Sunday, June 17, 2012

Two Jobs and a Day Off

MY supervisor in the Media Archive is leaving Friday, five days after I arrive. One of those days is my arrival, one is her departure, and one is Stop Day. That leaves only two days for training.

The Archivist takes me to the physical storage site for the Audio Archive. It's in a sort of balcony area above the gymnasium; the building, known as the "VC" or Village Center, is unheated in winter, and we approach across a daunting sheet of ice in a poorly drained entryway. The archive is two lengthy rows of stacked cardboard boxes, carefully labeled with batch numbers, filled with cassettes of lectures from the past several decades. There are also some CDs and some reel-to-reel recordings, but those have already been digitized. My project is cassettes from 1976.

We lug a couple of boxes up to the Media Archive office, a small room at one end of the attic of the building known as the Hotel. With electricity limited in winter months, this may be the only room in the entire village that is allowed to run a space heater. The Archivist shows me how to sort out the contents of the boxes for processing; her detailed systems are designed to provide consistency no matter how many people are working on the project at once. She dreams of pushing it forward quickly by taking on three or four full-time volunteers at once. But there are always more urgent matters demanding staff time, and due to housing limitations, the Media Archive project is always put on hold for the summer. At this rate, with one assistant working on it half-time spring through fall, plus the Archivist's work when she's in the village periodically, it will take years. So, don't worry about finishing a certain amount, I'm told. Just do as much as you can.

The assistant I'm replacing is here right now, but will be leaving the same day as the Archivist. She balances the Archivist's lengthy, rambling explanations with remarks that are simple and to-the-point. I like them both very much: quirky, brainy women, critical thinkers, both sharp and blunt. I wish I could keep them around, but ultimately I know I'll learn quicker if I have to figure some of it out for myself... and if I get stuck, help is only an e-mail away.

The Archivist teaches me how to copy the cassette to an audio file. There's no rushing this part of the process; the cassette has to play all the way through, at normal speed. At least there are enough workstations that we can have several going at once.

Next I learn how to edit the audio file in Audacity. The Archivist and the Assistant teach me how to use the features they've mastered: Amplify, Fade In/Out, Noise Removal, etc. Later, on my own, I discover the Leveller function, which amplifies the quietest noises and deamplifies the loudest; it quickly becomes my favorite fix-everything tool.

In a couple of months, the Archivist will come back and take physical copies of the files I've edited outside the village, so she can upload them to the internet. She has to carry them out on hard drives, because the internet connection in the village lacks the bandwidth to allow her to upload them here.

It takes time for me to learn to visually scan the squiggly line on the Audacity display and see which irregularities indicate that something needs adjusting, but once I've got the hang of it, I don't need to listen to the entire lecture. I can zero in on that cough or door-slam, that segment of background buzz or the sudden drop in recording level, and see if I can fix it. (Sometimes I can't, but mostly I can.) The ones that give me fits are the group discussions; every person in the room is speaking at a different volume level, and typically someone mumbling in the back row will go on and on for minutes, often in dialogue with the speaker, who has a microphone and is plenty loud. Sometimes it's hard to know how nitpicky to get with these things, but I try to imagine listening to it on a car stereo, or in earbuds while jogging, and twiddle accordingly.

I pick up some interesting tidbits here and there, glimpses of village life in 1976. In one discussion, titled "What Should Ford and Carter Debate?" I learn that Americans were kicking around a lot of the same political issues then as now, from health care reforms to overreliance on the automobile. Another discussion gets sidelined by a woman grousing about guests eating peanut butter sandwiches at mealtimes, when the kitchen has gone to such lengths to prepare a proper meal. "Oh, come on," mutters someone near the microphone, which makes me laugh out loud. Perhaps the most fun is the Bicentennial Fourth of July celebration, full of songs and joyous proclamations. On July 4, 1976, they announced the acquisition of a new "bombardier" (snow cat) and then tried to fit as many villagers into it as possible. I don't know how they managed it, but they got well into the 30s. To give you some idea of the absurdity of this endeavor, here's a photo of a bombardier (perhaps even the same one 30-odd people crammed into in '76).

Once my two days of training with the Archivist and her assistant are up, it's time to get to know my other workplace, the Craft Cave.

The first thing you see when you walk into the Craft Cave is looms: floor looms, table looms, inkle looms, big looms and tiny looms. Weaving gets the spotlight here, but there are roomfuls of other crafting tools and supplies.  Fiber arts are popular at Holden, especially in winter, so the place is well stocked for the knitter and crocheter.  There are beads and craft felt, paper plain and fancy, crayons and oil paints, basket reeds and egg dyes. The Craft Cave has it all; my biggest challenge over the next three months is typically just figuring out where everything is. It's not that the place is poorly organized, it's just that there's so much.

The coolest thing about the Craft Cave is that guests and staff alike can use anything in it for the cost of materials. There's no profit here, no charge for lessons, no fee for transporting supplies to this remote location. Just materials, at more or less what the village paid for them. This is truly remarkable, considering what you'd pay for a comparable class or access to equipment like this elsewhere.

The Craft Cave is so called because of its location in the half-subterranean level of a central building; its name is particularly apt at this time of year, when its exterior windows are buried in snow. The gloomy fluorescent lighting is mitigated somewhat by a flock of full-spectrum lamps, which allow you to actually see what color you're looking at.  The only natural light is second-hand, filtering through a bank of windows looking into the Ceramics Studio next door. The Ceramics Studio, or "Pot Shop," has enough high windows on the far exterior wall (which faces south) that it actually gets a fair dose of sunlight, when there is sunlight to be had.  On bright days, a bit of that reaches the Craft Cave.

