Miles and Miles of Files Part I: Opening Pandora’s Envelope

Okay, so I’ve been working on restocking The Coffin. The Coffin is this gigantic filing cabinet that I bought years ago at a silent auction of equipment from a relocating business. I went to get a used filing cabinet, and saw this thing sitting there – seven-and-a-half feet tall, with a floor pedal you step on to rotate the insides, giving you access to two huge filing areas that are probably 3′ wide by 7′ tall by a foot deep. Got it for, I think, $85, threw it on the back of my father-in-law’s pickup (with lots of help), got it in the door of the house (with lots of help), then discovered it was too big to go up the stairs to my office. So we put it in another room downstairs, and it gradually evolved into the family office, with my desk, my wife’s desk, and one for my kids.

When my mother moved in last May, things went into disarray. We had to move stuff all over the place to empty out a room for Mom, and in the process my in-laws took everything out of the coffin, packed it into boxes, and wrestled the thing from one corner of the room to another.

So now I’m just getting around to going through those boxes and packing stuff back in. And I’m learning a lot. One of the things I’ve learned is that, unlike many authors, I will never run out of copies of my books. There was a time when I was running low on some titles, but then my agent decided to send his stocks to me. And when the Pembroke Hall books went out of print and Bantam cleaned house, they sent me a couple cases of each to me instead of shipping them to the shredder (which I’ve always appreciated). They also sent some to my agent, and he sent most of his stocks to me, too.

For a time, I used extra copies of books to do things like prop up furniture and appliances on crooked floors of our 160 year-old house. But I’ve run out of things to prop up. Maybe I should take a couple of cases of them and build a chicken coop or something.

The next thing I’ve learned is not to open Pandora’s Envelope.

Since I’m going through everything as it goes back into the coffin, I’ve been weeding stuff out. I’m throwing out duplicates of things I have, like leftovers of the manuscript of Trust from the time I had to send 10 copies to my agent for a mass mailing, and somehow ended up with a couple of extras. Or single spaced courtesy reading copies of certain manuscripts that I made for friends.

A lot of my cartooning is getting tossed, but that’s because I ended up with lots of duplicates of those, too.

What I hadn’t counted on was the burning envelopes. The last time I went through my files, maybe twenty years ago, I put a lot of stuff into manila envelopes to keep things together. Some of the envelopes I sealed with packaging tape, and I told my wife that on my death, those sealed envelopes were to be burned, unopened.

(Yes, now I realize the stupidity of that statement – should have just said, “I won’t be around to stop you… but I trust you to burn these envelopes and not even peek at the contents… no they’re not something rare or unusual for me… don’t peek… really, come on now, I mean it…”)

Lots of them were filled with stuff I just didn’t want seen by anyone because I found it embarrassing that I had even committed it to paper. Like 90% of the poetry I wrote in high school. No, I wasn’t a poetry priest or goth boy. I wrote the stuff for a creative writing class. But there is a reason why I don’t write poetry, and it was even worse back then. I opened that stuff up for a look, and what do you know – it’s just as bad as I remembered.

Then came the envelope marked Assorted Journals.

Now I have long tried to keep journals. It seems a natural thing for a writer to do, keep a written record of your progress on things. I still have lots of early calendar books filled with notes about my writing progress and little else, and this blog has in effect been my longest running work journal ever (I was so happy the day I discovered Blogger, because that was something I wanted this site to have from day one).

But even when I wasn’t writing per se, I was trying to keep a journal. The most infamous of these coincided with my senior year of high school when I was being chased by a cheerleader. Yeah, I know that sounds unlikely, but it happened. But I was oblivious through part of it, and for another part I didn’t take it seriously – by that time in my scholastic career I’d had large numbers of cruel pranks played on me, and I thought this was the latest in the line, so I just didn’t buy into the attention she was giving me. By the time I thought there might be something to it, it was over, she’d given up. So a lot of this journal was dealing with that (and proclaiming my personal anthem in terms of a song from a popular album of the time, Won’t Get Fooled Again). Only the joke was on me.

(Note to The Cheerleader: If by some miracle you’re reading this, I’m sorry. It wasn’t you. I was a jerk.)

Anyway, that journal was mercifully destroyed, so I wondered what was inside this envelope. After all, I hadn’t seen the contents in probably twenty years. I obviously didn’t want anyone else to read the contents, but what I couldn’t remember was, did I not want to see the contents anymore, either? I thought about moving it straight to the sack headed for the burning pile, but then I thought – if I do that now, I may sometime in the future regret not having looked inside the envelope before destroying it.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Bad mistake. It was just picking the scabs of the past.

Ostensibly the journal starts in the envelope, dated between 1978 and 1980, were meant to track various writing projects of the time, Desperate Measures especially, but they ended up following the theme Mad At You. I was mad at five different friends of mine, four of them in the space of about 10 pages of the same journal entry. For what it’s worth, I was trying to resolve to be more tolerant of people, but I was just mad. Boy, did I have issues.

(Note to The Cheerleader: No kidding. When I said I was a jerk, I meant it. I was a huge jerk. And not just to you. And I may still be.)

Reading this stuff just ruined my weekend. It made me feel like, after all this time, I haven’t changed. I still don’t think I’m a very tolerant person, at least when it comes to huge jerks (I just don’t suffer fools greatly). I don’t get mad like that anymore, but a lot of the feelings I read in those pages are the same ones I still struggle with, and I didn’t feel like I’d made much if any progress in my own personal evolution.

Yeah, but there was a little sprig of hope in Pandora’s Envelope, too. I had also written about a moment in college where I found out that a girl that I had worshipped from afar for two years wanted to go out with me – and the person telling me the news, her roommate, informed me that I had three weeks to ask her out, or she (the roommate) would be forced to fix us up (which, characteristic of me, I was afraid to approach the pedestal I had put her on, and the roommate ended up doing the first honors. I later briefly dated the roommate, but that’s another story.) So I had some happy moments, too.

But, man. There’s nothing like being faced with the fact that you didn’t turn out to be the person you thought you were to crush your soul for the weekend.

The third thing I’ve learned from this experience of sorting is that, hey, I was an interesting writer, even twenty or more years ago. So to offset the negativity of this post, over the next couple of days, I’ll be posting assorted goodies that I’ve found that I deem worthy of some added attention before they go back into the coffin – or meet their date with destiny at the burning pile.

Tomorrow: Joe and his friends Tom and David go on an adventure.

Anyway, they say she comes on a pale horse
But I’m sure I hear a train
Oh boy, I don’t even feel no pain
I guess I must be driving myself insane

(via iPod Shuffle)


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