The work in the Penn Museum Archives never ends. The backlog resists attempts at taming it. The archives is happy to have a number of interns and volunteers who are willing to help organize, catalog, and preserve the documents, drawings, and photographs in the collections. Alyssa Velazquez is one such intern, who is presently reorganizing the storage of the old glass plate negatives. The Museum has at least 30,000 glass plates, in sizes ranging from 3×4 inches to 11×14 inches. Many of these were originally transported into the field, were shot and developed there, and were then brought back to the Museum. Others were taken in the Museum’s photo studio, which was established by at least 1902.
Working with archival materials is not for everyone. Sometimes the tasks are tedious and monotonous. But even then, the old records and the Museum surroundings continue to be fascinating. Here is one such experience, imaginatively elaborated.
Rhonda Byrne possesses a mind that has the ability to transcend pessimism. In an earlier incarnation, it was able to infuse positivity into a physical manifestation that sold 19 million copies worldwide and was telepathically translated into 46 languages. It did in fact create a law of attraction. It was, and is, thought that Mrs. Byrne is neither a scientist nor a mystic. It seems likely to me that she is both. She identified a social question and invented a hypothesis based off of historical research and personal magnetism. Byrne ushered in an era of belief in the strength of the individual to be, to find themselves, their “true selves” through fatalistic self-visualization.
And since this subject has been reported on, adapted into a cinematic documentary, and seriously received, I am no longer worried about being mocked. I am not self-conscious of the statement that I am about to make. Since I am the sole intern within the museum’s photographic archives, it is my burden to convince you.
I stayed in the storage room later than usual that afternoon, and caught sight of an oversized cockroach jumping about the cabinets. He did not see me, and so, I watched him. He would trek painfully over the towers of boxes and throw himself with all his force over adjoining shelves, head downward, legs pulled in tight. He looked like a miniature cannonball and his simulated force was just sufficient to get him to his intended destination. He refused to travel on any part of the floor; he had a great deal of trouble avoiding it. I assumed he knew about the adhesive bug traps. I never saw such a hardworking, determined cockroach in my life. After about an hour of this truly difficult voyage he fell before an anamorphic statue. Similar to the way a cat, at the end of the day, finds comfort in the vicinity of its owner.
Feeling quite grand about my invisibility thus far, I crept closer to the critter’s idol, and overheard one of the most curious conversations I have ever had the privilege to eavesdrop on. I transcribe it here-as close to memory as my feeble mind permits- accompanied with a sketching of the curious characters that have left me awake this night, and I feel certain, many nights to come.
If the secret be to think
Then I have become that which I always knew I should be.
In a past life I was an anthropologist.
I have been returned to dust and dirt in the carapace of a cockroach.
Though I travel in a four-legged shell,
This metamorphosis has given me a new outlook on life.
A roach must look up to see things,
Pictures will inevitably be bigger,
Objects present themselves more forcibly,
My perception is my vantage point.
Thank goodness for friends like you Sebek.
I’ve tried communicating with my fellow antennae crawlers, but they were cockroaches in their past, and remain as such.
They do not wonder or probe.
They die stuck.
I will not get stuck.
Night after night- to you- I will divulge all I learn and know.
I hope you will not become jealous of my mobility,
That you will not make fun of me, because, we are both hybrids.
Won’t you think yourself a pair of working legs?
Not plaster or papyrus.
Reincarnation isn’t for everyone, though.
So, I alone will have to acquaint you with this museum,
When the lights go out,
And the mammals have retreated to their dens.
Packed up with their theories and sense of free will.
I have yet to discover what purpose philosophy serves.
As a cockroach I have no use for it; do you?
Though you still won’t utter a sound (despite me liking you best) I find myself judging your story by your stand.
At the end of a day, what left is there to do, but judge and speculate?
Why just today, I talked to a Mummy.
Following the beaten path I was lead to statues and art.
Stylized spaces free of death.
It was only when I took a wrong enough turn that I found the mortician’s lab.
So eager was I that I leaped onto the chest of the closest sleeping mummy
“Pardon me,” I said, “Do you like being objectified?”
It proved to be a female.
She gaped at me
I thought it might be because I was standing where her heart had been
But all she said was: “ Oh you of little consequence; we couldn’t all be Cleopatra in life. So why not in death?”
In Egypt, her name had been five consonants long, after immigration she had dismantled it to “T.”
She is still waiting for it to catch on.
Despite her loving her luminary eternity, I still recommended to her to not go through the process again.
The next time she died, I strongly suggested that she request to be cremated or composted.
Your silence thus far is not becoming Sobki.
Illusiveness never suited a god.
Particularly, for a Croc who actually knows something about time.
It must be in your blood
Well, I will wait for you to turn your head towards me, and then I will begin.
In the meantime, you must come to call me Ringo.