my real job

while listening to the taika waititi’s episode of thirst aid kit, nicole and bim played a clip of an interview waititi did. here’s an excerpt rom his tedtalk:

“i mean, all i’ve got, guys, is creativity. that’s-that’s my job. at the moment, i happen to be a filmmaker but it’s not my job. my job is to express myself and to share my ideas and my point of view. it happens to be that i’m using filmmaking right now.”

taika-waititi.jpg

this short clip, aired during the episode, struck a particular chord with me. i’m questioning and have questioned the things i hold dear to my heart, specifically as it relates to my career and, more broadly, where i’m going with my life. at the same time, i’ve begun to push back on this idea of my career = my raison d’etre. my identity.

what i like most about this profound statement from waititi is that it decouples who i am from what i do. he has distilled who he is in that statement. his “job” is expressing himself and sharing his ideas and point of view. filmmaking is just one of many avenues that he has chosen to do his “job.”

i began to think on what is “my job” what do i uniquely bring to every experience regardless of the format, manner, or style?

to question, to critique

this immediately came to the forefront of my mind. i am naturally curious about people and the world around me. the way it pops up most consistently in my life is asking questions. even as a shy kid that was loathe to speak in class, the questions would fill my mind. 

a companion to questioning is critique especially if the answers don’t necessarily line up with what i’m hearing, seeing, or experiencing. it is as natural as breathing.

to tell stories

while the word “creative” has entered into the lexicon, i am reluctant to label myself as such because, to be frank, i don’t consider myself creative. imaginative, yes. creative? no. how i internalize this is imagination does not necessarily translate to action whereas creativity or being creative does. the interior workings of my mind and the things it conjures up has been the most pleasant, restful space.

seriously, when i occasionally suffer from bouts of insomnia or need to self-soothe, even as an adult, i retreat to the imaginary world of my making. there are many, many characters and worlds that exist in various states of development. 

when i was younger, i would write stories that i would guard very close to my heart. why? because once i shared them, told someone about them, the act of telling it was expressed and i no longer had the desire to write the story, another form of telling. 

through the years, many friends, writing pals, and colleagues have been on the receiving end of me “telling stories.” and while the encouragement to write is appreciated, i’ve done the work. i told the story. i told a story that captivated them for five, 10, 20 minutes and they are a different person because of it. 

why do i need to write it after that?

circling back to the other half of the waititi’s statement, filmmaking is the medium he has chosen to do his job. he makes clear that it isn’t the only method by which he can do this work. this, in turn, made me reflect on my career path thus far.

in archives, i have intertwined my “job.” archival collections, the preservation and access of records, inherently will challenge assumptions. records will raise questions but records also tell a story. it tells the story of an organization, a person, an activist group, etc.

see where this is going? by understanding what my real job is i can see how archives is but one avenue that i can express this work. and if there should come a time in the future where i no longer do it, i still have my job to fall back on. 

something to think about.



I Am

In a recent therapy session, I related to my therapist that I struggle with reconciling the different parts of myself. I’m a woman of many interests and passions. Even in expressing that frustration, I simply said “I know I’m suppose to do more.” I interwove this explanation with my faith.

That is when she hit pause. For several agonizing seconds I waited for a response. Here is a summary of what she said:

God is limitless. By placing limits on God, what he or she or they can do or be, I reflect those limitations on my own life. I limit myself. I am all of those things: an archivist, a writer, an activist, etc. So why am I telling myself that I have to be one thing? And in order to be that one thing, I convince myself I have to cut off all the others. Cut off a part of who I am. God is. I am.

The ultimate challenge: Sit in that realization.

In that revolutionary statement, my therapist challenged me to rethink how I view myself. I am.

I am an archivist. I am a writer. I am an activist. I am a daughter. I am an auntie. I am that bitch too. I am all those things at once. That I do not have to nor should I have to “give up” any of those identifiers. I exist within all of them and sometimes one of them may take center stage for a spell.

Here, my therapist introduced me to the scarcity mindset. After some independent research, I’m starting to understand how this way of thinking contributes to the limits I place on myself. Whether I like to admit it or not, I go through life seeing things as fixed. That the broader strokes of my life are determined and that to change it, whether it is toxic, problematic, unfulfilling, or flat out boring will cause too much of an upset. It also triggers within me this concern for how it will look for me to seemingly shift gears or drop this thing. What happens is that I keep trying to make the untenable situation work. It only ends up depleting my energy and undermining my self-esteem. At the point of mental collapse is when I concede that it is time for change.

Life is fluid and beautiful and messy and chaotic and joyful and heartbreaking at times and at the same time. The point is it moves.

I say this because I feel things beginning to shift. I am leaning more into my artistic endeavors. When I think of the things I would like to accomplish and do in the coming years, it leans heavily into writing.

I want to write for Bitch Media, specifically give life to the ideas, concepts, frustrations, and hopes that swirl around in my head. Don’t get me wrong, I love my blog but there is comfort and safety in it. It is speaking to those who know me and who think similarly to me. I’m ready to grow and stretch beyond that. I also want to use writing as the catalyst to embrace new experiences outside of my norm and create a dialogue with new people.

I want to write this Southern Gothic story. This story is, in many ways, my love letter to my experience growing up as a black girl-turned-woman in Georgia. I meant it when I said in my bio that it took “leaving the South for me to comfortably say y’all.” By that I mean, embrace fully being a child of the South. I have lived all over this country and even traveled outside of it. There is a sweetness and familiarity to the South that I cannot underscore. I want to see the people I know represented on the page for all to see.

I want to apply and be a part of the 2020 Jack Jones Literary Retreat. I first became aware of the retreat about 2-3 years ago. At the time, I was still in my writing rut but deep down I knew I wanted to give this an honest go. I’m partly emboldened now by the fact I wrote, finished, and published a short story in six months this year. And, this is a space for people of color to gather together and share our work….and also meet publishers, editors, and agents.

I am a writer. I have found the most freedom and liberation in the written word. And now, she is calling me like she hasn’t before. I write fiction. I always have but the last 14 years has seen the slow creep toward nonfiction, autobiographical, etc. I can trace the moment to sitting by my mother’s hospital bed. On a whim, I had purchased a journal. I had so many things swirling around inside me as a 20 year old that putting it down on paper was the only thing I could think to do. So I did. 14 years later, countless journals, and two websites later, here we are.

My writing muscles want to flex, expand, and move.

At the same time, there is a vision of my life unfolding. As I get older, I have a clearer idea, not necessarily of what I do, but how I want to feel as I go through my day. That vision is so strong that, not surprisingly, I had to write it down in my journal. Even the act of writing it, declaring it on the pages filled me with calm and a sense of a life lived on my own terms.

I don’t know how I will get from where I am to where I want to be. That is part of the journey. It is part of what I patiently tease out and give shape to. It is in the work of realigning my mind and my heart to think and truly believe the following:

I am (full stop).

And anything is possible.


Archives, Liberation, and Black Feminist Theory

This is the third time I’ve tried to write this post on archives, liberation, and black feminist theory. The previous times delved into a long-winded explanation, a veritable literature review of my foray into readings.

Friends, that is not the post I wanted to write, although I have included at the end of this post a meaningful bibliography of black feminist theory and social justice readings that resonated with me.

What I wanted to write about, to connect on, is that place of tension within myself that, in turn, informs my archival practice.

In one of my many readings, bell hooks said simply and profoundly:

“decolonize your mind.”

In Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown stated:

“what we practice at the small scale sets the pattern for the whole system.”

Inevitably to change these systems of oppression, the necessary work, that ripples out must start with me. I must decolonize my mind, reckon with its toxicity wrought by a straight, white supremacist capitalist patriarchal (and evangelical) culture (S.W.S.C.P.E). How do I hinder myself? Oppress others? How do I keep drinking this poison and expecting those who are doing the harm to get sick or die?

To envision liberation, I must first liberate myself. This is what comes up most often in my readings. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it, unpacking it in my day to day.

At the same time, I ponder the influence of this culture on archives and archival practice.

