On things I’ve been meaning to write about

Some things I’ve been thinking about lately:

– Summer ending – I like being back in school / summers are hard for me, because I can’t stay focused;

– All of my favorite sentences. (A pointless project, maybe, but I’m envisioning a never-ending post that contains sentences from A Heartbreaking Work and For the Relief of Unbearable Urges and So Long, See You Tomorrow, and everything Alice Munro has ever written – particularly, though, any sentence from her short story “Miles City, Montana,” a copy of which I have under my bed, in an plastic tub, from my Junior year at Iowa – and quite a few Kurt Vonnegut sentences because of how they feel – but not sound – when you read them, and a few from Beloved, and one from a classmate, even.

Here are a few, for now, from Heartbreaking Work:

Only up here does the earth look round, only up here does the horizon dip at its ends, only up here can you see the bend of the planet at the edges of your peripheries. Only here are you almost sure that you are careening on top of a big shiny globe, blurrily spinning – you are never aware of these things in Chicago, it being so flat, so straight – and, and, and we have been chosen you see, chosen, and have been given this, it being owed to us, earned by us, all of this – the sky is blue for us, the sun makes passing cars twinkle like toys for us, the ocean undulates and churns for us, murmurs and coos to us.

… At night, the whole fucking area is a thousand airstrips, Alcatraz blinking, the flood of halogen down the Bay Bridge, oozing to and fro, a string of Christmas lights being pulled slowly, steadily, and of course the blimps – so many blimps this summer – and stars, not too many visible, with the cities and all, but still some, a hundred maybe, enough, how many do you need, after all? 

… We run back across the highway, back into the red Civic and keep driving. Past the surfers, through the eucalyptus forest before Half Moon Bay, birds swooping up and over then back, circling around us – they too, for us! – then the cliffs before Seaside – then flat for a little while, then a few more bends and can you see this motherfucking sky? I mean, have you fucking been to California?

– “And stars, not too many visible, with the cities and all, but still some, a hundred maybe, enough, how many do you need, after all?” I mean;

– Anyway;

– Federal, legal records, and access. I requested a copy of my father’s death certificate from Maryland about two months ago. I included an application, a check for $24.00, and a self addressed stamped envelope. About a week after sending the original application, a letter came back to me, which said something to the effect of We couldn’t find a death certificate for this person, and here’s why. It was because I had not used his full name. First name, last name, yes. But no middle name, which brought the process to a halt. So, I repeated the process: I filled out a new application, and I sent it in alongside a check for $24.00 and a self addressed stamped envelope. The check was cashed – at least according to my bank account – three weeks ago. I have yet to receive the requested copy in the mail.

It’s interesting (to me) that the search which yielded nothing – Sorry, please use your father’s middle name – moved quicker than a search which – I assume – yielded a death certificate. I imagine there’s something bureaucratic at work, which complicates the process. But what specifically is happening, I don’t know. My guess: a search wasn’t carried out the first time around – the application must have been looked at and rejected (for lack of a better word) immediately because it was incomplete. The original $24.00 check was never cashed, which – again, I assume – is the fee associated with actually locating a certificate, completing some sort of documentation which indicates that I requested and received – fingers crossed – a certificate, and mailing it. The money goes – I assume, for the third time – to the labor associated with the upkeep of, protection of, copying of, and access to the record. But maybe not. And while I’m happy I wasn’t charged for a fruitless search, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the original check had been cashed;

– And, hey, on that topic: what happens if an individual forgets to send a self-addressed stamped envelope in with their request? The instruction to do so is more of a side note, at the very bottom of the application. If I had forgotten, would I have received notification that a certificate wasn’t found? Would I have waited and waited for news? Would they have cashed my check? So many questions;

– Web archiving, because I went to quite a few Web archiving sessions in Cleveland, and I’ve been thinking about our approach to the process. Mainly: duplicate work, which we’re doing a lot of (if, say, you’re crawling your institution’s Flickr site, but all of those pictures already exist on servers internally, are you collecting the pictures for a second time, or are you attempting to preserve the experience of Flickr – comments, tags –, and the Internet, and is the latter necessary?) , and collection policies – which, at least in my observation, seem to go out the window when a crawl is initiated, especially when a third-party is paid to crawl a domain for an individual / institution, and the individual / institution never does quality assurance on the crawl – either because they can’t, due to limited resources, or because they don’t think about it.

I’ve gone back and forth on Web archiving where I work. We – well, I – collect non-current records (the Web, typically, is very current) that relate to the history of the corporation for which I work (which, on the other hand, does fit our collecting scope). But: our Website is, if you break it down piece-by-piece, a collection of photos, restaurant locations, job ads, menu items, and on. And every last one of these things, seen as an individual Thing To Collect, exists elsewhere, and will be – or already is – part of our archive. So, at that point, what I’m archiving is not the content of the Website, but the look and feel of website itself, I think: here’s what our Website looked like in 2000, and here’s what it looked like in 2010, and here’s what it looks like now. And this is something the Internet Archive has already done, and will continue to do. (And I know: the Internet Archive is a private company, with interests that in no way relate to the interests of the organization for which I work, that owes me nothing – especially not preservation or longevity. So, Well, the Internet Archive has already done this for me is not meant to be an excuse, but an observation.)

Here’s where I struggle, I guess: is it necessary for my organization to remember what our website looked like at any given time? It’s not an organization which exists primarily on the Internet for the Internet– like Facebook, where the look and feel of the product matters and has evolved tremendously over the years –, and I’d argue that our Website has very little to do with the day-to-day operations of the organization, or its interaction with customers (you can’t buy things on the site, for instance), so is it necessary? (And the Devil’s Advocate says: crawl it once a year, put the files somewhere, and stop thinking about it.) But, at this organization, I work alone, and I work (very) part-time, and I have a big project ahead of me. And, in that case, even work that takes next to no time to complete costs something.

(A caveat: my organization is thinking of allowing customers to place orders online, and to order ahead online. And, recently, sweepstakes in the form of interactive games – win yourself a gift card by leading this cheeseburger through the maze into someone’s mouth! – have popped up on the site. That, for me, ventures far more into marketing than the current site does and represents something that does not exist in a physical format. If this becomes normal – and marketing becomes primarily interactive, and delivered online – I’ll have to adjust my thinking, probably);

– And sleep, because I should go to bed.

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