A Collection of Thoughts

Four Years Ago

I remember waking up the morning after Election Day in 2016 with my chosen family in northern Virginia, and I remember us all crying and hugging each other for the great loss we had experienced. I remember dragging myself to work and so many women-identifying colleagues and friends coming into our communal office, crying and hugging each other for comfort. It was a day I will never forget.

We weren’t mourning the loss of an election—no, we were mourning the loss of caring and decency from the American people and its leader. We were mourning the setbacks that we, as women, would have to experience after fighting for decades upon decades to earn equal rights and respect in American society. We were mourning for those whose conditions and/or identities we could not fully understand but nevertheless held to be of utmost importance: transgender people, people with disabilities, Black people, and more. It was one of the darkest days.

I still struggle to understand how anyone could endorse Donald Trump, knowing the hatred that he consistently endorses and encourages. I struggle to understand how people can vote selfishly, when, in reality, their vote impacts SO many more people aside from themselves. I struggle with the fact that so many American people are so selfish and/or have a myopic fixation on one facet of politics, that they cannot bring themselves to consider any other issues.

Fast forward to this morning—I remember receiving the news first from my brother and quickly checking reputable news sources such as CNN, BBC, and NBC. I remember weeping, but this time it was not mournful. This time, my tears were tears of utter relief and joy. Finally, we can begin to heal our nation, to turn hatred into understanding, and we can care for one another once again. This is what was on the line—not a political decision, but a deeply, deeply human decision.

It is a decision to choose love over hate, to choose the greater good over selfish desires, to choose understanding over ignorance, and so much more.

I remember watching the speeches from VP Harris and President Biden and weeping—again, not from mourning, but from hope. For the first time in four years, I have felt hope for America.

Gearing Up and Settling Down

These past few months have been a wild ride. I’m eternally grateful that I’ve been able to have steady employment throughout the pandemic, especially because I know so many people have not been as privileged as I am to maintain their employment status throughout.

My first day of classes is tomorrow, August 10, and instead of feeling an impending sense of doom or intense anxiety, I’m feeling healthy anticipation. I’ve received syllabi from my professors, and I’m finally excited about what this semester at UNC SILS will bring. A complaint I’ve had for the past year is that the Archives  & Records Managements curriculum is sorely outdated and in no way prepares students to deal with contemporary archival issues. Luckily, I decided that I needed to take INLS 754 (Access, Outreach, and Public Service through Cultural Heritage Repositories) [although I had already fulfilled the ARM requirement through INLS 501], and also INLS 690 (Community Archives). I received the syllabus for both of these classes a few days ago, and yesterday I completed the readings. I’m thrilled to say that these courses—so far—seem so utterly refereshing and contemporary that I honestly cannot wait to spend an entire semester delving into this material. When I openend up the first reading for the course, instead of feeling anxious, I felt a great sense of connection, understanding, and purposefulness.

Another crucial course I’m taking this semester is Proposal Development. This course was always going to be necessary, and it was always going to be stressful for me. As an ARM student, my thesis is understandably restricted to topics relating to archives and records management, and truthfully, I wouldn’t to write about a different LIS topic anyways. At first, I had no clue what I wanted to research. However, as COVID-19 hit and continued to impact my workplace (an academic library), I realized that an ideal topic to study would be related to COVID-19. So, my premlinary research questions are:

  • How has COVID-19 affected archives’ reference work in a larger academic library setting?
  • How has COVID-19 affected archives’ emergency/disaster plans?

I’ve seen both of these topics addressed numerous times by archivists on social media, and I think it is a worthwhile topic to pursue, especially given the novel nature of this pandemic. No one in the United States knows how long it will last, so archives of every nature are having to adapt to unknown circumstances.

Aside from my coursework this fall, I also applied for North Carolina residency yesterday and received a provisional validation! I’m particularly excited about this because I’ve so enjoyed both of my positions at Duke University and at UNC’s Community Histories Workshop—it would be an honor to be able to continue this work and to begin living in Durham. Much as I miss my friends and family in Virginia, I’ve loved my experiences in Durham thus far and would like to explore it more.

