Archival Papers: Not Always The Best

Newspaper, magazine strips, fading out in the rain and sun.

When I was a child, I had a method for handling problems. With two older brothers and parents who had their own problems, sharing mine didn’t seem like a smart choice. So I would write my worries on strips of blue-lined, rough, tablet paper, tear them up and “hide” them–bury them under a tree. Doing that taught me that paper is plant material and rots. I was fascinated at the decomposition of the paper–and, I was sure, my worries. Mother Earth took them back and made them go away.

As I got older, I developed a ritual of handling worries–always with writing, always with strips. Some paper strips got burned, some got pulped and put into handmade papers, some woven into journal covers. I then switched to ripping the strips from newspapers and magazines and letting nature take care of the paper. I’d write worries down, pull a thread through the top and hang them outside to bleach and fade in the sun and rain. By the time the strips disintegrated, I was done worrying.

Skip forward several decades: I’m a raw-art journaler, but still have worries. One afternoon, I remember the strip method,  grab some paper from the studio, write, sew through the top, hang them from the orange tree in the backyard. In the Phoenix heat. Days go by, 110 degrees, 111 degrees, 108 degrees, never below 90 at night. I hit the papers with a stream from the hose. Nothing deteriorates. The strips stay readable. My worries don’t

Archival strips--still tidy, unbleached or faded. You know, archival.

fade. My brow furrows over this.

And then I realize. . .I have used archival materials. Archival pens, archival,  acid-free, lignin-free paper. My worries are preserved. Possibly forever. Only then comes the wabi-sabi moment.

The revelation comes with a blast–isn’t this what I do (however unintentionally) with worries–preserve them, hang on to them, refuse to let them deteriorate?  And so they’ll stay with me, until I am willing to let them deteriorate, bleach out in the sun, fade in the passage of time.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and chief learning officer of QuinnCreative. She teaches others what she’s learned. Sometimes they are interested.

14 thoughts on “Archival Papers: Not Always The Best

  1. What a great post. It fascinates me that you used to write our your worries and hide them as a child – and have stayed a writer. I love the revelation about preserving your worries; I think we all do that to some degree.

  2. This is such an interesting insight into how we handle life and the lessons we can learn from our art. Thanks for sharing an important message (and thanks for your comments on my blog).

  3. I like this idea of using and abusing paper as a means to annihilate one’s worries. Impose words (laden with one’s meanings) onto other words (with “other” meanings) and let the elements impose their own mark on them. Wonderful palimpsests.

  4. Great you hang out those strips! Perhaps you should bury them and never dig them up.Although I would be curious to see how that changed them.

    • The purpose for hanging them is to let nature fade and weather them, altering the paper, which I can then use in journal pages. If I buried them in the desert, in this heat, nothing much would happen. We don’t get enough rain to rot.

  5. Quinn – love this tale that comes from the past, but sheds meaning on today. Love that you learned (early) the beauty of decay. Love that you learned (late) that letting go is an important part of the process. Interesting to observe how the archival bits didn’t decompose as you had hoped…but there was still something good to come from it. Wonderful insights – thanks so much for sharing with the team, your words and pictures, and your connections to the simple torn strip of paper.

  6. If newsprint and cheap yellow pad paper won’t make my worries disappear, nothing will…
    T-storms are predicted for later tonight, then again on Thursday and Friday. I’ll send you an update after the storms.

    (And you are so right…you teach and some are interested.)

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