Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Notes from the archive

I'm in Archive City again (well, an Archive City), and settling into a routine. All I do is eat, and sleep, and write, and walk to and from the archive. It's not a vacation, but it is a break, and a welcome one.

It's funny: the city isn't cool and quiet, and yet I have an impression of things being cool and quiet because that's what an archive does for you.  Some thoughts about the experience:
  • There are campus tours going on, lots and lots of them, and it's fun to see the maybe-someday-students and sometimes their parents walking around and talking. They are chattering and hanging out in the sunshine as I go into the cool stone building where their voices echo when they go inside for a quick tour.  Soon, they're back outside, and it's quiet and cool again.
  • At one archive I've worked in, you're assigned a table, but here, you get to choose, and everybody seems to choose a spot and stick to it. I think it lessens the distractions, not that there are a lot in a room full of people reading.
  • This must be what it is like to be an athlete in training, not that I would know. You get up early, work on one task before the archive opens (writing); then you go to the room and read; then you come back to your room and resume writing.
And some thoughts about the process:
  •  For some folders, I've laid out the work plan and am supposed to be simply checking problem areas in the transcriptions from before as well as taking photographs of the manuscripts. (I have managed to turn off the bells & whistles and am no longer the fool with the noisy camera.)  But then I start to read the manuscript, and I just want to sit there and let those words unfold, with all the crossouts and inserts and everything. It's like hearing a more direct voice from the author with all the hesitations and choices.
  • Reading fluent, graceful English in the form not only of manuscripts but of items as small as a thank-you note is a pleasure. 
  • It also makes me realize just how much debased and trivial junk I read on the web every day--stuff that says nothing and yet it's there so I read it anyway. I think that's why the web is so addictive: a lot of the writing and many of the ideas are basically junk food, repeated endlessly as they cycle through their 24 hours of fame. You read and read, but it's never satisfying. 
  • Oh, author, why did you stop writing that story just when I was getting interested in it?  Why didn't you finish it? Maybe you found it boring or unpromising, but I didn't.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Oh this sounds lovely! I'm getting ready to do my first ever archival research and I am so excited. Hope you have a great time and get lots done!!

Contingent Cassandra said...

Enjoy! It does, indeed, make for a break (though definitely not a vacation. Ideally, one should get a vacation to recover from an archival trip, with a few days to debrief/regroup in between).

undine said...

Fie--enjoy your archival research trip! It's work but it's fun.

Contingent Cassandra--the regroup/debrief days are a great idea.