Ah, the joy of organizing: going through old papers
I don't know about you, but I'm not the most organized of people.
Oh, I'm not all that bad. My desk doesn't pile up too much before I clear it. You can walk a straight line through my house and not run into any large obstacles, such as stacks of magazines or old clothes.
No, the house is relatively neat. The parts that aren't are mostly safely hidden away in my "office." I'm not really sure why I put in the scare quotes--it is an office, a small bedroom with a skylight revealing a view of a beautiful old birch tree on this rainy day (which, through the magic of digital photography, I can show you even as we speak):
The office isn't as photogenic as the tree. So I'll post no photo of that. Best to leave it to your imagination.
This is what you would see, though, if you were here (besides neo-neocon herself, sans apple):
A bookshelf filled with literary and poetry journals, as well as books on poetry and writing, a dictionary, thesaurus, and rhyming dictionary; some framed prints on the wall featuring old pens and books; a calendar with paintings of women reading; two poorly functioning remote telephones (I can't seem to find a good one); and a bed for guests. There's also a large flat desk that holds my shiny newish computer. And a chair for said desk.
But on that desk we see the first evidence of problems to come: an old Brother word processor, circa--oh, I don't know, maybe 1980-something-or-other? I still remember when I exchanged my old electric Smith-Corona for it; the Brother seemed the latest word in typing advances. The ability to make corrections without needing erasable typing paper! Spellcheck! No more white out! Oh, it was wonderful, wonderful--although now it seems about as modern as a Model-T.
Why is it here? All my writing from the 80s and early 90s is still on it. I've been told there's no way to transfer the information except to laboriously enter it into my computer in the old-fashioned way, by keyboarding it. Needless to say, that's not my top priority now. So, there it sits, gathering the proverbial (and metaphoric) dust.
And those two file cabinets up against the wall are only half full. On the floor next to them, and spread out on the guest bed, are piles of papers.
I've got a master plan. Quite a while ago (how long ago I dare not say) I bought a system of files. Hanging files and regular folder files, tabs and accessories, all color-coordinated to allow me to separate my papers into categories: writing, memorabilia, photos, medical, financial, etc.--you get the idea.
I'm going to do it. I know I will. And yesterday I actually started. But one of the problems with starting is that it makes me confront what I already knew--that this is a large task. I know, I know--like hitting one's head on the wall, it will feel so good when it's over. But it's very far from over, despite my having put in about five hours last night.
But I've already realized some benefits. No, I haven't located everything I was looking for. Some official papers missing from my "offical papers" file, for example, are still AWOL. But I found the text of a children's book I'd written about twenty years ago, which had been lost for the last five. Some papers I need in connection with my license were, remarkably enough, in a large envelope marked "For license," which had been buried under a pile of others.
Going through much of it is a strangely emotional experience. Old cards--birthdays, anniversaries, loves gained and lost. Photos of me and my boyfriend who went to Vietnam, and his last letter, the only one I saved (for those of you who haven't read my posts on that subject: yes, he did return, but no, we didn't marry). Photos from college--me, impossibly young, sporting one of those long flippy "do's" that required setting on rollers the size of beer cans; old friends from that era, some of them now dead. Poems that make me cry when I stop to read them. My diplomas. A photocopy of the check from Central Casting Corporation I got for doing a "silent bit" as a dancer in the film "The Turning Point" (see this).
In one file entitled "School--grades and awards" are all my old report cards (height: 48 1/4 inches, weight, 51 pounds, first grade). Even now those report cards have the power to stir a hint of anxiety in me, remembering the drama of the reading of the names and the doling out of the little cardboard squares representing so much work. My SAT scores. My GRE scores. My scholarships, and some newspaper clippings announcing same. A little card of commendation with a gold star on it, given to me in third grade for a bunch of poems I wrote, illustrated, and compiled into a scrapbook for extra credit and for fun ("Snowflakes falling, down, down, down...)
Letters from a few famous people I wrote to who had the decency to write back, some at great length (Oliver Sacks, for one). A huge file of poetry I like that isn't anthologized in any books I own. My own poetry, with many different alternative drafts (ah, my biographer will be so grateful!) A folder filled with the condolence letters people wrote my mother when my grandmother died in the late 60s, which still have the power to evoke her warm presence and vitality.
So the benefits of going through papers aren't limited to getting organized. And in fact, that has yet to happen. But the folders are now in stacks, roughly sorted out. The next step is to toss about half this material--although not the half I just listed, of course. Wonder when that will happen.