The Chicory Metadata project looks to digitize a magazine of poetry, prose, street chatter, and art, published from 1966-1982 in Baltimore, MD. According to the project’s website, it was “written by residents of the poorest neighborhoods of Baltimore, is an atlas of the thoughts, desires, politics, and concerns of people who are often left out of the historical narrative”. My work on the project focused on a particular issue published March, 1980. This specific issue focused on the students of Carver Vocational Technical High School. Officially, my role was to upload the pages of the magazine onto the archive. This was followed by entering basic descriptions of the work. All work was either drawings or poems. Information entered includes name, date and something about the work. For example, anyone searching the database would be able to tell you that a certain Sherial Felder had written a poem titled “Dad” which was about the author’s yearning to connect to her absent father.
Something happened to me while entering in the data of these nondescript Baltimore high school students circa late winter, 1980. I felt like I deserved to know more about them. For example, who was Sherial Felder, and did she ever find her way in the world? Armed with the investigation tools of my generation (google and facebook) I ran through some searches. My searches on the previous 4 students I had entered into the database had come up short. Shirley Young and Harold Walker were dead ends. I think I was able to track down a photo of Karen Hodges, author of such poems as “Me”, but it seemed rather unlikely a match due to the age of the specimen.
I really wanted my Sherial Felder searches to come up with something more. Her poem was good, at least in terms of evoking emotion. At the time the poem was written, I imagined Sherial to be a bright eyed, introverted student coming to terms of who she is, and why she exhibits certain behaviors. For example, she likes to drink coffee and cry over old movies like her mom. But Sherial can not place everything, such as her love of walking through grass barefoot. Sherial hopes that she could connect with an absentee father, she knows only from “distant memories and references”. The poem makes me want to know how Sherial turned out. The last line reads “Would you be proud of me? Dad?”
Facebook gave me a couple of hits on Sherial Felder. The most promising one was a Director of Wellness at some institute. I guess I wanted this one to be my Sherial. Surely Dad would be proud of a director! And not just any ordinary director, but one that directs wellness. On second glance, I noticed that Facebook had autocorrected Sherial to Cheryl. In addition, the profile listed this Cheryl’s hometown as someplace in Virginia. Maybe Sherial was trying to cover up her tracks, knowing years later her teenage emotional angst poems would catch up with her, putting her career in wellness in jeopardy. Alas, the truth is usually much simpler than this. This was not the Sherial I was looking for.
Was this all for the best? Sherial privacy was probably more important than my closure and putting a face on the historical record. Though Chicory was a publication, it was from an era unlike the present. It was a time when words stayed on the pages from which they were printed on. How would she feel being confronted with her teenage self. Over the weekend at a concert, Bruce Springsteen was cornered by the audience to sing a song he had written when he was a young man. Now all grown up, collecting social security, you could feel the awkwardness of being identified with some of the more testosterone driven lyrics. Springsteen’s reaction seemed to say “Come on guys, I have three kids now. My mom is in the audience. My wife is with me here on stage. I take viagra now”. His solution was to hold the mic up to the crowd and have them sing the lines toughest to get out. Why would I want to put my sweet Sherial through that same soical discomfort.
I began to question what I would even get out of all of this. I was not hired to answer the questions I was proposing, just to enter in data. I continued down the list and promised myself I would not get involved in anyone else’s life from the contributors of Chicory. For me, they will stay data.