Letters, mentors, family, and friends 

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I am digging through storage boxes of books, papers, and music CDs, stored in the basement here at Camp Marlene; stuff that dates back — some of it — to the 1970s when I was living in Davenport, Iowa.


When I was newly divorced I started going through these boxes, separating keepers from throwaways. It was too hard. Having just turned 29 years of my life upside down — including selling, giving, or throwing away lifelong collections of music, books, and research papers — I was not emotionally ready to cast still more of my life into someone’s dumpster.


I left all these boxes stacked, untouched.


The truth is I am never going to use some of these boxed materials again. I know that. I can’t even picture myself again having room to shelve my books, my CD collection. My letters, manuscripts, newspaper and magazine clippings? I suppose I can keep some boxed in manila folders. But much of this stuff has to go.


Starting with my books, with few exceptions — such as a dime-store fan paperback Whitney Houston bio — I’m keeping my music books. Years ago one used bookstore owner told me most music book buyers don’t discard their books. As a young man in search of hard-to-find music books, that was unwelcome news. But I understood then, and I understand now.


Before the internet my several English dictionaries were valuable resources. I had current dictionaries to dictionaries well over a century old. The older editions had antiquated, excellent words, deserving of revival. One such word is apathist, defined as “one who is destitute of feeling.” I’ve used apathist in columns and letters-to-the-editor to describe eligible voters who don’t vote, and people who don’t care about politics.


Today internet dictionaries make my paper dictionary collection unnecessary. That’s also true of my economic, biology, and medical dictionaries.


I will keep my books of quotations. “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations” is the most famous among them. But newer “Bartlett” editions discard quotations from older editions until some of my favorites are missing in action. So I hang on to the old volumes and others such as, “The Home Book of Quotations: Classical and Modern,” by Burton Stevenson (1937), a valuable source of information, inspiration, and ideas.


There’s a box here full of manila file folders. The folders contain letters and carbon copies of letters. There are job application rejection letters, proposal rejection letters. But there are also job and idea acceptance letters.


I find many letters and cards to or from friends, family, and mentors, some of them no longer alive. Little pieces of my life kept alive only on paper scraps. I question each card and letter: Keep it or toss it? Knowing each discard is gone for eternity. Much more than simply throwing out old papers, each discard is saying goodbye again to missing family, mentors, and friends.


Is there a moral to my box cleaning? In this age of computers much of what would be boxed clutter is digital hard drive clutter. These brown and white cardboard boxes are products of my lifelong dream of having a writing library or office with my books shelved, my collected papers filed, all available as reference when I need them.


But odds are I will never have my dream writing library. My lifestyle is closer to that of a light traveling field correspondent. Plus lugging around, or paying to store, books and info available 24/7 on my iPhone makes no sense.


We’ll see how this winnowing process ends. For now, it’s curious. What remains of my winnowing is what I valued most, and might have predicted would remain, when I was age 18: my music books, my writing books, and letters to and from mentors, family, and friends.


Scott K. Fish has served as a communications staffer for Maine Senate and House Republican caucuses, and was communications director for Senate President Kevin Raye. He founded and edited AsMaineGoes.com and served as director of communications/public relations for Maine’s Department of Corrections. He now works in the private sector.

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