For more years than I can remember, I’ve had stacks of papers near my desk. There have been attempts to organize it–basically reshuffling it and throwing out a bit here and there or putting some things in files. But no matter what I do to the stack, it remains. I throw things on top of it more often than I weed it. I toss in newspaper articles I plan to read, notes to myself, outlines of novels I never write, recipes torn from magazines. The pile began as old college notes and essays, some bibliographies on the Marquis de Sade I printed out using dot matrix …(which I guess they still sell), and newspaper pieces that inspired some lost idea of a novel or story idea.
As the pile has grown, I have become increasingly reluctant to tackle it. It really stresses me out. I think it drains my creativity just having it lurking there with its accusations of academic and creative failures. It simultaneous screams “look at what you used to think….look at what you failed to think…look at what you failed to see to fruition…look at how much you failed to study” Sometimes it just tells me I’m old…the paper has yellowed and faded….the essays on Shakespeare so long ago it’s as if someone else wrote them because I can scarcely remember having those thoughts and writing in that pitifully strained faux academic style.
I’d say in the past few years I’ve added less to the pile. I use One Note to scribble on instead of random sheets of paper. Of course who needs to Xerox pages from dusty old books or print bibliographies or essays anymore? We have the wonderful world of the internet and we can cut and paste things into files.
So the stacks reveal a bygone time, not only in my creative and academic life, but in the way I research and store information. Recently a friend posted a picture of her collected notes and let me tell you, it would have made any librarian proud. This shamed me into rooting through my stack…finally…
What I’ve learned is this: you learn to let go. At 30 years old I couldn’t have parted with most of the Shakespeare essays or Psychology notes or scribbles of play/short story/novel ideas. I still, for some strange reason, thought they were too precious to part with…I still believed I might make use of that information or those ideas. Me at 41 laughs. I think of Krapp listening to old tapes of his younger self who says (of an even younger version of himself) “Hard to believe I was ever that young whelp. The voice! Jesus! And the aspirations!…And the resolutions! …What remains of all that…” –I now, so many years removed from college, see how weak my essays were (how I was pulling off that halfhearted bullshitting routine I later saw many students do)…OR to put a positive spin on it, I see how much I’ve grown…how much I’ve learned ….I can see the birth of some of my current story ideas…little grains that stuck in there …I see how I circle around some of the same themes, even though I thought I was on to new stuff….And I see that disorganization has never been my friend….scribbling notes on the back of other notes and tossing them out of order and neglecting them for years, serves no purpose.
It’s strange to think on old papers…I’ve often fantasized about spending the day in a library going through a writer’s box of papers…all their scribbles and letters. I imagine their notes and letters to be much more important and intellectual than my own…And I know I wouldn’t want anyone going through my papers, seeing my horrid little newborn writer ideas or my flimsy essays. I’m happy to have the chance to throw them out. MOST of it doesn’t exist in any other form but these sheets of paper so they can’t resurface. Whereas our modern ways of saving and storing can probably be accessed long after we’ve deleted it….
Clearing out these old, useless, ideas is like clearing out your closet…it makes room for new stuff. Any of it I could still use, I’ve typed into One Note…where it will probably continue to be disorganized. Next I’ll have to spend time going through all that. Hopeless business.