“Everything in its right place.”

I have been a collector of things. Comic books, action figures (of various sorts), photographs, role playing dice (you know the many sided, funny shaped ones), cassette tapes/compact disks/digital music files (different media, same principle), very small rocks. I have also been an organizer of things, a tendency that may or may not have been borne out of the previous condition inclination. Certainly the one goes well with the other. Comic books — in plastic sleeves with paperboard protectors — organized by title and number, photographs ordered by time and place (or perhaps season, or subject, or event…), that sort of thing . Music can be tricky as there is a lot going on; by genre (often somewhere between difficult and useless), by band, by year, by media type, alphabetical? This, along with many other interesting life questions, is addressed in the great film with John Cusak, High Fidelity, but that is another story. At one time in my teens I could pick a given cassette tape from my collection of over 200 tapes in the dark because I could visualize the order. Because of this I both love and hate iTunes for too many reasons to go into here and now.

So really it makes some sense that I ended up working in the museum world.

“Don’t let the perfect stand in the way of the good.”

I heard this quote yesterday and can’t help but think it will be a problem for me — a slightly OCD, idealistic procrastinator — to fall in line with. I mean if I am going to organize a collection of something it either needs to be done or not. It does not should not get done part way. CD’s for example. If I am going to go ahead and order them alphabetically by artist, then it should naturally follow that if there are multiple selections of a given artist that those should be in order by release date right? For the moment we will ignore the ascending vs. descending order question because it can get weird…

Anyway, as I noted, it is these qualities that make me a sometimes perfect fit for working in a museum-like setting where “best practice” standards require things to be strictly organized. It is also good to know that when in such an environment, one is in good company.

For several years in the not so distant past, I worked for a university museum’s archaeology department, first as a student assistant and then as a research technician (with a few different “titles” thrown in at various points). I would quickly discover that this was a near perfect place to be in many ways. For example, one project I was tasked with was to “re-house” a collection of lithic (…i-t-h-i-c, meaning stone) artifacts that had been collected many years before. It was a fascinating exercise in almost completely pointless organization taken to a mindboggling extreme.

Actually, let me unpack this for you a bit as in order to make sense I will have to give some background.

During an archaeological excavation, ideally everything is highly organized and tightly controlled as the science of it requires paying strict attention to context; that is the relation of all things to all other things in physical space. Before an excavation begins, a fixed point — the datum — is established to which everything is related, in a geo-spatial sense; provenience is the term. These relationships are established through tightly controlled measurements in order to record each and every find in three dimensional space. In this modern, techno-fancy world we live in, highly sensitive GPS units are often utilized to record these data and if done correctly the site can effectively be “recreated” in a digital realm. It can be pretty cool. But anyways, I digress.

As the excavation progresses, all of the sediment that is removed is passed through a screen to retrieve any artifacts that may have been missed during the actual excavation. Out of context as these objects are at this point it is still important to make some attempt to be able to relate them — as close as is reasonably possible — to the place in the excavations from whence they came. Remember, context. The remaining pile of “backdirt” is ideally, now sterile of artifacts. However, this of course will depend on many things, principally perhaps the size of the mesh screen that is utilized. Should one use garden variety chicken wire, one might not expect to capture very much. Industry standard is often 1/8 or 1/4 inch, which can catch very small objects; fish scales or tiny little micro-flakes.

So, short story long, getting back to the rehousing effort that I mentioned… There was this collection of lithics that were stored in a series of “old school” metal film canisters (which are really cool things by the way and great for storing very small rocks…) My task was to sort through these little cans, capture all of the data that was written on them, inventory the contents, and place the artifacts in new housing; in this case small plastic bags.

This particular collection of objects had been collected via re-screening the back dirt pile, which in itself is a curious thing. Yes, they used a finer mesh and so could likely find things that were missed the first time around, but at that point the provenience is pretty poor. But you know that is cool, whatever. The REALLY interesting part is what happened next…

Once an excavation is complete, all of the artifacts are — ideally — brought back to a lab and processed for analysis and storage. There are many ways to go about this and I will not go down that rabbit hole just now, except to state once again, that context and provenience are paramount elements here and so very strict organizational controls must be employed. Everything is cleaned, organized, cataloged, labeled, and housed in a sensible, safe, and stable manner and location for perpetuity. That is the museum way.

OK, OK, get on with it, I know.

Each little tin contained potentially dozens of tiny micro-flakes; miniscule fragments of stone that are the result of a long dead person “knapping” out a stone tool (well, they were probably not long dead when doing it just, you know… knapping). Prehistoric archaeologists deal with a lot of these and ideally they can be useful. Think about whittling. You take a chunk of wood and use a knife to gradually reduce it in size and shape until you have the object you desired as an end result; the shavings are just waste. BUT if those shavings were to be put back together in the correct order, one might be able to identify the thing that was made… even if that thing is nowhere to be found. Not only that but one might be able to identify the process and even the tool that was utilized in the making. It is pretty cool in a sense. Nearly impossible and often mind-numbingly dull in practice… We call it “refitting”.

Flakes, not the ones in question, but just to give you an idea. The scale bar is in centimeters.

Flakes, not the ones in question, but just to give you an idea. The scale bar is in centimeters.

