I’ve finished revising my book manuscript, Building the Ivory Tower. It was a long time in coming and, for the last several months, it was just revising. I had a copyeditor go over the whole thing, then read the whole manuscript aloud and made prose edits, then went over the footnotes with a research assistant, then did captions for images. It was all pretty much fixing and tweaking, no real creativity or new writing. Now that it is turned in, I am back in the archives, and looking at a more or less blank page or screen. How to build a new project up? I’ll have to remember — and I’m returning to my blog, which hasn’t seen an update in 2 years, to aid in that process. Stay tuned to this space.
A couple years ago Sean Takats described a process of time-shifting archival research that was a pretty good description and assessment of the power of digital tools in archives. One of his key points was that “we’re simultaneously escalating the evidentiary basis for any research project.” As he said at the time, that wasn’t news to anyone who had been to an archive in the last five years. I bought a good point and shoot digital camera in 2004 for several hundred dollars in order to collect more documents and deal with the growing cost of photocopying. It was a great investment, a workhorse that I made tens of thousands of images with.
My visit to Philadelphia archives last fall and this research trip to Austin-area archives has illustrated a countershift. Takats indicated that the Bibliotheque National de France had become just a very nice library to do research. I find as a single dad that archives have become almost the only place I have the ability to do research. The place I used to time-shift my archival reading to — nights and weekends, are no longer available. After a brief bout of exercise I pick up my son from day care, play out in the yard and make dinner, read some books, take a bath, and then go to bed. After twelve unrelieved hours of work and kid care, I don’t have the emotional energy to perform any work tasks unless a painful deadline is approaching. Even the regular hours of the workday are taken up with teaching and prep, meetings, and mundane bureaucratic tasks. The notion of a 40/40/20 division of Research/Teaching/Service responsibilities is a joke — it’s more like 10/60/30. The special trip to an archive has become again just about the only place I get the uninterrupted time and space to read through a lengthy document or set of primary sources in full.
What are the implications of this? First, it’s that I’m shifting the most important part of my work life to time that I’m not getting paid — the summer. Second, I’m shifting it out of the evenings and weekends I used to cram with work until the birth of my son. That was productive in a sense, but not very healthy overall. Prior to her death, my wife and I only took a single one-weekend vacation in the 8 years we were together. All other travel was for work or family. So that’s good. I realized after a couple of months as a single dad that I could not and should not make my son compete with my work for my attention. I had to find a way to get the work done without compromising how I was raising him. Shifting back to intense archival visits seem to be the answer. Even though I still do take many digital images in the archive, I’ve got to spend more time reading the documents there to have at least a mental index of the documents, and in some cases a pretty full recall of the source contents.
This also means I’m lowering the evidentiary basis for my research. On its face we could say that is a bad thing, but we could also conclude (and I’m trying to do so) that it will be possible to have a meaningful project based on a smaller but concise set of sources.
I’ve had the film and slides from Myanmar developed and am starting to scan them as time allows. As I hoped, the Mamiya worked like a charm. You can see what I mean above. Shot on Velvia, things just look great, and this is a fairly dark, shadowy shot. Around New Years we traveled to a beach spot on the Bay of Bengal to enjoy the really beautiful water, beach and weather. On our last night there, we got the kids a ride on the ox-drawn cart. Really a great trip within an overall great trip. I’m glad I got some of these kinds of shots to go along with the digital photos I took.
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
It was one year ago that my wife took her last breath, soundlessly, as I changed for bed in her hospital room. There was no gasp or moan or soft closing of the eyes. Simply a silence that I did not notice until I finished changing and turned to gaze upon the love of my life and realized she had slipped from this world.
Marrying Kathryn Bosher was the most meaningful event of my life. Even the birth of our son flowed from the energy and drive and meaning that she gave to every moment of our time together. The contrast between life’s beginning and life’s beginning could not be more stark. After my son’s birth I remember so clearly the buzz of the delivery room and the nursery and the activity and support on the neonatal floor. I remember walking triumphantly from the Penn Hospital, strutting down Spruce Avenue at about 1am with visions of the future before me as I headed home. All was promise and congratulations. Sitting in the room with Kate’s body as the nurse came in and out, then the doctor, then the family, all was silence and all was past. I chose not to witness the indignity of being zipped into a body bag. Her spirit had left already.
Well, it’s finally done.* The renovation is complete. I returned from winter break to find beautifully refinished floors in the kitchen and half-bath, doors on the new cabinets, and everything looking great with the final coats of paint. Then began the process of moving things into position, from filling the cabinets to parting with the old refrigerator.
I am exceedingly excited for two reasons. First, my son and I are getting ready to travel overseas. We’re visiting Myanmar, where my brother-in-law and his family live. Second, I bought ten rolls of Fuji Velvia 50 and have my Mamiya C220. I first bought this camera in early 2009 to take to Morocco for this same BIL’s wedding. The shutter blades were stuck so I disassembled it as well as I could and got them working again. It has been my favorite film camera ever since and it was worth the weight to bring it on this trip, which will probably be once-in-a-lifetime.
We’ll be staying a few weeks so I hope to get a decent sense of how the city of Yangon works and take plenty of photos.
Down to the wire. We were aiming for December 6th and it would be close — finishing the project before I left or leaving some stuff hanging over. And how much?
Basically, it was a couple coats of paint. When I decided to refinish the kitchen and half-bath floors, that more or less needed to happen while we were traveling. So then we pushed back completion of the half-bath in order to do as complete a job as possible (getting under the sink and stool). That was already planned to be incomplete. What we mostly didn’t get done was the large amount of painting.
I was a bit worried earlier in the week. I had invited some friends over for dinner Saturday and expected to be able to do a nice job of hosting. But the plumbers had a problem with my old sink and all the workers were stepping over one another and I didn’t see how it would get done.
Thanksgiving Week. A few short days then one full week to get it all done. But we’re putting things back together now, rather than pulling them apart. At the end of last week the plaster was finished and we were ready for cabinets in the kitchen and resurfacing everywhere else, then fixtures.
The shelving and cabinets are custom built. The shelving arrived last week and started to go up Monday and Tuesday. The whole kitchen project is idiosyncratic, so the cabinet design is equally idiosyncratic to suit our situation.
Week 1 got us off to a good start. Week 2 was delays, catchup, and seemed overall to show a lack of progress. I was eager for things to get moving this week if we are to have any hope of meeting our project deadline. But these things don’t always go how you want, so Monday was not very active — just some preparation for the spray-in insulation on Tuesday, including laying the bathroom subfloor. When I first contacted the contractor, Shelter Alternatives, they also suggested I get an energy audit with their partner business, Energy Check. One of the upshots was that the basement was leaking heat, as was the pantry/half-bath. Spray-in foam insulation was recommended for the bathroom all around.
The story of Week 2 was…not much happened. The discoveries of the end of week 1 (asbestos-y tile and an old plumbing/carpentry cockup) put the brakes on much of the work from this week and led to a series of rolling delays.
Monday was carpentry. The solution to the cut joist and overly aggressively notched joists in the bathroom was cross bracing, rather than sistering.