Burn This: On Keeping an Archive

What's in the box?! Photo by Ante Hamersmit.

I went to my safe deposit box in search of a backup hard drive that contained material I needed to share with a business associate. I turned the key and I pulled the box from the wall. Inside? Redundant copies of some legal papers and an allegedly rare Star Wars action figure with a snaggle-toothed grin—so happy he was to be liberated from this high-security sarcophagus.

I had never bothered to stash the hard drive in the box as planned. Instead, I found it under my desk, under a sheaf of unfiled, “important” papers. This baleful state of affairs is not unique to me; this is the way of the world, particularly when it comes to the fate of our cultural artifacts and, you know, the end of the world.

Attempts have been made. There are salt mines in Hutchinson, KS, where reels of studio-made celluloid are stowed in perfect atmospheric conditions. It’s a seed bank of cinema and it’s comforting to think that when the planet finally explodes, at least a few frames of Casablanca might someday rain upon another celestial body (“We will always have Venus”).

A Noah’s Ark chock-a-block with all of our art rocketed off this crowded little heat trap appeals to me. I’m sure I have some extraterrestrial colleagues that would get a kick out of what’s happened since Roswell. Otherwise, they’ve only had our broadcast TV waves, and those take a while to reach deep space. We’ve basically been sending Nick at Nite reruns into space. That and the Arecibo message make early Atari look like Da Vinci. 

I often think of the Voyager-1 satellite leaving our solar system as its 12-inch Golden Record crammed with Earth’s greatest hits played Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark is the Night.” Good for Blind Willie. I know I have no purchase on posterity. A wiser person might dwell on the evanescent ever-present and not the far-off future, but that’s not me. Instead, I embrace the inevitable bonfire of my vanities. And everyone else’s too. Destroy the evidence while we can because, frankly, our story has never been that great. You can’t paper over what we’ve done to each other and our world with Hamlet. So, let it burn.

Prior to the advent of fire season, I would recommend tearing out this page, folding it into a paper airplane, and flicking your Bic to really send a message. But times have (climate) changed, so instead, fold one sheet into a paper hat and roll another into a “telescope” so you can peer into the starry heavens and let’s hope the future both forgives and forget us.

Originally published here.

By Daedalus Howell

Daedalus Howell is the writer-director of the films Pill Head (on Amazon) and the upcoming Wolf Story. He is the author, most recently, of the novel "Quantum Deadline" and editor of The North Bay Bohemian and The Pacific Sun. Learn how he went from small-town newspaperman to a feature film director here.

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