What’s your magic number?
Come on, don’t be shy… I won’t tell anyone. How many…?
Oh, you want to know my number first? Well, I don’t know… I haven’t actually ever told anyone… It’s sort of personal…
Oh, all right.
My number is 5665.
What – you don’t believe me? Oh, it’s true. Five thousand, six hundred and sixty five. 5665 picture files worth of headache.
We were talking about how many documents I brought back home from the archive, weren’t we…?
Fortunately, the magic number 5665 isn’t entirely accurate. Yes, it’s the number of files I brought back, but some of those pictures are of plastic owls, beautiful sunsets and interesting plants I passed on my way to the archive. Some of them are duplicates because the first version got blurry, and I couldn’t be bothered to delete it. But most of them, say 95%, are actual pictures of actual documents I actually believed I would actually need for my (actual) thesis. Some of them I will need. Some of them I will try to find a use for regardless of their obvious uselessness.
Out of the original 5665 I have (so far) tagged 140 “crucial” ones. This is a number that definitely is lying, since I only tag the first picture regardless of whether the document consists of two or 20 pages. So there are many, many more than 140 documents that I will consult in the upcoming months.
Then there is the fact that I haven’t gone through all the folders yet. In fact, I’d wager I’ve only worked my way through half of them. Until today I thought I was further than that. I’ve been through most of the stuff from 1956-63, so theoretically I should only have 1964-67 left. However, I realized this afternoon that there are a few folders ignoring the chronology completely, so I will be jumping back to 1960 or so once more. One folder I believed (or hoped) contained only one box, actually held 15… I don’t (yet) know if these are 15 important boxes, or if they consist of stuff I photographed because the documents were written by people with funny names. Or documents where the word “slug” frequents. Or pictures of Arab princes. I do that – or I did that, before the gravity of my task hit me.
I really wish I could have done this the other way around – read the documents first and photographed them afterwards. That way I could have used what I’ve earned from months of hard work since I came back, work that became even harder because I took pictures like a Japanese tourist. The knowledge I now possess – that I have a limited amount of time on my hands, and a limited capacity when it comes to processing the archive material I gathered – would have been useful guiding tools to figure out what I was looking for in the archive. Instead, I fumbled my way through unknown territory, blindfolded. I had no idea what eventually would be relevant, so my tactic was “better safe than sorry”. As it turns out, I am so safe that I am sorry after all.
But, I could not know this when I was there, and doing it the other way around wasn’t really an option. I did not have all the time in the world in the archive, and I had a ton of material to choose from. Knowing that it would be impossible for me to go back if I missed anything, I took no chances. Despite my complaints, I am happy for that.
But it is demoralizing, when you have leafed through some 3-400 documents only to realize none of them have any relevance for your thesis. Especially since you know this is what you'll be doing again the next morning. And the next one. And the next one.
Who knows, it might make great material for a book… If I ever manage to finish going through these 5665 files, that is…