In our increasingly digital age, it is remarkable what still survives. Reading Working by Robert A. Caro a few weeks back, I was impressed by the sheer volume of the Lyndon B. Johnson papers Caro referred to. Of course, Presidents produce lots of paper. Then, too, I’ve read about Isaac Asimov papers collected at Boston University. John and John Quincy Adams papers are collected. And I recently came across a reference to Andy Rooney’s papers collected at a university in Texas.
All of these papers made me wonder about my own papers. So much is digital these days that it gives “papers” a new meaning. I have most of the emails I have ever written or received. I have been working to build a chronological collection of all of the fiction writing I have done since I started to write for publication way back in December 1992. But I lived a good portion of my life before digital. What about all those papers?
Taking boxes down from the attic over the weekend, I came across three Sterilte containers of paper. Back when my parents moved houses a few years ago, my mother sent me boxes of papers. I looked through these papers over the weekend and can officially say that these make a good portion of what I optimistically imagine will one day be the Jamie Todd Rubin Papers.
My mom saved everything. There are papers in there from the day I was born, notes with a doctor’s wretchedly scrawled instructions for how to care for a newborn. I found notes that told me that I took my first solo steps on November 23, 1973 (Thanksgiving Day). There were papers with schoolwork from preschool right up through college. There were drawings I made, and stories I wrote on those old gray newsprint sheets with the dashed lines that helped you form your letters. There were report cards, and test scores.
And then there were the letters I wrote. The earliest of these that I found in my cursory searching over the weekend dates back to the early 1980s. Most of the letters were written to my grandparents, and they are long. Six pages of single-spaced type was not uncommon. I tried to read one and had to stop for fear of dying of extreme embarrassment.
At some point, I will scan in these papers, purely out of habit. I’m not really sure that scanning is necessary, though. After all, the papers have survived this long, and I have trouble locating computer documents from a few years ago. With our kids’ papers, we tend to scan them in and get rid of the originals. I never felt bad about this until I rediscovered the boxes of papers in the attic. Just what are these papers used for, anyway? How often have I needed to refer to a letter I wrote to my grandparents in 1993? How many times have I suddenly needed my 9th grade report card? The truth is that these papers, like photographs, are fun to rummage through from time-to-time. They provide a delightful insight into my youth. Most notable, these papers provide a humbling reminder to myself that I was not nearly as clever a child as I like to think I was.