When things are slow in the Craft Cave, I sometimes drop in on the Pot Shop to see what the Potter is up to. He can generally be found working on something interesting, and when I pester him with questions, his answers are generally interesting too. When I discover that my Sansa MP3 player won't play on the Craft Cave's iPod dock, he makes me a deal: I loan him my MP3 player, which is full of music that isn't on the Pot Shop's heavily scratched and overplayed collection of CDs, and he plays it on the Pot Shop sound system, loud enough that I can enjoy it from the Craft Cave next door. New music, I learn, is highly valued here, because the village's internet connection is too poor to allow for streaming or downloads.

On my first day in the Craft Cave, the Craft Coordinator, newly returned from a trip "out" (of the village), gives me a brief tour of the place and teaches me how to give instruction on using the looms. Actually using one myself will come later; for now, it's more important that I be able to show someone else how to use them.

There's a women's retreat scheduled for this weekend, and so the Craftinator gets right to work preparing for classes she will be offering. She's teaching classes in candlemaking and scherenschnitte. She wants me to learn scherenschnitte too, so I can teach it myself at some point. This means I get to spend a good portion of my day playing with pretty paper, teeny scissors, and X-Acto knives. I think I did some scherenschnitte once in eighth grade, but I'd forgotten pretty much everything about it, including how fun it is. I become completely absorbed in this "work," and am sort of incredulous that I get to do it on the clock.

The girl-on-a-bicycle design is from

The clock lets you get away with a lot, around here. No matter what time your workday begins, everyone gets a generous coffee break mid-morning, when there is always some freshly made treat from the kitchen. Then, if there's a bus leaving (sometimes at coffee break, sometimes at lunch), staff are expected to stand outside, say their goodbyes, and wave until the bus vanishes around the corner of the road. If there's a bus arriving, staff are expected to stand by to welcome the arriving guests. Often there's a chunk of time between bus departure and arrival that's too short to get anything done, so staff will just stand around chatting until the bus shows up. Not all staff make it to every bus arrival and departure (no one takes attendance or anything), but the idea is that if you can spare the time, you should. After all, what are you doing that's so much more important than making people feel welcome?

Down in the Craft Cave, it's easy to lose track of time, because you can't hear the bell that rings to announce breaks and meals. But the Craftinator urges me to remember to take breaks, and is in general very protective of my time, which I greatly appreciate. It doesn't take long for me to appreciate many things about her, from her loud, outrageous laugh to her well-considered advice on tricky interpersonal situations. It doesn't hurt that she is really fun to work with. (Sadly, we don't get to work together often; most of the time when I work in the Craft Cave, I'm covering her days off and vacation. In winter, the Craft Cave doesn't usually get enough traffic to require more than one staffer at a time.)

I also appreciate (and am somewhat terrified by) the Craftinator's ability to fly by the seat of her pants when teaching a class. She's never made candles before, yet she's winging the candle-making class this weekend, with only one defective test batch under her belt. To me it seems like there are a dozen different things that could go terribly wrong, but none of them do; the class is a complete success.

The retreat brings in about 20 women, who make the dining hall feel strangely crowded (I know it's nothing like the summer crowd, but it's the most people I've seen here yet). Their schedule is pretty full: in addition to those craft classes, they have a couple of guest lecturers, and a professional chocolatier who teaches classes in truffle-making that result in delicious treats for everyone. (Oh, that creme brulee truffle...!) And then they leave, and the place seems strangely vacant. Only then do I finally get a day off, my first since Stop Day.

I've felt my fatigue growing over the past week: not so much a physical weariness as a need to give in to my introverted tendencies, a craving for a sizeable block of time all to myself. There's so much going on all the time here, even in the evenings, what with Vespers and other optional-but-interesting activities. I get asked how I'm doing a lot that first week, and I always say "Great!" which is absolutely true. I don't say "tired and overstimulated," but this is also true. I've been really quiet at meals, and in the spaces between events, have found myself gravitating toward the jigsaw puzzles in the dining hall -- a means of turning inward without checking out of social interaction entirely. Sometimes people join me at the puzzle table, but mostly in ones and twos, and conversation tends to be intermittent: jigsaw puzzlers are an introverted bunch, on the whole.

So Monday's break is much needed. I use the time for resting, settling in, taking care of myself in numerous small ways. I take a long hot shower, do laundry, run small errands, do some minor decorating in my room. I clean some dusty milk crates I found in Potty Patrol and set them up in my closet as shelving, and I'm quite pleased with the result. It just might be the best-organized closet I've ever had.

I finish unpacking and putting things away in their new homes, and I can't believe how good that feels; I realize with some amazement that this is the first time I've fully unpacked (except to repack) since I left Portland over five months ago.  But I'm planning to be here for two months, the longest I've spent in one place since my journey began, so unpacking finally makes sense.  Two months of non-travel seems like a luxurious length of time, room to really stretch out in, and it occurs to me that maybe I've been needing this, that maybe I should be scheduling occasional longer stays into my nomadic lifestyle.


  1. LOVE your updates. I grew up Lutheran and have only heard of Holden Village. Your descriptions help me picture this special remote place. As a fellow introvert, I so identify with many of your stories, and I am so grateful to read how self care is important to that renewal can actually happen and not be some far off ideal. Keep it up!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Susan! I hope you get to visit Holden someday -- I bet you'd love it.