Tuesday, March 10, 2015


I learned somewhat early in my career, but have also always had an innate predisposition for, archiving everything. The good news is, at some point I also learned the value of purging archives now and then, but there are things I keep forever. My journals date to 1981 or so, and there is a cache of pay statements from my dad’s career which goes to his hiring at the university where I spent some good times growing up. Those make for fascinating financial forensics or history – and, indeed, though it’s incomplete and incoherent, I’ve got similar documentation from my own hundred and fifty or so jobs past and present.

At some point within the past several months, I even came across the wooden pencil box my dad made for me when I was a kid. He built it on the same specs as the paperboard ones all my friends had – long enough for pencils and a ruler, and later on for compass and protractor. He made it when I was young enough that the inside of it is entirely coated in crayon markings, the test palette for coloring I did before I went off to grade school. Inside this box, still redolent of ancient crayon wax, is the folded archive of notebook papers of notes sent between my friends and I in high school, for which I promised to be the official recordkeeper.

One can hardly say I fell short in my duties. Some of the notes are still folded into the triangular “footballs” we used to play with, or the little rectangles with pull tabs with which it was once de regeur to fold notes in class. I haven’t looked at these in thirty years, but I did put the box away. Somewhere safe. One shudders to think what may be made of my various gripes and crushes, as shared at age fourteen, once I am dead and some poor sot gets the job of fire-bombing disposing of my possessions. By then, I expect it will be a stranger or two clearing my house for sale; this isn’t so much sad to me as it is queer (in the sense we once used, before that word took such a trip through disparagement-land and back and probably back again.

I do contemplate from time to time what to do with the journals (also neglected now for a couple decades at least). The boys I liked in 1985 or dreams of kisses never shared are perhaps best not left to my nieces in the estate, and even I don’t actually care anymore. Perhaps best to give those a read (“some time” as we are so heedlessly prone to promise ourselves) and consign them to a bin, if not to a flaming farewell, and save posterity the trouble of pondering how pretty that one curly-headed boy’s eyes were, or what so-and-so did that embarrassed me in Chemistry. I spent many years losing touch with some of the folks populating those old pages; it seems fit I should lose touch with the memories; purge the archives and make room (or just let lie fallow) what space they occupied.

At work today, I picked up one of those “I’ll manage this to-do pile some time” stacks, and had an easy few minutes sorting and actually dealing with most of it. The rest wasn’t difficult, merely lightly tedious, and there’ll be a bit more in case I get bored tomorrow. Heh.

This is also the time of year when it’s wise to deal with personal archives – bills and so on, and particularly tax items. Lacking an office (and motivation), I had gone YEARS without filing, but having the giant desk and new, more capacious file cabinet, I took a nice fat bite out of that issue a couple months ago. More awaits (it always does, doesn’t it?), but the beast is not so terrible, and time to file is – well, upon us. And there’s a literal pay day of sorts in it for me, when I deal with that. Refund season is nice; though my dad taught us not to lend much to Uncle Sam interest free, I still seem to do it, and still carelessly let it feel like “extra” money when the funds are deposited.

‘Tis the season for spring cleaning, and shoving the couch around isn’t enough. (I have my eyes on taking a day or two off to deal with the BASEMENT. Though my mom keeps sighing that she needs to think of something to do with my grandmother’s bedroom furniture, which is down there, that small set of items is the least of my subterranean organizational concerns, and I’m happy for it to live there for the forseeable time being. Or something.)

All this, of course, will make it EASIER TO DO MY RESEARCH (which, let’s not pretend, I have done in the past on a postage-stamp desk, if I bothered with my desk at all). It’s all very writer-excusey, of course – “I’ll start my diet Monday” – but what piddling I’ve done of late on the WIP has largely been theoretical scene-smithing, not applied science. And I actually love research.

Fortunately, one good deed breeds another (or something like that), and the glow of accomplishment seems to beget more accomplishments. The office being organized and more or less lacking in lurking To-Do’s and unmanaged pieces of paper *does* make using that glorious desk for the old unpaid job all the easier. And spring is beginning to sprung in my brain (or something …).

Stay tuned. Some day, I may even come up with a title and be able to discuss something other than “The WIP.” You just stay tuned; it’s going to get right down exciting around here.


Colin Smith said...

Having an inclination toward history myself, I've often wondered how cool it would be if more people of ages past had kept diaries. When I first became interested in history, the day-to-day lives of people didn't thrill me nearly as much as kings, queens, battles, and such. One of my favorite books (that I still have) was THE LIVES AND TIMES OF THE KINGS AND QUEENS OF ENGLAND, edited by Antonia Fraser. I couldn't get enough of the "Lives" but could do without the "Times." These days, though, I've come to appreciate the "Times" a lot more. What was it like to live in England during the Norman conquest? During the Civil Wars? When one medieval king's throne gave way to a successor? How in touch would I have been with the goings on in court--how much would I have cared? And, knowing what I know about myself, my abilities, and my interests, what would I have done? Court musician? Or working on a farm dreaming of playing music or writing stories for money?

This makes me consider the legacy I leave behind. How much will my children, and history, know about me and the times in which I live from the writing and possessions I bequeath to posterity? Should I keep those old school books so my kids and grandkids and great-grandkids know something of me, my life, and times? Especially since I'm a first-generation immigrant to the US.

That sheds a whole new light on being a pack-rat! :)

DLM said...

Hee - it'd shed new light if my journals consisted of anything more than what boy I liked and who offended me how. I was pretty eager to get offended a LOT when I was younger. So ... Pepys it ain't! (The movie my life was when I believed life was a movie playing all in my own head - was not a good one.)

But we'll always have Samuel. And of course Fraser.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I thought I was the only one who has kept a journal for more than 30 years. I, too, wonder what my kids will think of my scribblings when they finally sit down to read all of the pages (thousands). I wonder if I would even recognize myself in some of the early stuff.

DLM said...

Hello, Paul! Thank you for coming by and commenting.

"Journal" is probably too dignified a term, and indeed my tenure self-absorbedly writing actually dates back almost 40 years now that I remember my mom gave me a diary first when I was ten. Lord only knows what might be in THAT little tome, but I have good hope it long since became compost somewhere. :)

As for the diaries - that's one reason I'm glad not to have had kids. Good lord, bad enough contemplating the idea of my nieces finding those things!

*More determined now that one glance-over and a a good bonfire are the way to go*

Maybe a barbeque? I could celebrate getting agented with a nice, literature-smoked shish kebab or something.