PKN Presentation

I meant to bring a flip cam to have someone film me so I could send it to those of you who wanted to see it but couldn’t attend but in my anxious rush to get there I forgot the camera. So, here are the 20 slides that I used for my presentation and, below each, what I said while they were visible on the screen behind me. Pecha Kucha formula is 20 slides x 20 seconds resulting in a presentation length of 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

In my work processing Special Collections for NC State, one of the first steps is to retrieve the materials. Often this means digging through dusty, buggy boxes in an attic or garage before bringing it all back to the campus building where we’ll have room to spread it out. There we can begin turning it into something the public can access.

Depending on the size and condition of the collection, processing could take a week or a year. Everything is re-housed in archival folders, tubes, and boxes to ensure a longer shelf life. Typically the donor has given us a sense of what the collection contains but, as you can imagine, a lot of time has passed since anyone has actually been through it. Additionally, it is not unusual for a collection to be donated by someone long after the creator is dead and gone.

Details gathered as the materials pass through our hands contribute to its description, making it possible for someone across the country or even on the other side of the world to match their search for information to what once sat inside those dusty boxes. However, writing a few paragraph summary to represent decades of someone’s life and work always feels insufficient.

One of the reasons I was attracted to this kind of work is because I love looking through old junk: imagining the relationship between people standing on opposite sides of a group photograph, or whether the contents of an unfinished letter were ever communicated to its intended recipient. I have to keep the daydreaming to a minimum, as there are many more collections waiting. Only after I finish with one can it begin its second life as a resource for people’s curiosity.

For his birthday I told my dad I would go through the 20 boxes from his parents’ house that are in his garage. The contents are whats leftover after the family went through everything else four or five years ago. I figured the task would be easier for me, being that I have more emotional distance. However, I soon realized that neither this, nor my training as an archivist were a match for the memories that emerged from the boxes.

A scrapbook of hotel soap wrappers and matchbook covers recreated the road trip west my grandparents took their kids on in 1952. A box with a varsity letter, a few pocketknives and a photograph of a stranger in front of a sedan reminded me of how little I know about my dad’s life. On the one hand, I see boxes of stuff as a burden on time and space, but the memories, questions, and reflections ignited when you consider their contents strike me as invaluable.

I am far from alone in my ambivalence towards stuff. To begin with, most people I talk to share the experience of feeling like they have too much of it. It comes in more quickly than it leaves. The abundance of stuff and the struggle to de-clutter has popularized use of the term “hoarding”. Interested in the clinical definition, I did a little reading and found that a distinction is made between two main types of hoarders.

Signs of obsessive-compulsive hoarding include obsessions about contamination, superstitious fears about removing items, and the obsession with having multiples of the same item. Non-OCD-based hoarding has more to do with fears that discarding items means the loss of valuable information, fear that the memory is unreliable, and feeling a sentimental attachment to objects.

I was a little concerned when some of the non-OCD hoarding symptoms sounded familiar to me. But, again, I’m in good company. There are an impressive number of books, websites, and magazine articles offering strategies to reduce clutter and set yourself free! One suggestion that directly addresses our animosity towards stuff is to take digital photos and then get rid of the actual objects. We can rest easy, knowing that our emotional connection is securely archived on a hard drive, plus now we have more room for stuff!

All joking aside, the reason why I’m glad people hang on to stuff is because things tell the stories of people’s identity. Wanting to be certain I wasn’t alone in my hoarder-like reason for keeping stuff, I asked several friends to send me an image of something they keep around that has no straightforward use, but that they wouldn’t dream of getting rid of.  Here are some of their things.

(on the right) “This is a stand I brought from Spain that holds the jamón safely when you cut it. I keep it even knowing that I never going to have a jamón here in America, but makes me feel a little like at home. A jamón leg in the counter covered with a kitchen cloth is a symbol of ‘everything is ok in life’ to me, probably because only parents have money to buy jamón in Spain, and young people go to their parents to eat it.”

(on the left) “These are from a restaurant in Bristol, Tennessee, where my uncle and aunt lived till I was 6. We went to this restaurant every time we visited them, and they had plastic monkeys in the drinks, and I always played with and kept the monkeys. 25 years later, I still have a pair of them.”

(on the left) “Since my father passed away when I was 2, I never really got to know him and anything I have of his means a great deal to me. This mirror is one of the only things I have that directly connects me with him, so it’s extra special. Plus, I think it’s really beautiful craftsmanship and pretty genius; you can hold it by the handle and gaze at yourself, or set it down when you need access to both hands for primping!”

(on the left) “This little guy was brought to me from a trip to the fair by my daughter. She said he had a smiling mouth before she put him in her pocket and got on the tilt a whirl ride. He has worn a frown ever since but the memory makes me smile each time I look at him because he was a sweet gift and joke rolled into one.”

(on the left) “When I was 9 on a family vacation in Maine, my father got me this knife even though my mother said I’d cut my finger off. A few weeks later I cut the hell out of my finger but lied about how it happened. The next summer on the 4th of July we were sitting in the middle of huge field watching fireworks in upstate NY.  The next morning I realized the knife was gone.  We went back to look.  I walked in a straight line to where I thought we were, I looked down, there it was.  I don’t carry it around anymore, I don’t want to lose it again.”

(on the left) “I keep this cigar box of plastic bugs and creatures because- I know I would miss it were it gone, and if a little kid comes over just put that box in front of them and you can hang out with your buddy.”

(on the right) “I really don’t know what I’m going to use this bowl for, because its pretty little, and I don’t want to put it in a cupboard, because its so pretty. I think it’s supposed to be for eating grapefruit. But I never eat grapefruit.”

“This is a fish bowl that I have carried from house to house for many years, but I have never put a fish in it.  It made me ask myself: at what point do good intentions turn into hoarding? Straight cookoo.”

“My friend Sarah returned to the library and presented me with the pink mermaid. A mere McDonald’s Happy Meal toy or a plastic representation of my mindset while studying for finals? I began snapping pictures of her in a variety of poses over increasing piles of books, versions of my final papers, etc. and posting them on Facebook, where those suffering with me would comment and commiserate.”

I am impressed by how inanimate objects take on this power of meaning. The stuff we keep may represent things that we take comfort in, a place that was meaningful, the people that we miss, or a time in our past we reflect on with fondness. It represents situations we hope for, like being that cool guy with a box of creatures or someone who eats grapefruit or owns fish.

But for most of us, our stuff won’t be sought after for a special archive and we know we can’t take it with us.

So if you feel a growing motivation to de-clutter, purge, or replace, take the time to appreciate what our stuff has to say about who we are, and tell somebody about it.


One Response to “PKN Presentation”

  1. 1 Jeanna

    This is great, li’l sis!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: