Thursday, February 8, 2018

Taking Care of Our Work

I've been sorting, which has made me think about the process of sorting, especially as an artist.  Every so often, I come across a hand-written poem on a single page that's been patiently waiting to be typed into the computer.  Some days, I think, why did I save this?  Other times, like this morning, I type it right in.

I wrestle about whether or not to keep the handwritten page.  I have a Ph.D. in British Literature, and I spent my grad school years surrounded by scholar professors who were working with the original papers that became the texts we studied.  I understand the value of multiple drafts.

I also understand my lack of storage space.

And if I'm being honest, my drafts often don't change radically from the first draft to the finished draft.  So I don't worry too much about those original drafts.  If I wrote them into the purple legal pads where I usually do the first draft, I keep them.  If not, I usually put them into the recycle bin.

I've been thinking about what we save and what we keep--and what we present to the larger world.  I thought of these issues in a different way this morning when I read this article in The New York Times about Judy Chicago.  She's been thinking about curating in advance of death, as one does when one gets older.

I was struck by this detail:  "In a 1,800-square-foot warehouse behind the Belen Hotel, Chicago’s uncollected work was stacked in crates. In the back room is her personal archive. She has meticulously documented every piece she’s made since the early 1960s on some 6,000 index cards, which she and her assistant are organizing for her eventual catalogue raisonée. "

She's done this cataloguing and curating and collecting because, as she says, "One of my goals was to make sure that my work would not be lost. And I did not make an assumption that all would be taken care of."

What did she do when she didn't have the warehouse?  It makes sense for Judy Chicago to have a warehouse.  I'm not sure it makes sense for me to rent a storage cubicle to save handwritten drafts.  As a writer, I'm lucky.  I can store drafts for very little money on a hard drive.

I realize that I'm denying future generations the joy I have felt when I've seen original texts in the handwriting of their creators.  I remember the sense of sacredness I felt when I stood in front of the glass case that held the piece of paper with the lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land" in Woody Guthrie's own handwriting.

But I also think of the summer that I earned my keep as a research assistant comparing the versions of texts to try to determine the 18th century author's true intent. I can no longer remember the author, and the work didn't seem significant at the time.  Nothing I was able to discern about the author's intended word choice seemed destined to change that.

I realize that even as I recycle a handwritten draft here and there, I am probably saving more rough drafts than I need to save.  I apologize to the person in the future who must haul it all to the dump or the archive after I've died.

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