April 26, 2013
Spring Cleaning and the Process of Creation
I'm getting rid of old papers. I have a scanner coming tomorrow, but I went ahead and brought a box in today so I could start organizing, and I realized there's a lot of stuff in that box that I can just throw out. No scanning needed. It's exactly the box I had in mind when I thought about getting a scanner and getting rid of boxes of heavy papers in the garage: my thesis box. Unless there are two, which is entirely possible. I was thinking of the box that has all the papers I collected back when we printed out and marked up papers. Several of these papers would be hard to find online, so I don't want to just toss them. But the box I brought in this morning is the one with printed drafts of my thesis. The drafts that I printed to copy for binding, the drafts that I gave to my committee for feedback, and drafts of the the resulting paper that we published in Journal of Geophysical Research, with my co-authors edits and with mine.
I feel mixed about throwing them away. I could scan them, of course, but I'm not sure that it's worth it. Okay, I'm pretty sure it's *not* worth it. But there's something about seeing the process. We see a paper, or a book, and it's all neat and tidy, and looks like it was laid down as is, and that no one ever really touched it. For novels, the characters created it. For scientific papers, the text came out of some computer. But, of course, that's not the case.
I see my scribbles—sometimes taking up more space than the actual type—and see the thought processes, the hashing out, the decisions of inclusion and elimination, the decisions with both words and content, and I think that somehow this must be worth something. I realize it's only worth something to me. And even then, not very much. More than anything, it's worth this reflection. I look at these pieces of paper like a young child looks at its poop in the toilet, in that stage where they don't want you to flush it. Because its theirs. They made that. I feel this way about just about anything I've every scribbled. It's so very hard to throw it away. Because I made that glorious piece of shit.
I suppose this is the life of a pack rat. Pieces of poop in boxes. At least now, we can store those pieces of poop online, as a consolation. Not tactile, but at least still there, in the ether. It's not the same, but it's actually more accessible than being in the garage. I just wonder this: What happens to our cyber-trash when we pass on? Does someone go through that shit? Isn't that even more tedious and difficult than going through someone's boxes? What about all those brilliant novels and poems that get published by a proud and grieving mom posthumously? Are they now just thrown out with the hard drive? And what about the cloud? Does it just grow and grow?
Perhaps someday we will have an algorithm to recognize those brilliant works of prose (and whatever other media) and pull them from cyberspace to the (virtual) desktop.
In the meantime, I'm considering the picture here enough to represent my dazzling poop from my master's research process, and recycling the rest.