Mary Voorhees Meehan

Docent Orientation

  • I am very obsessed with this idea of docent orientation. It started in Scottsdale, during prep for the docent orientation at the museum. We kept being warned that the docents needed to be wrangled, shepherded, corralled. That we would need to keep them from asking questions until the end. That we would need to distill our thoughts into succinct points. That we should emphasize three main ideas that they could impart to visitors. Previously, I had not been worried about visitors being told anything. Now, asked to conjure three take-aways—only three!—that visitors should walk away with, I was panic-striken. What should I pick? How should we tell them? A lot of "the idea" would be in the telling. What turns of phrase would lend themselves to our feelings about this ship we'd made? What would they remember? 

    At the orientation, as we'd been told, there was a large throng of women, many in matching suits, some with lawn chairs, some with pointed expressions. They leaned in, genuinely inquisitive, though perhaps lacking in expectation. Carolyn, a diminutive name-tagged older woman in the museum's employ walked around with what looked like a giant black flashlight—the speaker for our microphone—stayed with a shoulder strap, balanced on her hip. She had to stand near enough to the mic for the speaker to receive it's signal, but far enough away so as not to create feedback. 

    We stood in a line, passing the mic to and from one another, thinking of the things we'd thought to say the day before and saying them in a less expressive way, getting lost in the hopelessness of saying all we really thought and felt. I kept thinking: We are leaving everything in the hands of these women. They are our mediators. They are charged with telling everyone what we think. Do we know what we think? Will it stay the same? Already it felt a bit inaccessible to me. 

    I told them about the lightboxes, about how, in July, we made these lists of things we would take into space, things we'd need to collaborate. Skipping lots of parts, I said that Neil and I ended up making lightboxes, each a stand-in for one supply. I liked seeing these words assigned volume and heft. I liked that they each had the same weight, though some were spaces, some small tools, some beverages, some abstract ideas. Something funny happened with the objecty-ness of them. I said something about volume and heft being important. I was also thinking about Barthe's Drunken Nautilous—how the spaceship or child's fort (same thing) is really a microcosm of the civilization from whence it hailed. The spaceship of the sci-fi film really isn't about space travel, per se. It is less about the destination and more about outfitting the ride for the journey. I didn't want to bring up Barthes. There really wasn't time and I didn't want to lose people and get literary. It wasn't that kind of a show. I needed a hook, but didn't have one. I did mention the space is like a spaceship-attic—the outside feeling very NASA, the inside feeling very attic-like, and that I liked the idea of a wooden spaceship and the frequent conflation of attic and mind. When you say too much you lose people. They can't remember everything. There isn't space in their attics, I told myself. We—Luke and Jon—talked about the slideshows. I kept feeling like we weren't saying enough. Judd's process, the most inaccessible to me, seemed the most successfully articulated. I fear this is because I still know the least about it. Claire, the curator, stressed that they shouldn't spend time on aliens, that the spaceship was a metaphor. 

    At the end, we fielded questions. A long blonde woman asked about aliens. I loosened my grip on the garden hose only just slightly and let out a thin fine spray. We are interested in the unknown audience, the unknowable audience. At times, we've been our own audience.

    Well, what are you doing December 21, she said?