Deleting, Er, Shredding the Past

We spent a good part of the weekend shredding our past. Bank statements from 1998 went into the shredder. So did credit card statements we’d received during the Clinton Administration, pay stubs from before the kids were born and airline ticket receipts to my friend’s wedding in Atlanta in 1996. But it was the calendars that made me nostalgic.

My husband, Pete, brought me three of them, all from the late nineties. Big desk calendars with brown faux leather covers embossed with gold ink. He opened one of them, and began to give me a tongue-in-cheek tutorial:

“Now, here’s a system for keeping all of your most important information in one place,” he instructed. “You’ve got your month-at-a-glance, a map with time zones in case you forget yours, and a space for notes.”

I started giggling.

“Okay, so say you have an event that spans more than one day,” he said, pointing to a conference he had attended in February of 1999. “You indicate that it lasts from Tuesday until Wednesday by drawing an arrow across the bottom of two boxes, like this. Very effective,” he nodded.

A text came into my Blackberry, so I answered it. But Pete wasn’t done with his tutorial.

“If you have to cancel an event, you mark the entire box with an X, like so,” he said, pointing to an X-ed out entry with accompanying telephone number scribbled in. “And here, you write in all of your contacts, including, of course, their fax numbers, because everybody needs a fax.”

I started laughing so hard, I let out a snort. I closed out Twitter on my computer so I wouldn’t accidentally tweet half a word — or a snort — to my followers.

“Then next year, you just copy it all down again into your new calendar, along with the items you’d put on the pages marked for the year 2000,” he informed me, as though he was leading a computer course, minus the computer.

Now I was in a full-out belly laugh, and totally incapable of even glancing at my e-mail. He finished his tutorial, and chucked the calendars into the garbage can behind my desk, along with the right paw X-ray of my cat, who’d died in 2005. Then he went back to shredding our past, so we can make room in our file cabinets for our future.

I pulled one of the calendars out of the garbage can and felt a pang of nostalgia — not for anything that was written in them, though my brother-in-law’s wedding couldn’t have been 11 years ago already, could it? Rather, I was nostalgic for the simplicity of it all. Well, except the part where you’d have to transfer everything by hand. (And I don’t miss typewriters, either, having worked one summer in high school for a lawyer who made me type and retype and retype letters until they pretty much ended up like the first draft.)

No, I longed for its passivity. For life before texting, Twitter, Facebook and Blackberries, even though I use all of them and I wouldn’t want to run my business without them. But seven years ago when I started MommaSaid, if I’d e-mail an editor on a weekend (because that was often the only time I could get to work when the kids were little,) I wouldn’t hear back from them until Monday. Sometimes, Tuesday. Nowadays, they answer me within hours, sometimes minutes, even though they’re not in their offices. Even though they’re watching their kids’ basketball games or pushing a cart around the supermarket.

Nowadays, everyone expects instant response, and it feels like there’s nowhere to hide. If you don’t post anything for a few hours, don’t make your move in Lexulous for a day or so, don’t “Like” anything on Facebook, people wonder where you are, what’s wrong, where you’ve gone. With social media in particular, you cast your net wider, staying involved in the lives of friends and family, yes, but also the boy who had a crush on you in eighth grade, your cousins’ best friends, the new acquaintance you made at a conference and people who do the same thing as you do for a living. And it’s both wonderfully connecting and awfully exhausting at the same time.

As Pete shredded our deposit slips from 1994, I checked my e-mail again to find an message from my bank, alerting me to a new statement online. I clicked through, and read over our purchases, withdrawals and deposits for the month. Then I closed it out, grateful that there was at least one sheet of paper I won’t have to shred a decade from now.

Next up: tweeting this blog post. Naturally.

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