Don’t Make Your Worries Archival

When I was a child, my problems were child-size, which means as big as I was. But with two older brothers and parents who had their own problems, sharing mine didn’t seem like a good solution. 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. I learned 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. Perfect.

Strips of archival paper, resistant to deterioration, even in the Phoenix sun.

Strips of archival paper, resistant to deterioration, even in the Phoenix sun.

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 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, 116 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 fade. My brow furrows over this.

And then I realize. . .I have used archival materials. Archival pens, archival,

Worries, fading in the tree.

Worries, fading in the tree.

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 write them on cheap paper–the paper the worries are worth, and no more. Archival papers are for art, worries get cheap support to let them deteriorate, bleach out in the sun, fade in the passage of time.

–Quinn McDonald is still writing. And helping others write as well.