Friday, February 5, 2016

Special Collection

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Last week Christopher and I were invited to the BYU library Special Collections department for a tour with our friend Trevor Alvord and his fellow archivist Dainan Skeem (and three dutiful BYU student security guards). We took inventory of Jimmy Stewart's personal film collection. We combed through the original hand-written score of Gone With the Wind. We saw first editions of Jane Austen's Emma, Origin of the Species and the Book of Mormon. We went from vault to vault hunting for manuscripts and movie props and even got to see a real Oscar up close and personal (first time!). Trevor was so gracious, granting us some really cool Japanese monster posters and Dainan answered all of my entry-level archivist questions.

At the end of the tour they sat us down and posed a very interesting question to me, "How would you feel about donating your manuscripts, journals, first drafts, emails, correspondences to our 21 century collection?"

Um.

Uh.

"We could come to your house and walk you through the process. We could help you determine what would be worth admitting."

Oh.

I just never saw it coming. You know?

And of course the question is, "Who would ever be interested in all that junk?

"Just imagine, 200 years from now, a researcher wanting to know who you were, what you thought. What is was like to be you. Wanting to know what you experienced."

Yeah, that's entirely unimaginable.

We shook hands with a promise I'd think about it.

Daily I think about the merits of going to the grave with secrets versus living a wide-open life. The present life is easier for the private, but history rewards those who reveal. Do I want to live in shame now-the disapproval, the dislike, the discomfort I cause others--but leave an honest genuine legacy? Or do I quietly go about keeping my composure and die with my truth?

I don't want my kids to go to that library one day after I have passed on, ask to see the vault that contains my loot and figure out that they never even knew their mother. That is utterly cruel.  It reminds me of the sunny afternoon a relative came over to my house, and while looking at the window, whispered to me a troubling family secret passed on for multiple generations begging me to freeze the information to stop its melting spread.

But I imagine this secret won't have much relevance for my kids--first, the span between them and the contributing ancestor makes the guilty more of a character in a story than a flesh and blood human being. Second, scandal has a way of perpetually cooling down. Secrets are the container for shame and time has a way of making the contents of that container somewhat aged. Teenage pregnancy is not what it used to be, for example.

Certainly I will die with some secrets, and that is my privilege. Partly they are secrets because I don't have words to describe them. No one would understand. So maybe I shouldn't call them secrets, but collateral for living at a time when language was insufficient. Not secrets, insufficient words.

When I started this blog I wrote about infertility. Ten years ago I could hardly find anyone willing to talk about it with me. It was hard to write about because I felt alone in it. I was embarrassed to have this problem. I remember running into a friend at the store and having her say to me, "All the most awful things happen to you." And I remember how angry I felt because infertility had somehow swallowed up all the most wonderful things about me. I felt like a failure.

Before we left, I asked one more question of my friends at the library, "How do you know what is valuable?"

"We don't measure what is valuable. We only collect. What is valuable is up to the researcher."

Writing got me through infertility. Writing got me through transition. Writing needs to help me get through this faith whirlwind I now sit in. It's often very scary to produce these types of posts, but I want to believe there is value in the attempt.

Now I ask myself: do I have the courage to write about it now, and gift it forever?