I have a drawer stuffed to overflowing, as full as a drawer can be. Papers get stuck behind it, lodged in the sliding-gear of my dresser. However, I can always stuff in a few more sheets. Notes or “flow paper,” speedily jotted down by competitors in a debate round, is normally tossed when the tournament ends. These sheets of loose paper, color-coded and ubiquitous, are so common at tournaments that they become invisible– crumpled on the ground, stacked carelessly on a classroom desk. I keep my flow sheets as trophies. I’ve got hundreds. Some I hope to remember; some I probably should repress. What’s important to me is that they’re not forgotten.
Debate is a game. It’s a race to see who can make the better arguments first. Each round is an exercise of the mind; ideas, like buckshot, are thrown at a judge at the back of the room. I make sure each of those shots, no matter how awry, makes its mark on my page. My flows are my records of what we said, what was done, and the result. They’re scorecards: metrics by which to measure myself. My notes catalogue the arguments. Current events and geopolitics are tracked through this mess of paper and pen. My trips to Nate Silver’s Blog, fivethirtyeight, for both pleasure and for evidence, are immortalized. Like a diary, my flows also record friendships and partnerships. They’re snippets of my life: of triumph, of heartbreak, of crippling hunger. When I read my old flow papers, I see our competitors, I remember our moods, I roll my eyes at our mistakes, and I approve of our tricky logic. I remember the flavor of the world on that day, a day that matters enough to be saved.