April 2004 Archives

Directories by hand

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Over the last several years, a number of people I've been close to have died. I've also been involved in the task of organizing and dispensing with their effects--those items the deceased have left behind. When the deceased have lived a very long time, as these people did, there are a lot of effects. More than one can imagine.

Some people just toss everything, in order to get it over with. The process I've been involved in has been much more contemplative, a sort of slow peeling back of the years. The objects evoke periods of time, eras before my birth, even. Moving through the ages like this can swallow up whole months.

To me, it seems right that getting rid of things should take so much time. One thing I did not realize, until I was actually sitting on a deathbed, or waiting in an ICU hallway, was how long death can take. Not to be morbid about it, it just does sometimes. Take a long time.

One of my estate tasks has been to sort through a very large collection of music. It belonged to a relative I was not particularly close to. He had been a classical music and opera enthusiast. Here is what I found:


  • 351 labeled 7" reel tapes of live classical music and opera, recorded from the radio

  • 42 8-track tapes of classical music recordings

  • 10 boxes worth of classical and opera records

  • 3 boxes worth of operatic multi-disc album recordings


The recordings had been cataloged by hand in two leather-bound ruled notebooks, over approximately 300 pages. What struck me was how Internet-ready his notes were. He had indexed his collection in many different ways--by composer, by conductor, by symphony, by format, etc.--kind of like a paper database.
There was also a wish list of recordings. He seemed to be striving to create an ideal collection of sorts: all the best recordings across the spectrum of opera and classical works. It is a marvel of organization and obsession. I found it very moving to look at, to register all the time it must have taken him to create it.

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