There’s a scene in the movie, Brazil, where Tuttle enters a tower-lined city street scape while swirling papers blown by the wind begin to stick to his face, his torso, his legs. He squirms and tries, arms flailing in futility, to free himself from the onslaught, page upon page trapping him until he disappears into a spiraling pile of paper on the concrete. It’s labelled “Tuttle’s Demise” on YouTube.
This scene is the expression of the overwhelming demand for documentation, for papers of proof, each page an attempt to save or record, each collaborative meeting ending with echoes of “let’s create a spreadsheet”. This visual metaphor has haunted me.
I should probably be clear that I’m not against documentation; in fact, I’m doing this right here and I keep talking about the challenges of my own pedagogical documentation – sorry – I’m sure this must be annoying if you’ve already heard me talk or write about this, but I’m struggling – like Tuttle.
I probably shouldn’t be, but am still surprized by the mountains of paper, physical and virtual mainifestations, which multiply and seem to regenerate like a virus. My desk at work has stacks of paper, my gmail is at 1,910 unread messages, including invites to Google Classrooms, and Google Spaces, to spreadsheets and folders and documents and my drive is running on fumes – both drives: the Google one and my own. With every receipt, every form of paper, every attempt to control processes, the existence of paper expands in the dance of my universe – “metric expansion”.
Today, I knew that I needed to pause (and breathe), observe, and wait for that panicked feeling to pass, reminding myself that I am working with humans and not paper and not technology. I wondered if any of this physical and virtual paper has acutally helped my classroom practice. I thought about the lines of Scott Hutchison “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to Earth.”
I wrote this line on my phone in the notes while listening to an episode on Hanif Abdurraquib’s podcast Object of Sound. I love Hanif’s voice as a host and even with the difficult content of this episode, the sounds soothed me as I feverishly recorded lines on my phone to log the memory of the listening experience. “We have no control over the way people respond to what we put out in the world” and eventually “your work becomes you”.
Then I wrote down “I’m working on my faults and cracks” and “we all write alone and all of those voices in your head, the creeping self-doubt comes out when we’re writing alone”. I’m still trying to figure this paper thing out, but maybe, just maybe, paper is a way to hold experiences and if the paper swallows me like Tuttle, then I’m spending too much time documenting and not enough time listening.