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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Some notes on completion of a timely task

By Dick Hirsch

As we begin another year, I decided it would be a good idea to get my affairs in order. I now realize that statement has an ominous sound, so let me be more specific: I decided to clean up my desk.

My desk is very important to me. It’s an antique, a rolltop, built of mahogany, complete with a small brass plaque identifying the manufacturer. It stands out here in a modern office, surrounded by those steel and Formica kneehole models, each of which have a special niche for a monitor and keyboard. But the boss understands and copes with my eccentricities, and thus raised no objections years ago when I showed up one morning, accompanied by three guys, each of whom looked like he could carry a refrigerator upstairs single-handed.

They looked around, assessed the doorways, and calculated the best way to twist and turn the desk to put it in its designated location. Rolltops are more challenging than refrigerators because of their unique girth; they are bulky in every direction. The staff gathered around as the movers walked out to the van, then reappeared a few minutes later, grunting and groaning only occasionally as they navigated the aisles and then tipped and twisted it to get it through the final door into the office.

I bought the desk from a dentist. He kept it in his office, not in his examining room. He was closing the practice, retiring to devote his energy to more creative pursuits. The desk has a history. The dentist had purchased it from a proctologist, a fact that made a tremendous impression on me. In succession, their patients had sought advice and care for both ends of the body. Under my ownership, however, the desk work has related to less specific regions, just general writing and storytelling.

I still use paper in my work. I do my writing on a computer, but I make notes on paper, notes on things to do, persons to call and topics to consider. Frankly, I could not get along without paper, even though I recognize that paper, if not disposed of in a timely fashion, can result in a messy desk. For years I have read predictions of how efficient things will be in the future paperless society; I believe I am one of many who are delighted that particular era has not yet arrived.

True, my desk is somewhat disheveled, yet I absolutely know the approximate location of everything that is supposed to be there. You probably know people with a similar style; people like us remain suspicious of those with uncluttered desks.

One of the great characteristics of the rolltop desk has always been the many little drawers, niches and pigeonholes where various items and implements could be safely secreted, far from the desk top. I have a little drawer for stamps and another for a set of keys for the filing cabinet. There are other small areas into which materials can be placed for easy reclamation. The only trouble is that it is difficult to recall in which niche certain items have been placed. It is often easier to go on with the daily routine without disturbing the storage spots, while at the same time accumulating more materials of various pedigree. To counteract that pattern of behavior, it is important to have a comprehensive cleanup session on a regular basis.

My schedule provides time for an annual blitz of the desk aimed at ridding myself of unnecessary items which at one time must have been considered worth saving. I had been shirking that responsibility since the early 21st century, but I was determined to proceed this year.

I found a collection of rubber bands, some broken, and paper clips, many bent and reshaped for some forgotten special purpose. There were a number of pencils, both stubs and full size, most with broken leads, as well as ballpoint pens that had run dry. There were countless newspaper clippings reporting stories that passing years had made irrelevant, some letters that had been answered, and various scraps of paper bearing notes that related to what had become non-essential facts.

The most abundant harvest was the business cards, many belonging to men and women I haven’t heard from in years, and others introducing persons I no longer remember. The business card is an essential tool, but what is their shelf life? It is exceedingly difficult to flip a business card in the wastebasket. But there are times when it must be done.



At 6:35 PM, Blogger David said...

I love this column. In spite of a bit of confabulation, and that makes the story more interesting, it reads well, david


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