The tubs

Archiving at the end of the world

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I’VE BEEN WRITING in journals for the last twenty years, and my piles of completed notebooks are getting bigger, heavier, more cumbersome. The contents are a combination of teary confessions and notes for half-completed short stories, interspersed with black, swirling, anxiety-ridden doodles. 

My writing journals were originally housed in a motley assortment of packing boxes, left over from the many moves from share house to share house I’ve made in the past twenty years. I learned about the dangers of such a storage method by watching the (now sadly cancelled) Showtime comedy series Work in Progress. In one scene, the main character opens her walk-in cupboard to reveal a towering stack of brown boxes filled with a lifetime of dime-store notebooks. She swings the door shut, only for a water pipe to later burst and saturate them all, wiping out her words forever. 

I took this cautionary tale to heart and purchased three stackable tubs from the Reject Shop. The Store N Stack Rollerbox Clear 120L tubs have a secure, waterproof lid and are marketed as a ‘big, cheap 120 litre storage box for all your valuables on wheels’. 

I soon discovered two downsides to the tubs. First, a stack of three clear tubs full of diaries makes the corner of your lounge room an eyesore, even when you drape them in a natty piece of fabric. Second, when loaded to the brim with imitation leather-bound Moleskines, the tubs’ handles tend to snap off when you lift them, rendering them much less transportable and creating a viciously sharp serrated-plastic safety hazard to boot. 

So, I upped the ante and bought a blue metal filing cabinet from an office supplies resale shop. It was heavier than it looked. Much heavier, in fact. As my partner and I struggled to shift this eighty-kilogram leviathan into a corner of our bedroom, I began to interrogate my need for the notebooks. 

WHAT WAS IN the tubs that was worth saving, anyway? The journals had already done their job by helping me process my emotions and, perhaps, become a better writer. Really, I could just chuck them out. But as I transferred them into the filing cabinet, my heart rate returning to normal, I began referring to my new storage system as ‘the Elkin Archive’. In a move that was only somewhat facetious, I allowed myself to imagine, against all reasonable belief, that someday a plucky grad student might want to access my precious archive and learn the secrets of my literary success. 

The only catch is that I’m not successful. 

Apart from a few short articles published online or in niche literary journals, I am entirely unknown and unremarkable. So am I mad to think that any of these endless diary entries are worth saving? Or does keeping them show that I possess the necessary delusional self-belief to one day transform into that literary unicorn: a successful Australian writer? 

Or maybe I am just a hoarder, who has now added an eighty-kilogram deadweight to their growing pile of detritus – yet another inconvenient thing for a family member to haul into a skip when I shuffle off this mortal coil. 

Even if I do manage to publish a book or three, it is difficult to imagine these theoretical grad students of the future. There won’t be any arts graduates left to pick over my weepy, emotional refuse if the price of arts degrees keeps skyrocketing every year. There mightn’t even be a habitable planet left to provide shelter for these young historians as they uncover the hidden recesses of my mind. Mightn’t they be consumed by more pressing matters, like finding food, arable land or the last drops of potable water? 

Or perhaps it will be helpful for these non-graduates to know how frightened we were of the hazy, smoke-tinged future world into which they’ll be born. They might be comforted to know that we could see which way the wind was headed as we continued to spend, accumulate and agonise over our personal legacies. 

Since its installation, I’ve found no reason at all to consult my archive. What was once an eyesore taking up precious real estate has somehow dissolved into the background. Just another surface to chuck my things on. As my archive has become, literally, part of the furniture, so too has my hidden sense of impending doom. Reply to emails. Pick up dinner. No future. No worries. 

If the Elkin Archive is fated to fail in its mission, perhaps it may still serve a purpose. It can end its days as kindling for those would-be students, a catalyst of light and heat as the world inevitably burns. Until then, my silly hopes and dreams are safely tucked away out of sight, out of mind. Too big to tackle, and easily ignored. 

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