walk. I sit by Jamaica Pond and read a book, sometimes journal a bit (like this entry) or work on a short story.
Yet why go to the pond? I could just as easily read and write in the comfort of my own room. THere are usually others out jogging, walking dogs, pushing strollers. Not to mention the Jamaicaway traffic can get quite loud, especially when the ambulances, fire trucks and police cars pass with their sirens on. Sometimes musicians have jam sessions in a circle near my usual sitting spot.
Perhaps it’s too quiet in my room. Even with roommates and upstairs and downstairs neighbors, I’m quite well-cloistered. What happens is I then feel the need to turn some music on, so I start up my computer. Then I find myself checking email, then Facebook or Twitter or Reddit. Next thing I know I fall into the black hole of YouTube videos or Netflix or a bunch of tabs open with news stories and blog posts that seemed interesting from my friend’s feeds, but I ended up not finishing them. You all know how the internet works: one click leads to another.
This spills over to analog media as well. I have several books I started reading at different points, but haven’t finished yet. There are multiple knitting projects I’ve started or disassembled, but haven’t completed yet. Sort of like Penelope trying to stall her suitors, I would get halfway finished with a project and then unravel it (in my case usually because I decide that I don’t like the pattern). With winter coming, I really ought to finish that pullover.
So why? How is it possible to be more distracted in a closed room than out in the world? Right now (while I was journaling by the pond), there are small waves of higher frequency from a passing motorboat. I suppose the rhythmic lapping of water is more soothing than whatever guilty pleasure pop album or dorky playlist I usually put on. For one thing, the sound of running water is usually used with those relaxation devices or fancier alarm clocks.
This clearly affects my writing as well, since I usually start with an endpoint or message in mind. Lately I find myself meandering in too many tangents, sometimes never returning to the main idea. My writing professors would be mortified at this (especially considering I don’t really revise my blog before posting). This might be why I never could make it as a writer: the work required to revise or the social networking of trying to get word out about my projects.
Back to the main point. Silence.
I often turn on music or a movie or show while I’m performing tasks to help pass the time, but this only enables distraction. It took me at least twice as long to go through one box of clothes for discards when I had my laptop on as it did when I just went at it after breakfast.
I find myself having difficulty sleeping even though I’m tired when I go to bed. Then again, using mindless internet browsing as a cooldown from reference requests, resource evaluation and budget planning is hardly the same as an easy recovery spin after a time trial. Whoops, I really wanted to make this blog entry not about bikes for a change.
So why do it? Studies have proven that screen viewing before bed is terrible sleep hygiene. Perhaps in my case, I am seeking silence, but in the wrong way. To drown out the noise in my head, I use these distractions.
What is the noise in my head? I imagine that everyone has their own noise. As a vague summary, my noise is all of my doubts, worries, insecurities and negative emotions. Sometimes they don’t manifest as coherent words or thoughts so much as a feeling like low level white noise, like a television or radio tuned to an empty station. If it’s so quiet, then why does it take so much to drown it out? The quiet is what makes it so insidious. It’s always there and I don’t notice it until it’s all I have to focus on.
Quiet vs silence? What is the difference? Back to Tolle’s idea of “silence without, stillness within,” that is a very difficult concept to enact. When was the last time you were perfectly still? No phone notifications of email or social media, no movies, television or music on and even if it werequiet, were able to not think about anything at all or did the flood of thoughts start with the trickle of everyday minutiae: Did I remember to pay the gas bill? When will I be able to pay off my student loans? Could I ever afford a house? Do I really want to stay here for the long term? What if I end up dying alone?
Ok, that last one was a bit of a jump from the others, but you get the idea. Obviously everyone has their own stream of consciousness and random things that trigger their deepest fears and traumas. For me, this often becomes a jumble, so perhaps the silence outside could help me try to focus and tune into my deep-seated fears and biases. Or, more importantly: wants and needs.
