I’ll be honest, I haven’t felt compelled to write creatively in a long time. I feel compelled to share pictures of Milo on the Milo blog and to recap conferences on the blog at work — but sitting down and writing a Slambango post is not something I’ve cared about doing for over a year.
This morning, though, I am burning with the desire to write. I drove a little faster this morning to get here (I’m at a conference hotel where the conference isn’t starting for another 30 minutes), put my head down to avoid eye contact with any of my colleagues, and made a beeline to an empty conference room. Get me the FUCK to a laptop, I was all.
Here’s what’s eating me up: this conference is the first archives conference I’ve been to since 2010, a year after I left the archives world to become a records management consultant to government agencies. It’s been three years since I got to hear archivists talk about the innovative work they’re doing to preserve and provide access to traditional and new digital collections. I haven’t worked with archival collections since I became a consultant, but I’ve mostly kept up with what’s going on in the archives world so that I can advise others on it.
But still, the archives world has moved on without me. Yesterday morning, I attended a session on managing digital university records. One of the speakers was a major university’s new “digital asset manager,” basically in charge of making sure all the marketing photographs that the university takes are shipshape, filed well, backed up properly. I realized some things in that session:
- I could TOTALLY FUCKING DO THAT JOB.
- I would be SO FUCKING AMAZING AT THAT JOB.
- I WANT THAT JOB.
- I will NEVER GET THAT JOB.
Have you seen my photo organization structure? It’s ISO 8601 compliant and it doesn’t even need to be!
This is where I would put screenshots if I could have waited to post this until I was at home!
What’s more, it’s a job that does not (like many archives jobs) necessarily benefit from some understanding of the history of any particular subject or place. (This was why I was good at being a university archivist in my previous life — the university was only 40 years old; it had almost no history at all. It just wasn’t that hard to wrap my arms around 40 years of one institution’s history.) I didn’t go into the archives and records management profession because I care about history, but because I’m fascinated with how people and places work. I care about what people do and what records come out of those functions. I’m incredibly boring at parties because I love probing people for the nuts and bolts of what they do. I’m good at taking a high-level view of an organization (or a person’s life) and arranging records in a way that reflects the way it worked (a basic archival tenet known as “original order”).
The longer I listened to this girl (because she had to be about 26 years old), the more I started to dismiss everything she had to say and come to just loathe her. And that loathing started to grow and envelop a new colleague of mine, a recent library school graduate and classmate of the young hotshot and basically a clone of 26-year-old Angela who is furiously live-tweeting this conference. That loathing started to spread to just, all new young professionals in general.
I used to be a hotshot. The month before I started my consultant job, I made a standing-room-only presentation at a national archives conference, talking about my master’s paper research. After that session I had coffee with the person my research was based on, an archives celebrity that I have a total professional crush on. I was a blazing future archives star. I was 29.
But… I started to pull back, put my hate gun back in its holster, and realize that I don’t hate the 26-year-olds, I just really, really miss being the young hotshot with all the answers. It’s exciting to come into a new job filled with cutting-edge knowledge and ideas and clean it all up.
And also, it’s exhilarating to be a young professional (or grad student, a pre-professional) at one of your first professional conferences, meeting your heroes, having breathless conversations with other colleagues at lunch plotting how to take over the archives world. I’m not old, but I have a kid. I’m going to a reception from 6-9 tonight, but I had to make childcare arrangements for that and I can’t get shitfaced on wine because I can’t be hungover when I wake up at 5:30 tomorrow morning to take care of my toddler.
Then again, yesterday at lunch at Banger’s, sitting one table away from the hotshot table where the 26-year-olds sat, I laughed harder than I have in weeks with my fellow mid-30’s colleagues, chomping on a bockwurst, drinking a delicious beer in the middle of the day. We didn’t innovate or inspire anyone, but Jesus, we had a perfect time.
I guess I’m not sure where to go with this (this post, my career, whatever). Sometimes I dream about moving to Lawrence, Kansas to work with electronic records at their state archives (the best state archives in the country tend to be in some of the least desirable locales — Lansing, Cheyenne, or Frankfort anyone?) It won’t happen. I can’t quit my job to take an internship. I can’t even really take an entry-level job at this point and still manage to pay my mortgage. I don’t have time to volunteer. I’m not 26 anymore and I have a kid and fairly deep roots in Austin. I’m married to a guy who likes his job a lot. We have a house and a day care we love. We’re not going anywhere.
But there’s got to be something that comes between being a hotshot and waiting for retirement. Right? Will I get to do exciting things again or do I need to give up on that, put my head down, and be grateful for employment? Because if that’s what the next 35 years have in store for me, I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. Did I trade in my professional mobility when I had Milo? Do I need to just accept that I’m in a pretty good place and leave it at that?