My 49.2-pound release: An Archivist’s update

I groaned sheepishly, taking stock of my own archivist (read hoarder) habits, as my mentor described her husband’s library shelves.

“Wall to wall, stacked with books,” she swept her arms out in both directions. “And he even keeps shelves stocked with his high school notebooks!” A hint of incredulous-ness accented her description, as if she couldn’t possibly believe anyone could need or want anything from high school as a 30-something-year-old.

I pressed both of my palms across my forehead in embarrassment. “That’s exactly what I do, too!!”

Hearing that habit described about someone else entirely, but all too accurate for comfortable hilarity, sat with me the rest of that week in early December. I’ve always rationalized my collector tendencies as one of an archivistpreserving information for the sake of knowledge and reason, as well as historical record-keeping. But to someone else, like my mentor? It’s just a tell-tale sign of the fear in losing one’s knowledge.

Take, for instance, one of my myriad projects: the Earth News Journal. It started out as a way for me to “save” the links of environmental news stories I read, in the hopes of cataloguing how quickly our world has shifted in my early twenties.

But then even that archiving got addictive.

I gained a small following on Tumblr, and somehow reached over 250 subscribers to my updates in a matter of months. I consequently concocted a weekly email newsletter, to complement the archive of (now) nearly 2,000 articles and/or videos. I can do this! I thought my role to society would be that of a town crier on climate change. All my friends and relations and those who don’t even know me will look to me as their source of newsworthy environmental news!

Suddenly the whole process started to feel like a responsibility, a burden. I was now spending probably more than 10 hours every week hunting and reading and scanning and disseminating anything remotely related to the environment on the Internet. For those in an environmental services career, you know just how complicated and complex the term ‘environment’ is — and I was searching for it all. 

And this was before I realized: There’s already an environmental news archive out there!

I kept on pushing on though, believing my updates and my research would prevail and help stop global warming (or something heroic like that). It took a few more months for me to realize my ‘passion project’ wasn’t so passionate anymore. Burned out and fatigued with all the finding, I temporarily stopped the project in March 2016, calling my hiatus “shouting into the climate void.”

But it’s hard to stop an archivist in her tracks like that. Like a limping animal, I continued to keep up with the blog for the next 9 months, albeit sporadically, because inherently I was fearful of all the environmental knowledge that was now slipping through my digital fingertips. Once I realized this project was just another calling card for my fear of ignorance, I stopped the campaign abruptly at the beginning of 2017.

“When I look back on all of my years of struggle and laughter, I can chart this course of fear like a trail of breadcrumbs. There has never been a chapter of my life where I have not succumbed or silenced my inner voice because of fear.

Maybe you’ve heard this all from me before, but this time the intention is different. Instead of figuring it all out in the context of a career, I’m addressing the fear that surrounds MY LIFE – all the corners and the edges I keep so cleanly concealed. The dusty-old fear has to exit from those fringes, too.” –Two Month Journal, October 20, 2016

I meditated on fear earlier this semester, and even more recently about this particular fear of ignorance, of losing the power I have always craved when it comes to knowledge acquisition.

But not anymore.

Starting this year, I’m no longer hoarding notebooks and papers and cards and reminders of past learning and loving. Those lessons live in the fibers of my body — or have already been forgotten. Who’s to say? Romanticizing my chemistry notebook from sophomore year of high school isn’t adorable or practical, it’s just taking up space in the recesses of my mind (and my closet).

Ransacking my shelves of hidden hoards of knowledge, I finally felt like I could clear out another ghost of Bethany-past that had been lurking in the shadows of Anatomy and Global Studies.

A pile of papers | edited on Prisma app

All-in-all, I excavated nearly 50 pounds of paper in a matter of 3 days — and I can’t express how buoyant the release of excess made me feel. It was like I dropped a charade, awarded myself a feeling of honesty and openness I have not so easily felt.

I’ll never be able to know it all. No one can. I’ll never read it all, see it all, or have the responsibility to inform all. Again, no one can.

“And this year, I would like to affirm to myself that I am more than just the books on my shelf. I am more than all of the knowledge I have learned in the unyielding construct our society has crafted for knowledge acquisition. I am more than the writers I read, the stories I hear, the places that I would someday like to visit.” –December 17, 2016

Being mindful of this mentality, this overbearing obsession with ‘knowing it all’, has helped me release more than just paper and plastic and cardboard in the past few weeks. Being mindful of this crippling and egotistical one-over-all worldview, I can now recycle and revive the parts of me that are whole. The parts of me that are ME.

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