The month of October represents a confluence of activity in my professional and personal life. I started the month of September looking toward October with that personal brand of optimism that makes me who I am. I had many things to look forward to. Professionally, October is American Archives Month. I looked forward to this with great anticipation as it gave me a chance to flex my archival muscles and creativity. A couple of months ago, I was made one of the Facebook administrators for the National Archives at Philadelphia’s Facebook page. I really wanted to do something or several somethings in this case to put us out there. Unlike our other NARA counterparts, we have the disadvantage of being closed to the public. So we didn’t have the opportunity to do in-house events or exhibits.
In conjunction with my colleagues on the Archival and Education staff, we started to put into work some great content for our Facebook followers. As a relative newbie, this was the first time I was in a position of pseudo-authority. I was steering the ship. This put into practice some of my thoughts on how to motivate and nurture creative ideas from my colleagues. I worked along side them and we had some pretty good stuff to show for it.
Additionally, October represents my one year anniversary in my new job. I looked to the anniversary with surprise (a year goes by fast!) and triumph. As part of my job, I have to submit an end-of-year report. What have I accomplished? How have I fulfilled the different aspects of my performance appraisal? In writing this report, it caused me to reflect on my experiences working at the National Archives. At first, the thought of recalling and writing all of my accomplishments seemed daunting. After all, it has been several months since I’ve written a report (I did this for my last job) but the set up was quite different. Any time I write, I have that momentary panic but I digress. Over the course of several weeks in September, my report started out as a one page document to a whopping eight pages! My first year was a pretty eventful, action-packed year. The experience was exhilarating. Partly because you get a chance to puff out your chest and say, “I did stuff. I’m awesome.” (I admit I’m a little prideful at times *smile*)
And partly, it reminds you of those moments. We all have them from time to time. You’re slogging away at a project that seems to grow more complicated then you expect. You hope and pray for the end. But when you look back on the moment, you can’t help but smile. You not only did a great job but your work helped and inspired others. I call to mind my first ever educational exhibit, “La Historia de Mi Familia,” a collaborative partnership with Esperanza Academy in North Philadelphia. I worked with the teachers and the students to immerse them in the archival record. The resulting exhibit was amazing. During the June 4 reception, I could not help but smile as the students posed with their work as their families took pictures. One student said the project inspired him. You can see his speech at the reception here. All in all, its been an amazing year.
Personally, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. This fact touches me deeply as I lost my mother in 2005 to breast cancer. It was her second bout after 10 years of remission. I was 20 years old. I can still recall that time with sadness. I still remember holding her hand when she took her finally breathe. I felt very blessed to know her and to love her. Her life and death had a profound impact on my life. I think 2005 marked the year that I stopped existing and began to live. Being afraid or, more importantly, being paralyzed by fear was a useless emotion for me. I survived my greatest fear, losing a parent, and I refused to let fear stop me from doing things I’ve always wanted to do. I owe it all to my momma.
Secondly, this month, I celebrate my 29th birthday. I can’t believe its been 29 years. I still remember being 16 years old. Where has the time gone? But, I don’t look back on those days as a loss but a part of my journey in life. On September 24, I posted to Facebook the following:
“I don’t know if its because I’m getting older but I’m more accepting of my flaws and forgiving of my mistakes. I’ve finally become the person 18 year old me always knew I could be. I’m at peace, healthy, and happy. This getting older jazz ain’t so bad.”
I may be getting older but, as I joked with a friend, I’m like a fine wine, I’m getting better with age!
And then….October came. The government was shutdown. I was furloughed.
I experienced a number of ‘feels’ throughout the shutdown. I went from anger to sadness to a general acceptance. I will say that other than one Facebook posting, I generally refrained from publicly commenting on the shutdown. This was do in part to a lot was being said about it and federal workers. Unfortunately, not all of it was positive. I didn’t want to get dragged into a social media fight over it. I just can’t abide by mud-slinging. While some took my silence for aloofness or even apathy, others who really know me know how I felt and the things I have actively done to help in some way.
But, most importantly, the shutdown made me think about my one year anniversary and what it means to me to work for the government. I don’t think of my role and those of my colleagues as part of this amorphous blob that is ‘the government.’ We are people with families and friends. We’re hard-working. On the first day of the shutdown, I tweeted the following to a fellow federal employee:
“I’m consoled by the fact I’m in good company. We’ve taken this punch to the chin w/grace & most of all w/ class. Stay classy guys.’
Over time, I realized I’m part of a group of very classy people at the National Archives. In catching up with my colleagues about their shutdown activities, we did what we do best ‘kept calm and carried on.’ Yeah, we were nervous about the furlough but at the end of the day, we still got up and handled business. Our personal business that is. I’m proud to work with the people I work with.
More importantly, the shutdown was a reminder that I love what I do. Part of my early anger was that I couldn’t do what I love to do which is be an archivist. That’s who I am. To not do it is like asking me not to breath.
So there you have it, one year in the can and now I’m looking forward to year two. Game. On.
Stay classy, guys.