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.

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27 thoughts on “Don’t Make Your Worries Archival

  1. I’m really glad you recycled the post as I didn’t see it first time around maybe because 3 years ago I hadn’t discivered your blog although I think it was around that time. That was when I was almost overwhelmed by worries that have now been resolved, forgotten or put in perspective as my life continues to expand. The more I participate and engage with the present the better it becomes.
    I’ve always loved prayer flags, the way they flap and fray in the wind and it carries off the prayer . . . and are those high Tibetan passes windy! How fitting that where you are the sun carries off your worries and woes.
    Ironic that you wanted to disperse them and by using materials that were worth more than they deserved, preserved them. I’d do some artful shredding I think . . . rows and rows of stitching on the sewing machine without any thread. That should help them disintergrate!

  2. I am glad you ‘recycled’ this post. I believe this may be just what I needed to read today. And thanks again for drawing my name for the book. I will be haunting my mailbox awaiting its arrival!

  3. Ohhhh….I love this idea. I’m one of those worrier”ers” that goes to bed at night and thinks about all the stuff that I left undone. It keeps me awake. I can also see how this would help the kids in my life to learn not to allow worries to take over their lives. We are going to have a worry strip party at my house!
    And Pete, you’re brilliant. I’m going to share this idea with my story writing grand daughter. Thanks.

    • For years, I’ve written down my worries before bed, to help me sleep through the night. It works for me! If I wake up, I remind myself that the thing I start to trouble myself over is already written down, and I can continue to sleep, as I will handle it tomorrow. We write to remember, we write to forget. No other art form does that so well!

  4. By the way, you’re in the wrong climate for environmental deterioration. Dry and sun-baked is pretty good for preservation; just like in Egypt!

    • yes, I’ve noticed that the sun bakes and nothing rots, but the sun does break down material like paint and car tires very effectively. Incidentally, we can write to remember (like a to-do list) and write to forget (like a journal) and it works great either way.

      • The way it seems to work for me, oddly enough, is that anything I write down I remember _better_ — not only do I remember the original, now I remember writing it down as well!

        Another, more recursive event, is remembering the last time I remembered something. Something like this might be how memories drift over time. On the other hand, it’s also a way to assign “mental churn” to something more like an automatic process. My nervous system is constantly up to all sorts of things I don’t have to pay attention to, and when I want to *stop* attending to something, I try to spin it off to a less-conscious process. It doesn’t always work, but..er, was I just saying something?

  5. This reminded me of Dr. Jones (Indiana’s dad) who pointed out that he didn’t remember entries in his journal: “I wrote it down so I wouldn’t have to remember it!” The idea of writing it down in order to forget it is an intriguing extension. I’ve occasionally read about people who deliberately set out to “empty out” areas of their memory, thinking it would enable them to remember more new things. I’m not convinced memory works that way — it doesn’t seem to for me — but I see the analogy.

    What’s different about your idea is following the written memories after they’ve been externalized. It would make a great story — the little girl is worried about getting sick, so she writes her worry — “catching cold” — tears it up and buries it. But the tiny scrap that says “cat” mysteriously survives, and soon the little girl finds a very unusual kitten under the same tree…

  6. Thank you. This is just what I needed to read today. I sometimes think I carve my worries in stone! I love the idea of worries being only worth cheap paper – I’ll remember that.

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