Black feminism brings stern critique, a hyper awareness of the interplay of different identities (race, class, sexuality, etc) and an understanding of power dynamics but it also speaks with love, even leads with it.

How do I bring this into my archival practice? How does my identity as a cisgender hetero middle class black woman inform my approach? How do these identifiers come into tension with S.W.S.C.P.E? After all, as discussed on Twitter, the voices and writings that are upheld as the cornerstones of archival theory are straight white men.

If I do not liberate myself by recognizing how I support the systems of oppression, leaning away from the dominant colonialist narrative/approach, and halting my tacit demand of others to adhere to it as well, I will only replicate them within the archivist-donor-researcher paradigm. That is not leading with love. That is leading with power and centuries of domination. “I know something you don’t. I am the authority.”

I am not advocating to throw the whole basis for archival theory or practice away, as tempting as that may sound. Rather I advocate revisiting it, revising it if we can, and if not, then discarding it in order to create something new.

What encourages me to propose the aforementioned statement is the present, changing landscape of archival theory and practice. It is expansive and diverse. I look at the work and writings of Jarrett Drake, Michelle Caswell, Bergis Jules, Staci Williams, and so, so many others who bring marginalized communities to the table as equal partners to share in the transformational work of reimagining archives to be an inclusive environment and experience. (Yes, it is an experience to engage with archives.) I think to myself, why isn’t this embedded in our archival theory and practice? Why does the profession persist in setting itself apart? This is work we ought to reckon with because in continuing to exist in this manner only aligns ourselves with systems of oppression. It continues to distance marginalized communities.

The work has shifted toward bringing in diverse collections but not actively and consistently creating an inclusive space for marginalized communities to engage and interact with their collection….with their own history. Is that not still gate keeping?

In response, we see the rise of community archives. The community taking ownership of their history and the preservation of their records.

How do we reimagine archives? How do we dismantle the hold of these systems of oppression and what does that look like?

Again, I return to brown, as that is my current reading and most present in my mind, what is the vision for liberation? What does it look like? What are we working toward?

From there, I ask myself and ask of you, how are we honoring that vision? How are we moving toward it? How are we replicating it now in our lives and in our encounters with others?

Why is that important? Because we are the system. These systems of oppression are us. We sustain it. We nourish it. Now hear me out, the system is predicated on people playing their part or, in the case of marginalized communities, “staying in their lane.” To continue to play the role it has designated for us, not the role we hope for or envision for ourselves.

When we stop participating the way the system (aka others) expect of us, when we recognize and assert the right to determine the course of our own lives, THAT is where change is possible. That is where liberation comes. That is when systems can be dismantled. But, that is also where the tension lies….and also the potential for violence from the most staunch supporters of said system.

It won’t be easy. It will be hella tough because this is a system that has thrived for centuries. It is a system where folks are still invested in it, whether they openly admit it or not, whether they know it or not.

Fin.

For now.

The words for this post came to me while I was eating breakfast at my dining room table. Thank goodness for a pen nearby and this envelope. I ended up tearing it along the seams to continue writing.

The words for this post came to me while I was eating breakfast at my dining room table. Thank goodness for a pen nearby and this envelope. I ended up tearing it along the seams to continue writing.

___

Meaningful bibliography

adrienne maree brown. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. Chico: AK Press, 2017.

Audre Lorde. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2012.

bell hooks. Ain’t I A Woman? Black Women and Feminism. Boston: South End Press, 1981.

bell hooks. All About Love: New Visions. New York: William Morrow Paperbacks, 2000.

Barbara Ransby. Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-First America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018.

Brittney C. Cooper. Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers her Superpower. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Ricardo L. Punzalan and Michelle Caswell, “Critical Directions for Archival Approaches to Social Justice,” Library Quarterly 86 (2016).




What do you feed?

There is a story, often attributed to the Cherokee or the Lenape peoples, about two wolves. To paraphrase, it asks of the listener what are the things, the emotions (positive or negative) we feed in our life. What do we allow to take root in our heart? What do we grow?

