I’ve been doing my regular freelance newspaper work, plus newsletter and magazine writing gigs as they come up. Occasionally, I’ll get people asking me when I’m going to write the next book, but that’s not on the horizon. Not the immediate horizon, anyway.
My huge, time-consuming project lately has been working on the unpaid* (more about that below) internship portion of the CSU, East Bay certificate program in Art Museum and Gallery Studies.
This quarter, I took notes from videos and films that were archived at the Strathearn Historical Park & Museum in Simi Valley, where I live.
Thanks to the intrepid (also very cool and awesome) park coordinator who applied for and received a grant, a number of films and videos were digitized and put on an external hard drive. Most of the videos, which started out in 1980s VHS format, were oral histories from members of pioneer families. These “old-timers” shared their earliest memories of life in Simi Valley, from picking apricots to riding to school in a surrey to performing in amateur operettas at the community center to plowing through an angry farmer's haystacks in a Ford Model A to... you get the idea.
I took the drive home, plugged it into my laptop and watched all the films and videos, while taking notes in MS Word on my desktop. Some of these films were three hours, and took me all day to look at, mostly due to sound issues (the videos’ and my failing hearing—thank you, 1970s punk rock concerts). I'd have to start and stop and restart and stop and listen carefully, over and over. I wrote down what was on the tapes—usually general things, but some transcription, including what I felt were useable quotes, should the museum ever decide to do a compilation of the area’s history in a modern video.
Here's the deal: I live in a very stereotypical Southern California suburb. Seriously. We now have three Walmarts and a population of about 127,000. I moved here in 1988 when there were no Walmarts and fewer than 100,000 people and I was pregnant with my first child. Yeah, it was different then, but it’s an understatement to say Simi Valley was a lot different a century ago, when there were mostly farms and ranches in the area and no tract houses or strip malls. I heard one early resident say there were 5,000 people living in Simi Valley when she was here in the 1920s.
So, what did I get out of this?
An enormous education about Simi Valley history.
A huge curiosity about my surroundings. For instance, my house is where Patterson Ranch used to be. I wonder if the avocado tree in my back yard and the walnut tree in my neighbors’ were part of that ranch.
An understanding as to why the folks who grew up here in the 1910s and ‘20s were so unhappy (on those VHS tapes) about the city’s “progress” in the 1980s.
A profound sadness. Yeah, it’s the circle of life and all, but most of the people on the tapes are gone and that makes me sad. I can't help it.
Gratitude. I’m happy these tapes were made and you can figure out why. I don’t have to tell you.
This was the best *unpaid job I ever had because it paid so very well.