In my private journal, I often write about want. No. Not in that way (ok sometimes in that way, but that’s one of many reasons that journal stays private). What do I want? That seems to change on any given day. If I don’t know what I want, then how am I supposed to know what measures I need to take to get it?
Sometimes I want to skip town. Other times there’s nowhere I’d rather be. Sometimes I’m tempted to apply for other jobs. Other jobs I feel that swelling, brash pride of someone who is treated like a rockstar at work for “knowing her shit” and helping solve problems and answer difficult questions. Sometimes I love being unattached. Other times I wonder what I’m missing out on by choosing not to pair bond and reproduce. Usually more of the former than the latter. It’s doubtful I’ll change my childless mindset anytime soon considering how long I’ve held it and especially considering my financial state.
So, yes. That is the noise again. This is what prevents me from enjoying the sun on my skin, the breeze on the pond, or fully tasting the salted caramel in my mouth and just being in the moment.
Ambition and goals are important. It is good to have things to strive for. However, if the future comes at the cost of the present, is it worth it? Tolle writes about this a lot: the idea that always looking forward means wanting things that may not come as opposed to enjoying what you have directly in front of you.
Marcus Aurelius actually refers to this in his Meditations (IV. 32): “… but most of all consider those you personally have known who ignoring the good that lay at their feet, ran after some vain thing and never found the happiness that was within their reach all the time.”
All I can do is try harder at silence. Maybe not try so much since it’s like the idea behind “don’t think of pink elephants.” If I feel sad or angry, I should not try to push it aside or distract myself. I should let myself feel it, process where the feeling came from, figure out what, if anything I can do about it and just wait for it to pass like a thunderstorm.
If I can tune into things one at a time and process them, perhaps I can finally find that stillness. Perhaps I might even be able to close out my browser tabs knowing that I’ve actually read and processed any information in them. Or better yet, leave the damn computer off and get some sleep.
Ok, that was a bad joke even for me. Seriously though, this is technically a cross-post that happens to be about cyclocross as I wrote this for the cycling group on my work’s social networking site. I thought of it as a warm-up for writing the massive link-dump/online pathfinder for my co-workers that outline our available online resources. So yeah, this should explain my recent whereabouts and complete lack of updates.
So what’s with the cowbell? Why are they going through mud and carrying their bikes on their shoulders uphill? Did that spectator just heckle a rider and then hand her a beer? [favorite heckle: “(directed at rider with a fancy expensive carbon bike) Hey, you should throw more money at your bike. Maybe that will make you go faster!”] These are some questions you may find yourself asking should you find yourself at a cyclocross race (possibly the only cycling sport that is as fun to spectate as it is to ride).
I could go on at length about the wonder that is cyclocross/CX (the sport where the knights occasionally carry their steeds), but there are far better resources out there. Please feel free to post yours.
For a particularly cute and brief breakdown of CX: CYCLOCROSS! The 24 Hour Comic Book (aka The Little Golden Book of Cross) | Slonie
I practice over at Danehy Park with Hub Bicycle’s Team Monster Truck on Mondays and Smith Field on Wednesdays. Feel free to post any CX clinics or races that may be of interest.
This is my friend Tim. He can bunny-hop over barriers.
This was shortly before a tree root caught on my pedal and I wiped out and somehow landed beneath my bike. The first thing I said was not “Ow” or “Is my bike ok?” but rather, “DID YOU GET A PICTURE OF THAT?”
Because I’m clearly out of my mind, I signed up for the Great Brewers Gran Prix of Gloucester (update: I made it to spectate the race, but due to the commuter rail/me waking up late and missing my ride, I got there two minutes before my race started so I wasn’t allowed to enter the field, live and learn.), The Night Weasels Cometh, and Providence Cyclo-cross Festival and the TCC Mansfield Hollow Cyclocross Race.
I might not be fast or handle corners, hill runups or hurdles all that well yet, but my goal is to become an internet meme like Joey here (he’s totally OK).