I realized that I have allowed harmful negativity to take root in my heart. It is there whispering in my ear in every encounter, every word said or unsaid. It blocks out everything else.

If I want to truly unpack and heal from my career crisis while reimagining (my new favorite word) my career, it is recognizing when I’m feeding the negativity.

Each morning, before I start my day, I pray. As I’ve spoken about in this post, my prayers are more like conversations with God. Nine times out of ten, these are not silent. These are spoken aloud. It is a great start to the morning and I feel off the entire day if I’m remiss in my practice.

However, one morning, as I prayed, I realized I left very little time at the end of my day to reconnect. I’m so focused on unwinding or attending to much needed chores around the house that I don’t hit pause to reflect on the day.

Over the past few days, I’ve taken the time, whenever it occurs to me (this is still new after all) to talk with God. It has occurred while I’m cooking, in the shower before bed, or even while I’m scooping out my cat’s litter box.

In my conversations with God, I make myself highlight the good things, the positive things about the day first. It forces me to wade through the negativity to find the little nuggets of sunshine.

Figuring out how to edit digitized film.

A conversation with a coworker I seldom see or get a chance to talk to.

Finally completing that folder list for a box of records.

The feel of the cool breeze from the window as I worked.

Or that 10 minutes I carved out to fit in a mid-morning walk.

With each verbalization, I feel my heart getting lighter. My mood improving. The negativity abating. My prayers are not always sunshine and roses. Some days are even flat out bad but by developing this practice, I am challenging myself to still see the good no matter how small or fleeting.

It is taking a moment to honor it. To nurture that part of myself that desperately needs it.

So I ask you, as you wade through the crises of your own life, what are you feeding?


The Career Crisis

I shared in my last post my general feelings about the state of my career. As I sat in therapy this past weekend, I had a realization, which one often does in that space: I never addressed my career crisis.

What was the moment?

I spent my entire grad school career striving for a particular goal: working for the National Archives. I made that ambition known early. In 2010, I interned at the Seattle branch to fulfill my MLIS requirement. I loved the work.

My first job out of grad school was a strategic choice. I took a one-year archives processing position at Death Valley National Park in Death Valley, CA, some 3,000 miles away from home, because it was federal government-adjacent and, I believed, would demonstrate substantive archival work. By month four, I had begun to circulate my resume to park employees to get their feedback. What was I doing wrong with my resume? Why was I not advancing to an interview. I took their recommendations and tweaked my resume. By month nine, I was actively applying. AND, I was getting interviews.  

My contract ended. I moved back to the East Coast. In August 2012, I got THE interview: an archives technician position at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

A week later, when I heard the words “we would like to offer you the position” I was in shock but also experiencing the unmitigated joy of a plan for my life coming together.

I *thoroughly* loved my time in Philadelphia, for professional and personal reasons. In spite of the 2013 federal government shutdown, I was still all in. But, in 2014-2015, government bureaucracy reared its head and my idealistic view of NARA became muddied.

In time, it came crashing down.

Rather than address the end of an idealistic dream, I ran. Running looked like applying for other jobs. I didn’t know what I wanted to do anymore as I had wrapped my whole identity in working for NARA.

I was NARA. NARA was me.

Without it, who was I?

Now that the fog of a two year depression has lifted, I see the toxicity built in wrapping up my identity, let alone my professional identity, in a place. In something external to me.

My heart, in spite of the hurt, still cares deeply for NARA, especially the people. I am still invested in its success even if that means being at odds with its leadership. For example, at SAA 2018, I took the time to address its leadership during their August 17 session regarding NARA’s “digital future” and its strategic plan. I even talked afterward with Micah Cheatham, the Chief Management and Administration, much to the chagrin of some of leaderships most ardent supporters. I have reservations and many of them grave. Why? Because I love NARA. I want the best for it. I want it to do right by the American public and its hardworking employees.

The question now is what can I do in archives? How do I channel the things I love, the causes that are important to me, and who I am now (and who I have always been) to reimagine a career that enables me to create something exciting and helps others?

So here I am, four years in the making, ready to face it.

*deep breath*

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