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Cary Brunswick

July 16, 2011

Memories will stay on ink, paper

Join me now in the disorder of boxes and paper folders wrenched open after years of abandonment, saturating the air with dust, the floor covered with yellowed paper, some covered with ink, others type.

My feelings were mixed recently when I decided it was time to clean out old filing cabinets and boxes of papers that, indeed, had not seen the light of day in decades.

Once exposed, however, such early writings, poetry, philosophy papers and pamphlets cannot be "cleaned out," I realized, as in discarded, if that was ever really the intention when the task was begun.

You ask yourself, what do you do with all this material in the age of electronic, digital storage? Aren't filing cabinets and boxes of papers obsolete these days? If worth saving at all, shouldn't these writings and other documents be scanned into text files and saved on a CD or flash drive?

I'm old-fashioned, I guess, because I'm not about to trust that my first published article _ a piece on the paranormal for Indian River magazine in 1968 _ will be retrievable on a CD a year from now, let alone a decade or more.

Maybe I'm a fossil, but I can't imagine retyping my very first college newspaper commentaries, on the growing opposition to the Vietnam War and the issue of patriotism, as Word or PDF files and trashing the original publications.

Speaking of that war, I found a large pamphlet, titled "Vietnam: Make No Mistake," that was published by the Students for a Democratic Society in 1970. Try as I might, I just couldn't toss it.

It was the same for a short story, which I forgot that I had written, about an SDS member who took a factory job so he could try to convince workers that they should demand better pay and conditions. He couldn't understand how they could be content with what they had. (I was so embarrassed by the quality of writing, I really was ready to take that one to the transfer station.)

Oh, look here, in a folder labeled Birth, are the remaining birth announcements for our youngest daughter, with a drawing by an artist friend who misspelled her middle name. We had chosen Alexis, but he spelled it Elexsis, so when filing her birth certificate we decided to go with it. Definitely have to keep those.

Surely this small batch of poetry I wrote some 40 years ago could go. Just type them on the computer and store them on a CD. Hey, if something happens, too bad; probably not worth keeping the hard copies. An excerpt from 1969:

Sometimes I think I have found the right way

But it never looks the same the next day.

I'll always keep listening until I die —

I just can't help moaning with a sigh.

Every time I think how hard I made it on myself

I might as well be thrown on a musty old shelf.

See what I mean? But just in case …This job was supposed to be a real, literal housecleaning. There must be some way to part with some of this stuff.

What about the papers I wrote on the struggles of Joseph K. and Siddhartha, Albert Camus, Nietzsche's critique of science, and all the translations from the German for my thesis on Wilhelm Dilthey?

Will anyone ever miss them? Will I? Why can't I just let them go?

Oh, the Buddhism folder, with a graduate school prof's translations from the Sanskrit of two chapters of Chandrakirti's commentaries on the work of Nagarjuna. They had not previously been translated into English. Surely, despite their espousal of non-existence, they have to be saved and treasured.

But wait, a quick Google search has revealed that those chapters and others were compiled into a book by that professor and a colleague. I can get it through Amazon for _ what? _ $165. I guess I should keep the chapters I have.

College degrees, both mine and Susan's, fill one folder. Saved all these decades, they include an A.A., B.A. and M.A. Funny; I've never been asked over all the years and jobs to prove I had a college education. Certainly can't get rid of them now.

I never expected it would be so difficult to part with all these papers and documents. So what now? Dust them off, I guess, and put them back where they belong. Discarding them will have to be someone else's task after I'm gone.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at

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