In my office, I have several artifacts that testify to my dissertation, the mammoth 640 page manuscript that changed my title, my career, my location. I am now over twenty years out from that culminating work, yet I cannot make myself discard the pieces that signify my process, that are witness to the difficulty and toil of that work. Five yellow legal pads with stiff cardboard backs held my first draft. Two huge expanding folders contain a later draft. For years I have justified keeping them because I pull them each semester to illustrate process and revision to my expository writing students. Though flipping through them twice a year is to me revisiting convolutions of thought in every crossed out line, every post it note slapped onto a page, for my students, who compose on computers, these tablets are meaningless, even archaic pre-word processing gibberish. Lately I have abandoned toting them to class. To me also they seem outdated, a chapter closed and unpublished, though twenty-three years ago they were all-absorbing.
Today, sitting in my office’s extra chair, I noticed two file boxes stacked beside me. Opening them, I found neatly lettered bibliography cards, all indexed, and dozens of scribbled note cards for the sources I used on my dissertation. All of these, of course, are sorely outdated, replaced by fresh ideas, new scholars, so these are even less justifiably kept as souvenirs. Yet instead of dumping them out into the trash can, I snapped their lids closed and replaced them on my shelf. Less than twenty years from now, no doubt, I will be abandoning this office, retiring from what has been such a great definer of my life, and there is little doubt that these will be some of the items I pack away, awaiting another ten years of basement storage until my children converge on my house and haul this accumulation away by the boxful, probably with little sifting through the contents, to sort valuable from worthless. Even if they do sift, these boxes, perhaps even the notebooks, will be considered by them to fall into the latter class, and why not? If even I question their value, what investment would they have in their preservation?
But knowing this, still I cannot make myself throw them away. Collectively, these items represent two years of my life, nearly full time effort for a year of that period, and to throw them out would be partially erasing those years, or so it seems to me now. I realize that I am accordianed into the linear foot of shelf space they occupy, and I cannot throw myself away.