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20.2.03

Folks at The Scarlet want to repaint our walls. The office is filled with graffiti from past editors, who signed their names, jotted their favorite phrases or bragged about great issues (such as a 4000-word sports story), and even drew little cartoons. Most of them are people nobody on staff now remembers. Their slogans don't mean much to us -- though there is a strong consensus to keep the message written in gold paint at eye level in one room, which says "This is the price you pay for the life you choose."

I can sympathize with the desire to clear out all the clutter. I remember many times looking at the random stuff tacked to the Maroon-News bulletin boards -- Chris Pingpank's editor application, a brochure from Beta with glasses and moustaches drawn on the guys, a top ten list from Holy Cross's paper -- and wondering if I should get rid of it, since it didn't mean anything to anyone anymore. We could keep the few things whose meaning was independant of personal associations, like the crank letters from Ed O'Donnell and the printouts from ancient websites about parallel structure, and perhaps begin to fill the boards with things that reflected my class. The old stuff was nice when I first arrived, because it felt like I was entering an organization that had a history and a thick attachment to the place. But after a while I wanted to make the office more our place, something that I made meaningful for myself rather than just inheriting from past people who had some deeper connection to it (though of course that deeper connection could be largely an illusion, an effect of our tendency to collapse the past into a single time period, not realizing the years that separated the class of '92 from the class of '97).

Last year, though, my attitude started to shift. Marty put up some posters explaining how to properly process photos for the paper so that they would look nice in print. I added a sample photo to each one -- Steve Marsi saying "I'm not going to lie to you -- I'm printed properly." And it struck me that within a few years, nobody would be around who remembered Marsi and could hear him saying "I'm not going to lie to you" all night. The photo directions might last because of their utilitarian value, but they would be as meaningless to future editors as the soul records tacked to the board are to me. It was frightening in a way to think of my connections to the place -- embodied in the marks they left on the built environment -- expunged by the next wave of people wanting to make their own fresh connections to the place. At best, the marks I leave would be reinterpreted by new classes. They may come to know and love the back room as "The Stentor Danielson Room of Doom" (as proclaimed by a sign Joe posted above the door), but they're more likely to love it for the mystery of the name than for the memories of Joe Brazauskas proclaiming the room's identity. Even if the Maroon-News had a strong enough culture to really pass down traditions (like I imagine fraternities have), it would be hard for the meaning to remain the same with the high rate of turnover that colleges experience.

Which brings us back to the Scarlet and its graffiti. It seems wrong somehow to erase the record of experience left by past editors. I think it's partly the archaeologist in me, who revels in the hints of the past carried by the markings left, purposefully or inadvertantly, on people's material surroundings. Though I can't know what experience of the office was behind Ty Poe's signature on the ceiling, I can see enough to know that there was something there. And it's nice to feel that I'm in a place with a past, that my feelings about the place are building on what others have seen before me and inscribed as they passed through.

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