Yesterday I took on the chore of trying to tidy up and streamline my filing cabinets.
Not one of my favorite activities. But in a way it is—at least the fantasy I have regarding how the files will end up. Streamlined, color-coded, wonderfully organized so I can go there immediately, open the correct drawer, and find anything I’m looking for in an instant. All the extra stuff I don’t need gone, with only the essentials remaining.
In the meantime, I found myself stunned by what’s in there that I’d forgotten. Oh, I knew about the medical records and the old report cards and my passport and that sort of thing. But the rest!
The letters, for example. Notes from literary magazines rejecting my short stories (the more precious ones stating: “we liked this but,” and “please send us more of your work.”) The letter from the magazine that had accepted my story (for $3,000!) pending a few word changes, and then promptly altered its policy and stopped publishing fiction; no sale. Postcards from my husband-to-be when we were courting (quaint word, that). A copy of my father’s will, probated when he died in 1977, beginning with what must have been the standard subject heading whenever it was composed: “IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN.”
On and on and on it went. Lists and lists of projects I’d thought of starting—now I’m old enough to know I never will do most of this stuff. Things I hadn’t known I’d had in the first place, or that I’d forgotten I’d saved. And all of it made of paper.
It struck me how archaic all this was, and how very thoroughly the computer has taken over. Letters? Who gets them anymore? And yet they seemed so much more real than any email possibly could be. All these years later I can still hold them in my hand, and they partake of the essence of the people who wrote them. Time has not yet made them so fragile they’re in danger of disintegrating.
But till then, they will sit in my filing cabinets. Who’s to say what’s essential and what’s not?