So yeah, dozens and dozens of tins led to hundreds of little micro-flakes. No big deal, I had rehoused LOTS of them at this point. So what the hell am I getting at here? Well, let me tell you, really I am trying to get there…

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that each of the flakes had been numbered. This is not uncommon and is in fact generally required, but in this case it was largely unneeded; wholly excessive actually. Remember the provenience for these was “the back dirt pile” thus one might say the context was “the 1969 excavation” which is kind of less than helpful. But, my task was to inventory them. Which of course meant that I had to put them in numerical order first… because they had been numbered… keeping in mind some of the things I mentioned above.

It gets better.

So, yeah, they were all numbered, as in very tiny numbers had been physically written on each tiny little micro-flake. Someone had very steady hands, and I doubt that someone was a Phd… for a whole host of reasons. Anyway, that was marvel enough. BUT, when I started to put them in numerical order it became clear that the person with the steady hand, had organized them… first by color, and then by size. When they were all laid out in order they were a marvel to look at really; as a collection. An almost completely pointless, but marvelous collection… and there were dozens and dozens of them. Each little tin contained one of these crazy, freakishly OCD little collections. It took me days to sort through them, I have no idea how long it must have taken to first organize and process them. But I loved them all the same.

Remarkable.

Speed of the Sound of Loneliness, pt. 2

…just to be on the run.

“I also contemplate marathons and dream about running until there’s nothing left to run from or to or for.”

Clockworks

I have been thinking a lot of late about this quote from a fellow friend/blogger/person who runs. It has little, to nothing, to do with asking “why I run” or any of that business. I think rather, that it comes up in those moments when running where the numbers and most all else falls away. It comes up when I get that feeling that I just want to keep running. There is nothing about the pace or the distance, or really the direction for that matter. It does often come up as a question of sorts I suppose; more so perhaps as a desire… to be able to just keep running. I start seeing maps in my head of routes, possibilities for where to continue on, where to keep moving forward.

 

road

I have written in that other blogthing (where you can go to read part 1 of this should you so desire) over there about training and goals and stats and races and whatnot. That is all just for fun, just a way to track progress and keep myself both running and writing. But again, of late these other thoughts, less concrete, more amorphous, have been meandering about.

It has been a long time since I have written anything here, but the last time I started to write something it was based on another quote, this time from Douglas Adams… “We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!” I have it written on a post-it note in my office. Something about it strikes me as both incredibly funny and hand-wringingly frustrating and perhaps even a bit tragic. I like it but I simply have not been able to put my finger on why I like it. Certainly it is clever, but somehow it seems like there is more to it than that. I just don’t know, and the catch is neither do I know why I want to know.

I have written here before about how much of my personal ethos (and perhaps I am not using that word correctly here but it seemed right somehow) stems from my experience with and reaction to movies… as opposed to some of the more conventional places. That is of course oversimplified, but at the time I was trying to make a sort of point. I think at the moment the point is, again, something I have tried to express here before, that we are in many ways a sum of our experiences. And again, I have no idea where I am going with this just now…

“…nothing left to run from or to or for.”

This is neither “rigidly defined” nor full “of doubt and uncertainty” yet I keep getting the nagging feeling that there is a connection in my reactions to these two quotes. On the one hand I could see a certain emptiness or futility in both statements, but on the other, just the opposite; something freeing and liberating. Yet it is neither the catch-22 nor the yin-yang idea. They are neither intertwined, nor mutually exclusive utterings. I am not even sure that they are similar, but there is something that makes me want to tie them together somehow.

I am writing this post in conjunction with a post for my other blogthing; two parts of one experience that are only sort of loosely connected. The idea came to me through the song lyric used for the titles of both. The song itself is rather sad; about loss and heartbreak and because of that I waffled with using it. I went with it anyway because the words worked well, if not the sentiment. With the first of the two quotes I am wrangling with here both the words and the sentiment work for my current state of mind and reaction to experiences, and coincidentally relate to the words (but not at all the sentiment) of the song title. There is no sadness or loss in that feeling of wanting to just keep running. The second quote, actually relates more to the other blog, full of numbers and measurements and accomplishments as it is. It is “rigidly defined” in that it is all about running, yet it is also about “doubt and uncertainty”, although perhaps only to me. What I mean by this is that in my experience, every run is an uncertain thing. Most times I set out with a direction in mind but of late, when I hit that spot I mentioned above where everything falls away I am guided by my footfalls, seemingly pulled along by the activity of moving forward. I sign up for races but not to win, I have no goal going into them because I am only testing myself every single time and at that essentially to see how I performed after the fact.

This idea of competing against one’s self actually does sort of fit well into a “rigidly defined area of doubt and uncertainty” the more I think about it. I do not track my time while I am running, but rather once I am done. I am competing against myself only in watching the statistics. My primary desire in this activity of late is tied up in that first quote; I just want to keep running. The numbers and measurements are in many ways meaningless since I am not trying to beat anyone or win anything. They are just benchmarks, but what mean benchmarks when all I really want is the ability to just keep moving forward. I do not ask, “How much faster can I go?” nor “How much farther can I run?”, but rather “How much longer can I keep moving forward?”

And this, as it turns out, is really a fine question for life in general it would seem… when slightly adjusted. It is a goal in and of itself to strive for, “What must I do to keep moving forward?” This will of course be different for each individual. For some it means progress I suppose, some sort of advancement. For me it speaks more to the idea of avoiding stagnation, of living more experiences. Not to collect them or to count them up like trophies, but to simply live them. To embrace the doubt and uncertainty. To keep running, rigidly defined or otherwise.