Wednesday, February 28, 2018

When Are You Gonna Send These File Boxes to the Archives?

Some of my "stuff"!

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A good thing about being a writer and an activist is that often an archive wants your “stuff,” to allude to the late comedian George Carlin’s riff about why we get an apartment, house, or other living abode: so we have a place to put our stuff!

In my case it’s boxes of papers, sermons, manuscripts, correspondence, articles, periodicals, etc. having to do with my lifelong vocation of changing church attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. And the archive in question is at the Pacific School of Religion’s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion in Berkeley, California, related to the LGBT Religious Archives Network (LGBTran), and administered by the Graduate Theological Union.

Half my office and half my personal closet and most of an attic storage space and some of our crawl space is devoted to storing this stuff. And though Wade would be justified, he only occasionally asks me the question that titles this post. Instead, it’s me that keeps harping on the question to myself as I walk around file boxes to get to my desk.

When I moved temporarily to San Francisco to serve First MCC as interim pastor, I sent 25 boxes of files to the archive. What remained was material I thought I’d someday make into a scrapbook (not going to happen!) or might need for future projects or could use to remind myself that I once was somebody! But also—look of chagrin on my face—were boxes of piles rather than files.

Y’see, I used to be pretty good at filing things, but I only have two file cabinets, requiring boxes. But more to the point, once I’ve finished with something, I’ve lost interest. George Lynch once told me I should never give a sermon twice, because I was obviously bored with it in my second delivery.

I would let finished projects pile up on my desk until, in a sprint of cleaning, I would sweep them off my desk into a box to sort through later, something that rarely happened. Now I know archivists love such archaeological “digs”—or so I am told—but I’m not convinced poring through unopened bulk mail or trying to figure out why I saved the odd printed matter would be to anyone’s liking. And they might miss something relevant. There may be things too personal to share or photos I’d like to hang onto. Books, as well—given that sometimes a volume from my library has sunk into the quicksand of my working detritus.

So what’s keeping me from going through these boxes of piles and files?

First of all, it’s just plain overwhelming. So many file boxes and so little time! And every artifact has the potential of sending me off on a reverie of remembrance of times and people and events past, not always happy, not always sad.

Recent research reports that the perfectionism of younger generations has increased dramatically. Perfectionism can prevent one from even starting something if it’s not going to be perfect. But I only want to prepare my papers reasonably well—let the archivists do the “perfecting.”

A few posts ago, I shamed myself by admitting that earlier last year I had read “most” of Alan Burdick’s Why Time Flies: A Mostly Scientific Investigation (2017). My wise friend, Jim Mitulski, once told me that if you don’t make it past the first 50 pages of a book, you’re never going to finish it. But I had made it within 20 pages of its end, and perhaps thought the 40-page bibliography and index meant 60 pages to finish. So this week I completed reading it.

What I found was the author’s own wondering why he took so long to complete writing the book. He references Saint Augustine, for whom “a syllable, sentence, or stanza in motion was the embodiment of time; unfurling, it stretches between past and future, memory and expectation…” Then he writes:
Hypothetically, the same is true of a book: as long as it remained in motion, the author’s present would never end. You can see where this logic is headed. Immortality was a book that was perpetually unfinished. (p 257)
Now I have wondered if my procrastination with the file boxes is some sort of fear of shoveling dirt into my own grave. The author J. D. Salinger sent 60 boxes to his archive three weeks before he died. Have I been afraid that sending the remaining boxes to my archive would simply be punctuating my absence from the active life? (No, I won’t go so far as to say it would mean my death, like the grandfather when his clock stopped ticking!)

I have hoped for some kind of “after life” in which some cute gay researcher might be passionate about my papers and do some kind of thesis about me and my work. That would likely backfire, as future judgments might render me some kind of “dinosaur,” as Bill Johnson once referred to us LGBT “pioneers.” God knows that even now, I have not been considered transgressive enough by some Queer thinkers. (Though our transgressive president should teach us this is not always a “good.”)

But I’ve come to the conclusion that my dilly-dallying is the same phenomenon that caused me to sweep this material into boxes in the first place—I’ve finished with it. I want to do something new. I’d rather write this post for my blog than return to things I’ve done or left undone.

Fair warning though—when I finally go through these boxes, you might wish I hadn’t, as I might find things that prompt nostalgic posts!

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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 


  1. Thank you, Chris, for the chuckles of recognition. My dinning table is my sweep zone. Every once in a while we want to have guests for dinner. Restack someplace else! The more I throw out the more it seems comes in through the mailbox.
    I feel I am getting closer to my life journey's goal and endpoint; learning to love life and inviting others to that journey. Twenty years with the Ecumenical Institute and affiliates out of Chicago plus twenty years more of adventures and excursions after that has brought me recently to Buddhist teaching via James Finley, Richard Rohr and Pema Chodron. I am nurtured by the common themes of Jesus and Shakyamuni.
    Hold the tension, dam the torpedoes, your life is already living on in the lives of others you have inspired. Check is on the way, Tom REEMTSMA, Sun City, Arizona

    1. Thanks, Tom, for such a positive reply! For me, too, Buddhism connects to the spirituality of Jesus and Desert Fathers and Mothers. Recently I found and read a book from one of those little libraries appearing on people's front yards, Thomas Merton's "Mystics and Zen Masters," and clearly he came to this place as well. I really appreciate that thought that our lives are already living on in the lives of others. That's a wonderful thought for the day. Again, thank you!

  2. Chris, I am 82. You will be someday! JUSTDOIT!!

    1. Love it! Sorry for the delay in publishing and responding to this comment, but I sometimes take the weekend off from the internet. And yes, since writing this piece I decided to make going through my "stuff" my spiritual discipline for Lent!