So back in the day, I pretended I was a writer. I apparently didn’t pretend hard enough since I ended up more on the media consumption as opposed to production side of things. However, I found an old notebook with one of the last poems I wrote before going to grad school. I wrote it after reading the book I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita (which I highly recommend as it was gorgeous, sad and based on a bit of history you don’t usually read about in your high school textbooks) and thinking about the Manong culture in California, my old divey studio apartment on 16th and Hawthorne in what was once an old SE Portland flophouse, crashing at my boyfriend’s place after my 12th and Stark basement apartment flooded. Most of all, I thought about how diaspora almost comes naturally to Filipinos. We go so far away for so long, yet the ties of family are still there. If I ever thought I could rewrite and publish this, I’d probably remove the last stanza, since it’s too specific/related to romantic relationship nonsense.
International Hotel, 1978
these ghosts, down
narrows leading into rooms not much larger
than sepulchers and coffins.
But there is more life
within these walls,
cracked concrete, peeling wallpaper
like the scars of an old boxer
whose last battle is still fresh in his mind
but he can’t even remember
his mother’s face.
Or the soldier
at only two wars old
was told to go home
but sent out with barely the bus fare to go
to the next town.
Or these men
whose shoulders once held the earth’s weight
fed a nation with their hands,
yet for a time they were told
they couldn’t get a shave or a haircut
because the establishment
doesn’t serve dogs.
Many of them, gone.
The building they haunted, gone.
Their memory stays
over long nights, months
in small one-room apartments.
As I spend the night elsewhere
when they renovate my building,
I wonder if not for friends, lovers,
where would I stay?
Though I could afford a hotel
I could not sleep,
not someplace that isn’t home to anyone.
But then, I wonder,
how did they do it?
Miles and years from all they knew,
cramped like the fish they canned in Alaska, California,
sleeping in a place that wasn’t home.
But then, I remembered,
some places you can make home,
if only for a little while.
I never understood why
it as easy for me to
call someone “brother”
though I was an only child.
It wasn’t until years later
that I found out what
“manong” meant in Tagalog.
A brother could mean
your mother’s other son
or a stranger who gives
you a hand when
you’re flat on your ass
with no change in your
pocket to stamp a letter home.
Manong is laughter
when you’re too dried out to cry
squeezed of your last dime
at the casino or dance hall
not even a cup of water
to replace what was lost.
peeled back to wood skeletons,
the smell of cats
just barely departed.
can only see floorboards above.
This is not our home anymore,
just like this wouldn’t have
been home three months from now.
But in the past three months
I haven’t slept as well.
Some people call us home
and I will call you home
even if we’re no longer in the same town.
It looks like I’m not the only one who’s come a long way in the year since Rebecca Goldman’s Post-SAA Howl [Correction: It has been two years since Post-SAA Howl, which goes to show how long it took to gain recognition. via Rebecca Goldman on Twitter]. After feeling like recognition of students and new archivists was lacking in the organization, the Student and New Archives Roundtable started after petitioning and an application spearheaded by Ms. Derangement-and-Description herself. Mark Matienzo (@anarchivist) won the Emerging Leader award. Not to mention, our former SAA President Gregor Trinkaus-Randall gave us a shout-out at the second plenary session. Our new SAA President Jackie Dooley is on Twitter (@minniedw)! Not to mention all of the new electronic and education initiatives going on.
I’m really not sure I can say much more than I’ve already tweeted like crazy… perhaps tweeted too hard. If you missed the conference, a lot of us were livetweeting quite a bit. Fear not, however, as I had plenty of opportunities for tête-à-tête interactions with archivists in real-time/space and I had a great time over brunch/dinner/drinks discussing many nerdy archive-y things with them, including starting urban legends about how some of us partied so hard with some military personnel at the Hard Rock Cafe that they got kicked out of karaoke or how one of us threw a drink at the hotel bartender resulting in Hilton refusing to ever host an SAA ever again… like that apocryphal San Francisco tiki bar story (seriously, if you were witness to this, please let me know because I need confirmation). Hm. Perhaps this isn’t exactly the sort of “new face” to the profession I should be encouraging, considering it seems to consist mostly of getting rowdy. Unfortunately, I hate to admit that for every business-card swap, there were at least two whose names I can’t remember.
