A few days before the New Year, my power went out and I was alone. It was scary, and without the distraction of entertainment run by electricity, I decided to write. I decided to draft my application to graduate school. I lit some candles, poured some red wine, wrapped myself in blankets and used what little laptop battery life I had left.
What I realized is that I am buying into a broken system. I’ve been warned about the perils of the Archive and the Museum. That good jobs are find, if they even still exist. It is not about the degree but rather who you know and when you know them. And I should be scared, terrified of the loans that lay before me and the nights where I will work my second job to fund my life as a non-profit worker.
Frankly, I don’t care. This life I’m living now is the life that I face. My daily pay to make caramel and dipped Oreos is less than a nice dinner out. Fifty percent of my income goes to rent and my undergraduate debt is three or four times my yearly income. Yet, I remain unafraid. For me, the privilege of preserving history and creativity is worth this struggle.
In thinking about the why the Archive/Museum, I ended up on a book. Titled, “Paper: An Elegy.“ It unearths the human need to create paper and use it up. No matter how much protest otherwise, there has been no era to use paper in the quantities as we have. More books are printed today than ever have been. It will fall to the library to contain those massive sets of bound volumes. It falls to the archivist to find a home for the other bits of knowledge that are not published but bear other truths. By finding the correct folder and system of organization, these notes, essays, photographs, prints and maps will be there for the people who hope to find a way to understand us today.
“You are just an unabashed sentimentalist,” my best friend told me. But it is not things, not clothing that I wore when I graduated, not the fabric I bought to make a dress, not the yarn I made into a scarf. It is the ephemera filled with lignin and pressed into flat sheets. I love it because ever since the invention of paper, it has become more and more available to people. From movie tickets, to grocery lists, to the copy of the Gutenburg bible on display at the Library of Congress, paper is there for everyone. I love paper because of what it makes me remember, the books I read as a child, the cards from loved ones, the photographs I purchased at a flea market in some small town in New Jersey. It is the receipt of papers, the stories of how they made their way home to me, that truly matters.
For me, paper is the most human of products. Made from the decision to remove a tree that protects us from our pollution, to be processed in a way that took upwards of 500 years to perfect, to find its ways into stores to finally land in my neat piles, paper bears the stamp of its own human created history. It is chaotic and to be properly used in research, needs the human touch and balanced thought to put it into a sensible order.
I am looking at the stacks of papers around me and realizing that without a graduate degree, I am just letting these stories disappear. This co-dependent relation humans have with paper will always be there, but with a Masters, I can be part of the solution that allows more people access to the resources to understand their communities better.
I’m going to spend the next 15 months of my life trying to get into graduate school and I can’t be more excited.