Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I'm a huge fan of the website, which collects high-quality long format journalism from the web. I am almost always in the middle of one or two articles, many of which I send to my Kindle Fire using the Pocket app. (Highly recommended, if anyone is seeking a way to read longer pieces at leisure.)

(For those who keep up with other museum blogs, Nina Simon recently used as an example of in-depth storytelling, which she argues is lacking in museums.)

Within the last week, has linked to two stories involving museums that really caught my eye.

The first, The Things They Leave Behind, is a powerful profile of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Collection and its curator, Duery Felton, Jr. I learned in this article that the collection is wholly uncensored, and thus, in a way, curated by the public. Every single object - even plastic spoons and the hundreds of construction paper cards left by schoolchildren - is collected, stored, and eventually cataloged. There are hundreds of thousands of artifacts in the collection, some of them surprising and confusing, some of them visceral and immediate, and all of them heartfelt.

The article is worth a read, and raises questions about the role of the curator, the idea of memorial collections and spaces, the role of objects in mediating both national and personal grief, and about the sometimes intensely personal meaning in objects that are largely devoid of provenance.

The second article, The Private Lives of the Cryptozoologists, is lighter but still raises intriguing questions and reminds me of a debate I once had in graduate school. If a museum is meant to be a trusted source of knowledge, who gets to decide what is true? For example, we had a vigorous discussion about whether the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky is a true museum. Most said no, but I maintain that it's not my place to judge the appropriateness of a museum's knowledge. All history has a point of view, and all presentation of science has a point of view; this is simply a variation on that.

This article raises questions about the lines between personal collections and public museums, about the presentation of science and anthropology, and the "entertainment" value of museums.

Monday, March 18, 2013

On Tragedy

I like to think of myself as good at many things, but there are equally as many things that I am downright terrible at. One thing I've never done well is letting myself rest emotionally.

The past two weeks of my life have been filled with incredible amounts of stress in my personal life. Two weeks ago today, my horse underwent surgery to remove bone chips in his foot and hopefully solve a problem that has plagued him since August. I have spent countless hours since then, every day, giving him medication, changing his bandages, talking to vets, and worrying. His prognosis is good and his healing is on track, but every minute has been fraught.

In addition to that, these two weeks have been filled with unimaginable tragedy for people I love. Painful things, horrific things, the kinds of things that you never, ever get past. Nearly every day has brought news of another crushing blow to a good person in my life. There is no possible comfort in the face of these tragedies. I can do nothing but send love, flowers, cards, and casseroles.

I've been learning lessons, these last weeks, about being kind to myself. At a time when I desperately need rest, I'm not sleeping. At a time when I'd like to curl up in a dark corner and escape, I'm committed nearly every minute of the day. In some ways, no matter how fierce I would like to be, I can't possibly be 100% present for everything right now; some back corner of my brain is always processing my stress and the pain of others. That frustrates and angers me; I am hardworking, ambitious, and happiest when active.

That's life, unfortunately. We never know if the person in a meeting with us is secretly brokenhearted about something and simply putting on a good face. We can't expect our brain and our emotions to perform on command, in an instant, when there are huge things taking up our emotional and mental energy. I've come to feel that it's smarter to acknowledge that, to be aware of it and plan for it. If I feel myself losing concentration, I'm trying not to punish myself for it, but to give in for a bit, to let my mind loose and indulge, and only then to move on. Not wallow, but respect that I need to take a moment and regroup.

Maybe some people have the knack of this, but I never have, and learning to cope in this way has not been an easy lesson.