Call it spring cleaning. Call it that desire that sets in, with the arrival of the new year, to sweep clean. (Or perhaps just to find homes for the new items that Christmas has brought.)
Last year was all about moving items from room to room, as our building project was in full swing. A few months on, I’m starting up again.
It’s an interesting thing, creating a room in a new way. You plan for it and then – you live in it. You find out what works, what doesn’t.
So you move things round a bit more. Somehow hoping for the perfect alignment of items and accessibility.
It never completely happens.
This time, though, I am being brave. I am reducing my study notes. We are back to having an archive section where we’ll keep things we don’t need to get to so often – and the study notes are going in there.
When you like studying (as I do), it’s easy to amass a lot of notes. To see them all as very important. You’ve worked hard; the notes are a proof of that.
But this time round, somehow or other, twenty years have gone by since the university notes began. More, for school notes (and yes, I have exercise books from secondary school, and a couple of projects from primary school and…yes, I know I need to stop keeping quite so much).
It is becoming easier to decide what to think about these pieces of paper. They are partly who I came to be and they are partly who I used to be, and am not necessarily any longer.
When you like studying (as I do), it becomes part of your identity. You see how your life moved into through new phases, partly through the flicking through of another folder of notes.
Of course you changed. You took a different course. You learned a different language.
You had to use systems on particular computers to help you carry out particular tasks.
Now I look at them, and try to work out what is reasonable to keep. Some people throw away all their university notes if they haven’t looked at them in [ X ] years. I haven’t quite got to that point.
A couple of years back, I did part with some notes. A course where I knew that things were bound to have moved on a lot. (Bye bye, computational linguistics.)
Another couple, where I struggled to understand the material. Reasonable to assume I might well struggle a bit more now – or, perhaps, that I had learned to live without it, and was doing just fine.
This time round, I have more of an idea of what to keep.
The final essays, yes. The culmination of work, rather than all the build up.
It also brings me to see how much information keeping has changed, in what is a relatively short time. In my first year at university, science students were allowed email – arts students were not. (Shocking!)
In the second year, we were all onto email. Soon after, all work submitted had to be typed. And so on.
Now I can look over some paper and think: I could probably find that online now. And then some. (Bye bye, series of newspaper articles on the fall of the Berlin Wall.)
The newly created pile of scrap paper is probably going to keep us until Junior Reader is in university – or whatever comes at that point.
But meanwhile, as I sift, turn pages, reject some, keep others – I am archiving my awareness of my own recent past. One that has used and learned from notes on paper, one that wrote and wrote and wrote by hand.
In the dim recesses of only twenty years ago, where so few people had their own computers for study: could I have anticipated even a fraction of what would come?
My words, from twenty years ago or more, they can be corralled. They can be parted with, too, if I want.
But these words in type, on screen – how many of those have there been?
How would I ever begin to draw them all together, decide which to keep, which to send out to pasture?