“Tell Me” Isn’t Good Enough

I’m writing this post in response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many more people of color who have been murdered because of white supremacist values and ideals in the US.

I’ve seen a well-intentioned post circulating on social media, particularly catalyzed by the brutal murder or George Floyd, which states:

“I see no color” is not the goal.

“I see your color and I honor you. I value your input. I will be educated about your lived experiences. I will work against the racism that harms you. You are beautiful. Tell me how to do better.”

That is the goal.

For me—and for all white people, I will argue—”tell me how to do better” should not, and can not, be our goal. While I believe that the sentiment of this statement is well-intentioned (and I will fully admit that I empathized when I first saw this post), upon further consideration, it is highly problematic—especially when we take even a basic history of racial relations into account.

The “tell me” statement is problematic because, at its core, it is extractionary. It treats people of color (POC) as mere objects, resources or tools that we (white people) learn from: we extract the knowledge and experiences we need, and then we leave and pursue our own agendas. It is time for us to stop treating POC as tools and resources. We have done so for hundreds of years—we quite literally built this nation and its economics upon black chattel slavery. And within the system of black chattel slavery, we valued women of color only for their ability to reproduce, to have children and to expand our workforce of slaves.1

It is well past the time for us to end this extractionary relationship with POC and to truly become collaborators, allies, co-conspirators, and more. Instead of saying, “Tell me how to do better,” let us instead ask:

  • Do you have enough mental and emotional capital to help me with a racial question that is difficult for me (a white person) to grasp?
    • If not, that is okay. I appreciate your honesty.
  • Are you willing and able to help me understand how I can be a better, more empathetic human being?
    • If not, that is okay. I appreciate your honesty.
  • How can I best support you during this time of white supremacist violence?

Finally, these are not questions, but rather statements that I believe we should all make:

I see you. I value you. I love you. I am here for you. I hope I can do you (and everyone else) justice. I will learn how to do, and to be, better.

  1. See Jennifer L. Morgan, Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

To the Man on the Bus

I was your prey. I’ve been prey to men before, but always to someone I knew. Never a stranger. It was terrifying and degrading—to sit across from you and have you growl at me, bite through the air at me, and stare intently for minutes that seemed like hours that would never end.

When you first started staring, I just smiled. My default is to trust people, and I myself am certainly guilty of letting my eyes linger a little too long upon someone else. But then you moved—you growled and bit through the air at me. I did not react, and yet you were still elated. Your friend, sitting behind me, egged you on and encouraged you. I was, quite literally, cornered. Trapped.

You saw my ID badge for work. “Oh, you’re a librarian”—I tried to turn my music up louder—”I’ve heard you all are really freaky.” You kept staring intently, aggressively at me. I grimaced, but it probably looked like a smile to you, because you smiled again and chuckled satisfactorily. (I’m not freaky. I’m on the asexuality spectrum, so this entire situation was all the more uncomfortable for me.)

You continued to stare for several more minutes, trying to make eye contact as I tried to avoid it. I turned my music up louder, and I wondered who would believe me if I told them how a stranger on the bus had sexually harassed me and made me feel extremely uncomfortable and unsafe. How on a crowded morning bus, no one had done anything. Had anyone even noticed? I ran through scenarios in my mind of what I would do if you followed me off the bus: who I would run to in the hospital or at work if you kept pursuing me. Luckily, you did not follow me, and I was able to escape physically unscathed.

Emotionally, it took me several days to process what happened. Truth be told, I’m still not quite sure I fully understand what happened. That first day I worked slowly. That night I was angry. The second day I mostly slept. The third day I felt like rays of light might just be breaking through my storm clouds. Today, I am okay. I am still hurt and angry, but I am okay.

I know I am lucky—that harrassment is all that this was. So many others who identify as women are not as fortunate as I was to get away. For that, I am grateful. And for them, my heart hurts.

Grad School Isn’t Easy

Last week, at long last, I finished my first semester of graduate school. Everyone who I talked to said library school was easy—and I’m sure it is easy, compared to more rigorous Master’s and PhD programs. But for me, the first semester of library school was still immensely challenging.

