There’s a war occurring within just feet of where I am currently sitting. It’s me vs. sentiment and I am winning this battle.
I’ve embarked on a spring offensive aimed at shaking loose clutter in my home office. Specifically I am referring to employment papers that have sat in personal files of mine for years. It’s time for them to go.
These papers are no longer important. They pathetically cling to a kind of eminence and relevancy that is now literally yellowed with age. I do sort of feel sorry for them in that personifying way that we sometimes act out with objects. But sadly I only see them for what they truly are to me now: a faded, Norma Desmond-type glory representing only the past and nothing of my future. Where I once held on to them for security and ego gratification, none of that sentiment exits anymore. It’s all just… clutter.
Most of these papers are notifications of official personnel actions that occurred during my career, be it a raise, a COLA, or a change in work station. Everything relevant was always documented on this form, and a copy was sent to me along with it being placed in my official personnel folder. Over a 30+ year period I literally have enough of them to wallpaper my office. Move over, Dorothy Draper.
Also quite plentiful are the many performance appraisals I received, particularly at the start and middle years of my career. It seems I kept each one. Hanging onto them is like saving report cards and progress reports from your childhood school days. It’s a veritable land mine of good and bad memories certain to invoke a few flashbacks, some of them often better left in the past.
Sure, it’s nice to be reminded of the achievement award that I received back in 1987 for completing a multi-million procurement of lawbook subscriptions. But this is also balanced by the snarky reference a former boss made about my apparent less-than stellar ability to handle multiple projects at one time. The word “multi-task” had yet to rear its ugly head in management-speak.
Glancing through some of these papers takes me into a time tunnel of long-suppressed incidents and episodes that, up until today, had been conveniently buried. For instance, I apparently received a $50 cash award for getting our library’s automated system Y2K-complaint back in 1999. I absolutely do not recall this award at all, but I sure as hell remember the intra-office pressure to complete the mission. We were told that unless we updated our systems, hell would reign down in the form of untold plagues because of programming bugs in the new millennium.
Cruise missiles were going to be fired by mistake, and it would all be due to our not having updated the library’s aging mainframe.
I remember pseudo-techies like myself, each working in separate agency offices, and all of us forced to march in lock-step order so that our legacy systems could become certified. For close to a year, we all provided group therapy and support to one another in our collective effort to keep management happy.
On January 1, 2000, I went into work at the crack of dawn and performed searches on the library catalog to confirm that all functions worked properly.¹ An hour later the Chinese government lodged a formal complaint after bombs set off from Germany hit three of their remote provinces. But hey, I tried. What do you want for $50?
Also included in my files are financial documents that are rather quaint. Completely forgotten after all these years are the signing notes to my undergraduate and graduate school loans. They were my lifelines as I was graduating from high school. After sending my three older sisters to college, my parents sheepishly revealed to me one day, “Funny thing, but guess what? We’re out of money!”
What makes these loan papers “quaint” are the dollar amounts. From 1979 to 1981, in support of my undergraduate degree, I borrowed in three different transactions a total sum of $5,900. A later loan for graduate school in 1985 appears to have been for an additional $1,300. I actually remember thinking at the time that the costs seemed reasonable. My familiarity with large dollar figures, relative to anything else at that time of my life, was nil but for perhaps for the car I bought after high school.
But I instinctively understood that paying for my education at a working class, state-funded school in Michigan was substantially less than what others had to pay at more august colleges and universities. I considered myself lucky at the time and now in hindsight too.
What came later in the way of tuition costs in all of higher education for Generations X and Y borders on predatory. Shame on you, Academia. It’s no small wonder that Bernie Sanders has tapped into something genuine with younger voters.
So it’s time for me to shred all of these papers. They can no longer do anything for me, and in fact keeping them poses some grave security risks.
Not so quaint at all is the fact that nearly all of them contain my complete social security number. We’re now quite used to seeing truncated representations of our SSN and credit card accounts, but there was a time not very long ago when the full number was always printed on documents. In a recent AARP Bulletin, Frank Abagnale (the former con man from “Catch Me If You Can” fame) advises shredding all documents with a micro shredder, plus never writing a personal check if you can possibly help it. This is great advice from someone who’s a bit of an expert.
So enough of this trip down memory lane. I need to return to the battlefield and jettison that whole “past is prologue” thing.
So what’s in YOUR files?
Until next time…
¹ I recall typing in the classics “Wuthering Heights” and “From Here to Eternity” even though I knew neither would actually be found in our catalog of mainly legal material. As protests go, it was silently wry.