By Jessica Helfand
During the two years I researched my book about scrapbooks, I came across Zelda Fitzgerald's. It had this cacophony of odd, weird, disconnected moments—a review of one of Scott's plays, a picture of Zelda dressed as a clown—which is exactly what her life was. Anne Sexton kept firecrackers in hers. I found her scrapbook in a dusty box at the University of Texas at Austin. I felt as if nobody had ever looked at it.

I travel everywhere with a little notebook, double-stick tape, and a date stamp. That's all you need. A few months ago a giant dragonfly, which had lived for a long time in my studio, dropped down on the table, dead. I was fascinated by its wings; they're so rarely—if ever—not in motion. I taped it into my sketchbook; it resembled a piece of delicate brown lace. I know some people don't trust their ability to express themselves in words, but if they grab something and paste it down in a scrapbook, they can make sense of their life as it changes. The gesture—not just saving something in a box but cementing it into place, saying, "I was here, this happened, here's the date"—that's really what it's all about.

Jessica Helfand is the author of Scrapbooks: An American History.


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