I had removed myself from the extremely supportive environment of Fredericksburg, VA, where all my friends and family are, and moved to a completely new state. I bought a new car, because my old one was falling apart, and signed a lease on an apartment I’d never seen. I committed to tens of thousands of dollars of student loan debt to help pay for my graduate program. And I did all of this while trying to work through the depths of my mental health problems—horrible anxiety and comorbid depression. I spent most days of my first month in North Carolina just hoping against hope that I could eat enough food to sustain me through a normal day of existence. As I was able to increase the dosage of my medication, the panic eventually began to subside.

At the same time, I slowly began to adjust to the workload of all of my classes. (Being who I am, especially with crippling anxiety, I couldn’t imagine not completing a reading for class, so I spent most of my free time reading for class.) As the semester progressed, papers, group assignments, and more piled on top of what already seemed like a heavy workload. (I also work 15 hours a week, which turns out to be closer to 20 hours with commute time in consideration.)

As I finally evened out on my medications and adjusted to workloads of class and work, I heard people in my program proclaiming that grad school was “so easy” and that they didn’t know what other people were stressing about. It was incredibly invalidating to me to hear my classmates speaking about how “easy” grad school was and how they had been misled into thinking that library school would be more difficult than it truly was. Especially because for me, the opposite was true—everyone had assured me that library school was very easy, that I’d have nothing to worry about, and that the workload of class and regular work would be manageable. However, in the depths of my anxiety, the workload of grad school felt anything but manageable. I’m incredibly grateful to be on the other side now, but I rue the fact that so many of my classmates felt that graduate school was easy and brushed it off so (seemingly) carelessly.

Perhaps it’s because I truly care about learning, which most people seem not to care about, or perhaps it’s because I truly care about doing well while pursuing higher eduation; or perhaps it’s because my anxiety doesn’t allow me to engage in education in a non-stressful way; or perhaps it’s because I’m just too sensitive. Whatever the case, I wholeheartedly reject the idea that graduate school—even library school—is easy, and instead I encourage my classmates to consider where everyone else might be coming from and how they can help support their classmates, especially if they find the challenges of graduate school to be easy.

Writing a Balancing Act

I’ve been bitten by the writing bug tonight—perhaps because I haven’t written in a while, perhaps because I’m reading so often now, or perhaps just because.

I’m now in week 6 of my graduate program in library and information science at UNC Chapel Hill, and it’s been a wild ride thus far. The first few weeks of my being here were characterized by severe anxiety and imposter syndrome, and more than anything, I wanted to go home to Fredericksburg. However, I took it one day (sometimes even one hour, one minute) at a time, and I’m feeling better about my program now. I’m still frustrated by aspects of it, and I absolutely still think that the larger system of graduate school is ultimately broken—but, I am feeling better.

The most difficult parts for me have been getting a good handle on what the workload is like and then figuring out how to balance that with the rest of my life—how could I possibly take breaks when I had SO much reading to do? It’s been a bit like drinking from a firehose, and I’ve had to adjust my normal tactics of working. I used to read books, articles, etc. the entire way through because I felt that if I didn’t, I would miss some crucial piece of information or argument. However, with a full graduate courseload and work, I don’t have the luxury of time on my side. I’m (slowly) learning how to speed-read and skim (I think of them as different things), and those “skills” have helped make my workload feel more manageable. I’ve also discovered that, even when I do feel overwhelmed by the amount of reading/work that I have to do, it’s often far more beneficial for me to take a break and step away from work for a little while. Sometimes that break means taking the entire evening off and having a glass of wine while watching a favorite TV show, and other times it means walking outside for a few minutes.

Much of my coursework this semester is theory-heavy and abstract, which has been its share of frustrating, especially for a hands-on field like archives. So, work at Duke is my respite, my saving grace. It is the one place where I feel like, without a shadow of a doubt, I know exactly what I am doing. I love what I am doing, and I love the people I work with. I recently crossed over the 1,000-record threshold for creating item-level metadata, which I celebrated with a few of my coworkers, and I can’t wait to celebrate future milestones with them. I’m incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to work at Duke and keep myself grounded as I work my way through graduate school.

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