Releasing Voices

I’ve often thought about what to do with all the printouts of interviews and conversations that I’ve been a part of over the years. IRB always asks us when our data will be destroyed? I always tell them that “As is standard anthropological practice, the data will be kept indefinitely.” We do not “destroy” things that were shared with us. Right? But then, once everything has been digitized, what do we do with the boxes and boxes of paper? We could shred the “data”. But that feels like a violence to the words, the voices, that people so generously shared. Knives ripping through the life of the paper, ink, and meaning. How do we release the voices from the paper and allow them to become the air that first brought them into being? How do we honor the gift that was shared?

So my friends who helped me collect stories, who collected stories of their own, and I secured a firepit at the local beach. We cleansed the pit with sage and a blessing. Then we released the voices from the ink and paper. The voices in Samoan, Tongan, Spanish, English, and Italian whispered to us again, kept us warm, and stirred our memories.