Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Paper Trail

Pragmatics: Pulp Nonfiction

I suspect I’m not the only in love with paper (see Prose below), while at the same time frustrated with paper clutter and waste. Here are some thoughts on the best and worst of paper:

Prose on Paper

Yesterday I tossed stacks and stacks of paper into the dumpster at work. I am moving to a new office, and my company does not recycle. I am a bag lady when it comes to my research, hanging onto every scrap in case I need it later. I rarely dig back into the piles once they have formed.

I have a love-hate relationship with paper. It is the continent of books, and its many blank varieties are vast, unexplored territories. I liked it so much that I ate it in grade school —small wads of loose leaf, the blue ink of lines coming wavy in my mouth.

My father, an attorney, brought me to work when I was 4 and 5, and the highlight of the visit was the raiding of his supply closet. Legal pads still call to me, as do the sticker seals that lawyers apply to certain official documents. I am also drawn to accordion folders that come in that particular reddish brown, with generous black elastic that snaps around them.

This paper passion carried into the late August weeks before school, when the LH Martin store filled their downstairs sales floor with high towers of shrink-wrapped paper, spiral-bound notebooks, denim binders, and those little life-preserver sheets of white reinforcements (which tasted quite good, I might add). This rivaled—no, surpassed— the toy department for me.

I never believed conventional “wisdom” that claimed all our books would someday be e-books. Books need to be held. Something is lost if they reside solely behind a screen, ungraspable.

I experienced visceral disturbance at a symposium I traveled to for work. The room where we met with the faculty was one big, misguided minimalist statement. Black lacquered tables, black and white art on the walls, a wall of book shelves, all filled. Here comes the agony: every book was covered in white paper, so the books were nothing more than anonymous shapes, silhouettes of books, no hint of character or history. I peeked beneath the sterile covers: these were shelves of countless authors’ non-bestsellers, spines uncracked, seconds purchased in bulk from some low bidding book outlet. Books that never had a chance and ended their lives as minimalist sculpture. NOW I understand when they say how emotionally affecting décor can be. This made me want to run screaming into the windowless hallway, down the 36 floors and out to the nearest bookstore. There should be a law.

The hate part of my mostly love relationship with paper is the tangled clutter that it can create. I’ve signed the anti-junk mail lists but credit card offers, various and sundry advertisements, pennysavers still crowd our kitchen counter until we get a moment to sort through the mail and feed the recyclables bag our leftovers. I feel the need to print articles at work, and have a system of ordering them and tabbing relevant pages. I am not sure I can ever make this an electronic process, but given the reams that threaten to overtake me maybe I should try. Even my creative writing suffers from paper overload. I have just started saving potential markets online, instead of my usual process: print, forget, lose, find, and finally dispose.

My conflict about paper goes back to one of the simplicity tenets to which I keep circling back: I do not want to acquire, and certainly do not want to keep, anything that serves no real purpose, contributes to chaos, or generates waste. I’ll try again to further staunch the flow of junk paper into my house. I’ll think twice before I hit the print button. But I’ll also relish the crackle and crisp of my favorite medium, be it warehouse stacked, freshly printed, or marked up with marginalia.


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