Why You Need A Personal Archive And How To Start One

Your job is not your identity. Whatever you consume doesn’t solely define you. It’s ok to not fit in  pigeonholes, occasionally feel the need to scream phoenix, and to be a fine-enough cuckoo who sings as you fly. 

We’re not a gray race trapped in a black and white world. We’ve got a lot more nuance. Now, capturing our own nuance – and building a personal archive to document how wonderfully weird we are – is a radical exercise in accepting all the ways we perfectly never quite all the way fit into the world. 

It’s disorienting at first. To never fit in. To always feel on the outside. Behind or ahead. Lost or stranded. 

But there’s a million touchpoints. Connections. Instead of being fully insulated and grounded, we can be everywhere (poetically assuming we’ve found ground inside of ourselves first). 

What’s a personal archive and how does it make you more connected? 

First, it’s not a library. A library is a collection of published works. “Published” is a loose term here, but I’ll suggest everyone already is building libraries. My library is all forms of books and music and random internet stuff. Yours might be TikToks and those weird big-headed dolls in boxes you never open. My dog is way into cat toys. 

Libraries are things other people made, shared with the world in some way, that you’ve liked and collected. In some way. No, in any way. We live in the future. And future is amazing

An archive works alongside a library. 

What’s the who, what, when, where, and why of each entry in your library? More importantly, how did you feel about each? How would you like to be reminded of your initial and/or subsequent reactions with each? 

These notes, which don’t even need to be shared, are your archive.

But Matt, it sounds like a journal – or worse, a blog. 

That’s because these are both examples of personal archives. So you’re not wrong. I’m not inventing a new idea here, I’m trying to reframe a very old one with a specific point:

If you collect a library, and then collect your responses to the library’s items in a personal archive, you can search, share, and connect entries at your leisure. 

At. Your. Leisure. 

The act of creating the archive adds an extra layer of personal thoughts and feelings, with no direct purpose of being formally published, that you can leisurely search. 

Business presentation? How about a novel idea from your archive? 

Share a lesson with the kiddos? How about a novel idea from your archive?

Learned a lesson from the young turks at work? How about a new entry in the archive? 

When we connect the content we consume to how we feel about it in a searchable, memoralized way, we connect all the things in the world with all the worlds inside our hearts, minds, and souls.

A personal archive is a means for staying connected with the world and ourselves at the same time. 

Personal archives are a means of realizing others are connected with the world and themselves at the same time. 

Personal archives are a means of embracing the world of different cultures and the precious independence of individuality at the same time. 

Cultish Creative is a personal archive. It’s the most valuable thing I do. It helps me organize my library with myself as Dewey Decimal. It helps me appreciate the vastness of other’s experiences and explain why I’ll never understand some of them. Building it, which is a constant act, reaffirms my connection and independence in, life. 

I sing the body electric relaxation. 

I promised to tell you how to start. I don’t have a course to sell you. I only can share what I do. 

  1. Make notes somewhere you can easily make them and later find them. I use the notes app on my phone. Go old school with a moleskin notebook, go new school with notion – just start the habit of making notes you aren’t constantly losing. 
  2. Pick an interval to regularly review the notes you’ve made in some past period. I’ve found looking back once a week is my best cadence. Longer than a week and I can’t remember what I was jotting down sometimes, and shorter than a week gets overwhelming, especially if I haven’t made any notes (rare, but it happens). “Oh yeah, that was so cool” is an amazing feeling to revisit.  
  3. In the review process, pick a note (or notes) to memorialize. What’s a response to the library item you made the note about you’d like to be able to remember or search for or share in the future? You can write 2 sentences or 200 pages, but this is your archival entry. 
  4. Store your archive somewhere you can search it. I built my website on WordPress. There’s a million other options and it’s up to you if you want to make newsletters or monetize it in any way – but the point is you need to make it searchable to be a true archive. 
  5. (Re)Connect with the world. This is the most important step. You don’t need to go on the internet and spam people with your stuff, but you’ve taken a library idea from the world, jotted down your personal feelings or responses, archived them, and now – you beautiful person you – go out to both share your connections with other people who appreciate the library entries, AND find new library entries to add and archive thoughts about.

We’re all weird and we’re all wonderful. We’re all connected even when we feel totally disconnected. The better we understand the weird wonderfulness inside of ourselves, the better we can find fresh points of weirdly wonderful connections with others. 

There’s no pressure to write a library. You don’t need to sell any books or become an insanely popular content creator. Chill – with Netflix, KRS, or The Birth of the Cool. Just be a human first. Be an observer. Be a feeler. Be yourself. 

Make the note, set it aside, and memorialize it later. Share it directly, if it suits you. If it doesn’t, use what you’ve got in your archive to connect with others and we’ll let this be our little secret. 

It’s a big, angry world out there. There are lots of competing identity libraries. Personal archives accomplish what they can’t – they capture our unique search for meaning and connection.

Go forth and take notes.

Need help getting started with your own personal archive? Get in touch. I’d love to help. 

*this post also appeared on Epsilon Theory*

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