I have arrived in Blarg City. In
fact, I arrived a couple of days ago. I
haven’t started working yet – that comes Monday – but that’s okay. What I have been doing is staying at the home
of a good friend here.
Friend and I met when I was a mere slip of a grad student,
not even ABD yet. I was here in Blarg
City doing pre-dissertation scouting research.
We met when a group of grad students from here, also working in the
archives, came over to my table one day and announced, “It’s coffee time. Join
us.” Of course I did.
Then, a few days later, he saved my life.
Okay, well not precisely my life. But close enough, for
a grad student. And now I’m going to
tell my version of the story that just about every medievalist (and many people
doing archival work in other fields) has.
You see, about a week after we met, I ordered up my first document
register. Exciting! And they plunked three volumes of records
from the fourteenth century down in front of me: More exciting! And then opened the first one, and realized
that, despite my training in paleography, I couldn’t read it. Not at all.
So I opened the next register. Same thing.
By the time I got to the third one, I felt the tears welling
up in my eyes, and excused myself to go out into the lobby where the coffee
machine was. Alone this time, I got a
coffee and sat there, contemplating my future.
I would have to go back home and figure out something else to do,
because I sure as hell couldn’t do this.
So I put the registers on reserve and went back to my apartment.
The next day, I went back to the archive and began to
attempt a transcription. It was awful.
And at coffee break that day, Friend (who really needs a pseudonym)
asked me what was up. And I told him.
And he had me pick up a register and the transcription I had
attempted and head to a private reading room with him. And he looked at the register while I read my
transcription, and stopped me and corrected me every time I was wrong, showing
me exactly why the letter or word in question was something different than I
had thought it was. And I made what I can only describe as sketches of the
letters and ligatures as we went along, for about an hour. Then he went back to his work, and I went
back to mine. And then we did the same
thing again the next day. And the
next. For a week and a half, he took an
hour a day away from his own research.
And my sketchbook grew, to the point where I could use it to work
through the documents more or less on my own.
Since then, his family has adopted me. His mother refers to me as her “American
daughter.” And I’m staying in a room in their house for the first few days,
while I get my legs under me.
And tonight, Friend and I went out to see the Midsummer’s Eve
celebrations (see below). He and I have
both been through some major changes over the past 14 years or so since we
met. And sometimes we argue. But it’s one of those lifelong friendships,
and it all started out with an act of generosity in the archives, one that I
hope to repay, if not to him, then to some other young researcher at the point
Happy Midsummer’s Eve, everyone.
 Please note: this is the single most important thing you can do. No matter how discouraged you are: go back to the archive the next day. And know that this, too, shall pass.