The ’free stuff’ of life

"O, I got plenty of nothin'

And nothin's plenty for me,

I got the sun, I got the moon, I got the deep blue sea..."

- Porgy

(Michael Leunig image)

In my 45 years of working for newspapers, I've written thousands of articles likely totalling millions of words (some of the pieces were very long) based on an unimaginable number of (now forgotten) interviews.

They included stories written from the Massachusetts Statehouse, stories about nuclear power and wind turbine research, about dairy farmers (some of my favorites) and about heroes from hill and dale. Some were local spins on national issues, others were about Paul Winter, David Amram, Odetta or William Sloane Coffin and a few off-the-beaten-path features on Elsie the Cow, Dr. Seuss and Jack Kerouac.

Many of those stories I've kept on now-yellowing newspapers and clippings that fill aging cardboard cartons here at home, along with oodles of digital files and a half-dozen or so scrapbooks. Before my recent retirement, I amassed cartons of reporters' notebooks going back decades -- each indexed with numbered pages, so that I could look back on notes if I ever needed to retrieve details ... (although the indexing began to wane after the first few dozen spiral-bound pads.)

Now that I'm a few months into this amorphous retirement transition, searching for ways to structure my time and unburden myself of an imposed regimen that began with kindergarten, I find myself trying to dig out the essentials and chuck the rest.

My two large cartons filled with tearsheets I've collected over the years took several hours to organize a few days ago as I searched for a particular 17-year-old feature story. By dividing nearly 43 years of newspapers into five-year filing sections, I hope to begin looking through the archives to cull the collection.

Through the years, I've tucked away multiple copies of some choice work -- for contests, research, and yes, job searches.

But a big reason for saving is to have a security blanket "necessitated" by being the child of a hoarder who at the time of her death left behind dozens of black plastic garbage bags filled with a mind-blowing mix of doodles and vital documents. They filled an entire den of our suburban home, and it took weeks to sift through and clean up. And I'm still clearing the impact of her hoarding on my life -- including an overriding fear of becoming my mother as I hang on to all kinds of things "just in case."

Yet I awoke early this morning wondering, how many copies of even the most stellar article are too many? Ten? Five? Two? One?

What's more, (or less) : Why do I need even any 38-year old stories about a court trial involving a motorcycle gang? Did I ever even need any? They're beyond the statute of limitations for a Pulitzer committee, and how likely is it that I'm being nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature?

Really. And what IS IT that I need, anyway -- other than a big dumpster?

At this point in life -- if I were a dog, I'd be 9 1/2 -- I'd probably be wise to start shedding the chaff of life and think to avoid shlepping cartons of tomes and meaningless memorabilia the next time I try to move?

Over the past couple of days, I also reached out to find one of my articles on a thumb drive that, last time I looked, held every story I'd written in the past 20 years. The marvelous memory device had been a godsend for saving those clips at work. But, lo and behold, half of those hundreds of stories have vanished. Disappeared stories on "the cloud" I could understand being hacked for ransom. (Virtual security blanket, anyone?)

But this was my thumb drive! Yikes!

Gone.

And then I thought: "Oh well. I can live without those hundreds of non-pages of articles. In fact, I always could have done without them."

Having worked for over 40 years at the same newspaper, a dozen years into the future doesn't seem so far away to me, when I'll (OMG!) be approaching ... 80?? How am I going to fit two cartons of clippings with me in an apartment somewhere?

Should I rent one of those giant "self-storage units" to house my life's work, along with my CD collection and my vinyl "record albums" and my countless cassette tapes?

In I travels, I routinely pass a slew of signs that beckon, "Free Stuff."

My mind responds, "Please, God, no! Please. Free me from stuff."

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Check out my books, Inner Landscapes and Good Will & Ice Cream