I gave my first presentation at SAA, which was based on this blog post, and I daresay it went quite well considering the fact that we were scheduled in the Saturday 2:00 pm-3:00 pm death slot and still got a good amount of attendees and our discussion went well to 4:00 pm. One question I received asked if I had actually gone out into the underrepresented community my collection reflected and admittedly, I had not. The asker brought up the fact that I was in a position of power, considering I had processed this collection and had the ability to connect it to the people it affected. I remember seeing a picture in one of the newspaper clippings of a teddy bear that had been left behind in the desert. I remember wondering how bad it was that some child had to leave what was most likely a beloved stuffed animal behind and wondering if that child was even still alive.
So the question still remains unanswered. How do I help what was once a faceless number go from Johns and Jane Does to meaningful stories and names to go with them? After all, the easiest way to create an enemy is to make them nameless, faceless, an invading horde of “aliens” or “illegals” or “migrants.” After our panel, we had an interesting discussion about philology and the weight of words, whether it’s how mainstream media refers to people crossing arbitrary borders as “migrants” or “illegals” or how the Library of Congress Subject Headings included “Orientals” and “Yellow Peril.” How does one turn a potential enemy into a friend? By listening to them, learning their stories, finding out that we’re not so different after all. We’re all just folk trying to build a life for ourselves.
I’m no longer at the University of Arizona Special Collections since the internship was only a month long and I am happy at my current position as an assistant librarian for a pharmaceutical company, but I do feel like I should get involved, do even more. I have to admit that the query I received after the panel was jarring. As an Asian American woman, I always felt more or less invisible and voiceless in the greater history narrative, but the point of power is still valid. As someone educated as an archivist, I do possess the ability to literally shape the course of history. There are so many untold stories out there that my head would swim to contain them all… except I don’t have to. The papers, photographs, audio recordings, films and born digital items are there waiting for someone to find them…
I love being a science librarian. Being able to help great people do great science has been one of my fondest wishes since I learned what a science librarian did. However, I still find myself drawn to social justice and want to do more than the usual signing of online petitions and chain-mail-style, awareness-raising reblogging that people just tune out after awhile. Of course, there’s always the Archivists Without Borders US Chapter. I feel like I’ve fought long and hard just to carve myself a place in the library world, but now that I have, I can’t forget where I came from or why I wanted to get into in the first place: to give voice to the voiceless so that I may not be haunted by the ghosts of forgotten history.
The two parts of this involve:
1. Raising public awareness of what archives are, who archivists are and the sort of good they can do, such as:
- Hold those responsible for ill-doings accountable to history by preserving the record of what they have inflicted on others (Nazi Archives, Iraq National Archives, John Cutler Papers)
- Help create/restore beautiful music “California Stars” by Billy Bragg and Wilco, lyrics by Woody Guthrie as found in his archives).
- Assist people in research their family histories as well as teach them how to preserve their own personal collections/items.
2. Assisting repositories in acquiring, processing and providing access to collections from otherwise underrepresented groups.
… as to how I’ll get around to accomplishing these two things… your guess is as good as mine, but I know I’ll do my damnedest.
Once again, I fear I’ve strayed from the main topic, which was originally intended to be a recap of SAA 2012: Beyond Borders in San Diego. Yet the title holds: I am content in my life, professionally and personally. I recall joking to Rebecca that if my plane crashed on the way back or if I got hit by a car, I think I would die pretty satisfied overall with how things ended up… yet I do know there’s so much I can do, so much more I must do.
After all, ghosts have a tendency to not stay quiet for long.
I’ll close this post with a quote from one of my favorite books/authors:
“They can’t silence me any more! I’ll tell the world what they have done to me!”
