Between the pen and the paperwork

12 09 2010

I finally did it.

After clearing out the 4 boxes and separating the recorded from the unrecorded articles, I piled up all the recorded articles  until I figured out what to do with them.

All that work—years worth of work—and the one, great, broken promise that those articles collectively represented sat in my small hallway, just outside of my bedroom. For months.

Yesterday, I went through the stacked meter of them one last time, pulled out a few to offer to my bioethics students, and carried the rest to the recycling bin. Today they were gone.

I still have about another foot left; these are the articles to be entered into my database and then, like the others, taken away. And there are still the hard copies of all those Human Genome Reports, the reports from DOE and NIH and NHGRI and OTA, along with some number of articles that I couldn’t quite part with; perhaps by the time I move again I’ll have figured out how to toss these, as well.

It’s not that big of deal, I tell myself. All of this is available online, either through the CUNY library system or, if I ever remember to join the Wisconsin Alumni Association, through the UW library system. It’s all still there, not gone at all.

But it feels like waste: a waste of paper, a waste of a career. All of this work I gathered (or which was gathered for me—thanks R.!) was to have led me further into an academic life, one in which I built a political theory of bioethics, taught medical and graduate students, participated in colloquia and conferences, and secured myself inside a tenured professorship.

Didn’t happen. Obviously.

I held on to those articles, nonetheless, never quite sure of when I might—might—need them again. After all, I’m still teaching, and who knows when that Theoretical Medicine or Human Gene Therapy or Philosophical Nursing piece might be exactly what I need. I once needed them, or at least, once thought I needed them; so who knows. . . .

I know: I don’t. They’ve been a kind of heavy security blanket, boxes of files I’d carted with me from Montreal to Somerville to (storage locker to storage locker in) Brooklyn. I’m done, I said, as I refused to get rid of all that with which I was done.

So about a year ago I decided it was time. I did nothing. Then I said, Hey, I have a file of all of those articles, so it’s not like I’m losing access to everything. I did nothing. Then I disinterred them from the boxes, sorted through them, piled them a meter high in the small hallway outside of my bedroom. Where they sat. Until yesterday.

It felt good to get rid of the clutter. I have pack-ratish tendencies, but I love the relief of unburdening myself of unnecessities.

It just took awhile to admit that these thousands of pieces of paper were a part of those unnecessities.



4 responses

13 09 2010

Wow. I’m a little breathless at the very notion of doing whatever would be analogous for me – tossing out, I suppose (it came to me as I searching for the right spelling of “analogous”), all the hard copies of my old freelance reporting work.

What do I think I need them for? Why do I think they’re still meaningful for me?

I’m very proud of you, and very impressed, and a little jealous, and breathless still. Not sure I’m ready yet.

13 09 2010

yep, i remember walking all of the articles from my diss research on clinical/care ethics (and those from the the post-defense book it never became) over to a nearby grad student office/lounge and leaving it to them to sort thru what was worth keeping or tossing.
don’t buy books anymore as i have had to discard several libraries over the years of nomadacy and try not to print many articles now (hard to read on screens but so few worth keeping long enough to reread).
try to think of it as shedding skins as you grow.
“The trail of the human serpent is thus over everything”
w. james

13 09 2010

About a month ago, I found a book full of all my call sheets from my illustrious film days.

Originally, I’d been saving them for entry into the union, which never happened. Then I transitioned into computers and the rest, as they say, is history.

I took them in to work and scanned them all to a massive pdf file on the high-speed scanner. I figure that way I can keep them for the memories (or whatever), and toss the paper.

Yet, I’ve found I haven’t been able to toss them into the recycle bin just yet, and I don’t know why…

13 09 2010

Markers, they are markers of where we’ve been, where we think we might want to go. As such, keeping a few bits around isn’t the worst thing—but 4 (um, plus) file boxes worth? Madness!

That said, had I owned a house or condo with plentiful storage, I might have put off this showdown for, pfft, years? decades? Small living quarters and future moves exact their own discipline. . .

. . .tho’ not with books. Nope, still cartin’ that library around.

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