Carlos Bulosan, America Is in the Heart (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1943), 180.
This book was what helped shape the sort of writer I wanted to be, but I eventually realized my own story was rather dull in comparison. Now this book shapes the sort of archivist I want to be, the sort that helps others tell their stories.
I hope to see you all and share more stories at #saa13 in NOLA!
So the major television stations and internet are all abuzz about the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting. Even though nobody asked, here are some thoughts from an erstwhile archivist.
I don’t care about the shooter. I’m sick of seeing his name on headlines, sick of seeing his remorseless gaze from his Student ID picture, sick of hearing “experts” speculate about his intelligence or mental state or the socioeconomic/political climate that could harbor resentful, disturbed individuals with a mass of weapons. I’m not even going to get into the inevitable political firestorm about the Second Amendment or the “glorification of violence” in popular culture. For all I care, he can rot away the rest of his miserable days in a small box. I want his name to be forgotten, completely faded from the pages of history.
Who I do care about is Stephen Barton, who survived after being shot multiple times, who isn’t even from Aurora, Colorado but just happened to be in town with a friend during a 2,000+ mile cross-country bicycle tour. I care about Gordon Cowen, Jessica Ghawi, John Laramer and all of the other names listed during the memorial vigil. I care about the names I will probably never see in the news of other survivors and their family members.
Not too long from now, I’d love to read that Stephen was able to finish his cross-country bicycle trip with his friend after making a full recovery, see that he continued taking pictures and creating memories as he advised his graduating class at Syracuse. That is my hope. Just as it is my hope that those who survived go on with their lives and those who perished are remembered as they had lived and not how they died. I do not represent society as a whole. I do not even represent archives or archivists. Yet as a person, an archivist of my own history, this is what I choose to remember.
So what does any of my sentimental outpouring of outrage have anything to do with archives?
I kept thinking about how many news articles and sound bytes there would be about the killer and how sick I was of seeing that cycle happen, an almost fetishistic obsession with death and what causes people to kill. I saw a video on Reddit condemning mass media for sensationalizing mass murderers to the point where every scrap of information is slathered all over the place, the killer’s face and words pasted everywhere practically sending the message: “Hey, if you feel disillusioned and want attention, if you murder a bunch of people, they’ll remember you forever and debate about what it was you were trying to say.” and turning the victims into a mere anonymous body count. Of course, I realize that by making a blog entry about this, I may only be adding fuel to the fire. However, note that I did not use the shooter’s name or provide any information about him.
As archivists, we’re often touted as the custodians of history. The appraisal and accessioning processes are where we select and gain control over collections that will act as a community’s collective memory. It may be a rough stretch, but what about helping save history as it happens? After the Tuscon shooting, the University of Arizona Special Collections (my internship supervisor Chrystal Carpenter coordinated this) tried to save as many of the well-wishers cards and memorial items as possible. Of course, I don’t even remember the name of the shooter and that was about a year and a half ago.
Naturally, I do feel slight apprehension about this mentality of “what we choose to remember,” considering the risk of potential censorship or the dangers of nostalgia: only choosing to remember the good and rosy things of the past, but not our mistakes as a society. For example, how there’s a strange nostalgia for the 1950s for having more family values, better economy, etc. but forgetting about segregation, racism, and lack of women’s rights. Or, how we will never forget Pearl Harbor, but don’t often discuss the internment of Japanese-American citizens.
Once again, I find it difficult to remain neutral, but I am a firm believer that we all have stories worth telling and that these stories should live on long after we do. So, as much as it dismays me, it is likely that the name of the killer will have its own Wikipedia entry and a long list of Google search results. Yet I feel that the stories of those that died and those that survived should be told and remembered as well. It has been done in the past, with oral histories saved from survivors of September 11. After the the funerals, the hospital stays, the recovery and rehabilitation, after the doctors are gone, or perhaps even before, I can’t help but ask: “Is there an archivist in the house?”